New York State colleges have seen a spike in sexual assault reports after the state adopted its new “Yes Means Yes” affirmative consent law in 2014. In fact, the number of universities under federal investigation for sexual violence has increased from four to 25 in the last two years. As of July of 2015, the NYU School of Medicine and NYU Tandon School of Engineering remain under investigation for mishandling sexual assault cases by the Department of Education.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the law into action, mandating that the state’s private colleges and universities teach incoming freshman about sexual assault and the definition of consent.
New York is one of the three states — along with California and Michigan — that have passed these new consent laws. The law requires a clear, affirmative agreement between partners. By stating the consent, it creates a victim’s bill of rights and boosts training for law enforcement, faculty and students.
However, students expressed concern that the new policy is ambiguous and makes it more difficult for those accused of sexual assault to defend themselves. While the legislation may have caused confusion among college campuses, experts say the increase in sexual assault reports reflect an increase in reporting incidents rather than a vague policy.
In many situations, sexual misconduct incidents occur when students do not give or obtain affirmative consent when engaging in sexual interaction. The affirmative consent is defined as a knowing, voluntary and mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity. Affirmative consent can be given by words or actions, as long as those words or actions create clear permission regarding willingness to engage in the sexual activity.
Zoe Ragouzeos, the assistant vice president of student mental health and director of counseling and wellness service, emphasized the importance of knowing the correct terminology in discussing sexual contact.
“Sexual contact includes but is not limited to: sexual intercourse (anal, oral or vaginal), including penetration with a body part (e.g., penis, finger, hand or tongue) or an object, however slight,” Ragouzeos said. “Or sexual touching (fondling) or intentional contact with the breasts, buttocks, groin, or genitals.”
Some universities, including NYU, continue to take additional steps to inform students about the policy change and encourage them to speak up in event of a sexual assault. NYU Resource Center Executive Director David Vogelsang said the university implements programs such as Action Zone Bystander Training to educate students on their sexual rights.
“The Student Resource Center provides programming for students throughout the year,” Vogelsang said. “We partner with colleagues/experts in Wellness to promote resources and services available to students during Welcome Week, promote the Reality Show each semester to new and returning students, promote NYU’s Sexual Respect Campaign to both students and parents, and provide training to our student leaders about policies, expectations and support that is available.”
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