Bills relating to campus sexual assault in Maryland and Georgia have moved forward after previously appearing to have stalled in each state’s legislature.
In Maryland, a bill that would require K-12 students be taught the policy of affirmative consent during sexual education classes received an “unfavorable report” from the state’s House Ways and Means committee and was subsequently withdrawn.
The Maryland victory was short-lived, however. A separate bill, HB 1560 that requires children as young as 10 receive affirmative consent training passed the Maryland House of Representatives in mid-March.
Affirmative consent effectively turns sex into a contractual rather than passionate or romantic act, requiring each person involved in sexual activity to continuously ask for permission to engage in heightened levels of activity throughout the event. Affirmative consent does not prohibit non-verbal communication, but as it can often be ambiguous (and later reinterpreted), it puts people at greater risk of an accusation if they don’t rely on verbal communication.
Even if each person engages in this type of question-and-answer session, there’s no way to prove one followed the policy. It still remains a “he said, she said” situation, and as usually happens on college campuses, the accuser’s (almost always a woman) statement is given more weight. Further, accusers who don’t follow affirmative consent do not face sexual assault hearings themselves, meaning that the person ultimately responsible for asking for constant permission is retroactively the person who gets accused.
In Georgia, a measure that would have required campus accusations of felony sexual assault to be handled by the police passed the House earlier this year, but died in the state Senate.
But in late March, all but one provision of the measure was incorporated into an unrelated piece of legislation as a substitute amendment, the College Fix reported.
The one provision not included would have required schools to proceed with an investigation only if the accuser participates. Under current law, accused students in Georgia can face disciplinary hearings without being able to confront their accuser.
Georgia lawmakers supporting the bill are responding to a system created at universities that requires a lower standard of proof and denies due process to the accused. It’s a system that’s bad for both the accused and the accuser.
Currently, the worst thing a college can do is expel a student, which punishes the innocent while putting actual rapists out on the street to harm others. This is, as attorney Adam Goldstein of the Student Press Law Center noted, the “best case scenario” for colleges, but the “worst case outcome of the criminal justice process.”
The best thing for victims is to lock away rapists, but that would require police involvement, evidence, and a narrower and more realistic definition of sexual assault, the point of the Georgia legislation.