“Yes means yes” is set to be the new definition of sexual consent across universities in Connecticut, after a bill that mandates affirmative consent passed the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee of the state legislature on Tuesday.
The bill — proposed by state Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Brooklyn, and state Rep. Gregory Haddad, D-Mansfield, earlier this year — received support from the Yale College Democrats and other activism groups on campus concerned with campus sexual climate. Both Flexer and Haddad said it was students like the Dems, who demonstrated passion for the issue, whot inspired them to follow through with the bill.
“The credit for getting this legislation out of committee should go to those student activists who first introduced me to the idea and secondly who were testifying and in communication with the committee,” Haddad said. “They made sure it passed with bipartisan support.”
Even though the bill passed the committee with bipartisan support, Haddad said Tuesday’s debate indicated additional work needs to be done to make sure lawmakers understand exactly what the bill entails.
According to the bill, affirmative consent is defined as an “active, informed, unambiguous and voluntary agreement … to engage in sexual activity with another person that is sustained throughout the sexual activity and may be revoked at any time by any person.” It adds that any form of dating relationship or past sexual relationship does not constitute consent.
In the meeting, state Rep. Whit Betts, R-Bristol, was among the committee members who raised concerns with the bill. He said that while he agrees with the principle behind affirmative consent, he does not believe that the committee should be creating legislation governing sexual activity. Betts’ concerns were echoed by state Rep. Tim LeGeyt, R-Avon.
“This bill, as good as the intent is, it really doesn’t belong in statute,” Betts said.
The bill passed through to the Senate 14–3, with one abstention. Both Democrats and Republicans had voiced concerns, but ultimately each Democrat on the committee voted in favor of the bill.
Flexer said she was grateful for the support of the committee members, but she was disappointed by some of their concerns.
“The conversation did demonstrate the need to talk more about this issue,” she said. “[It] showed a little bit of a knowledge divide.”
She added that she was surprised by the lack of awareness concerning current sexual assault policies at universities.
Still, Flexer said she is hopeful that the bill will appear on the Senate calendar in the next few weeks. Haddad also said he is he is confident about the bill’s prospects in the Senate.
The Yale Dems have been supporting this bill since it was introduced in January, inviting Flexer to campus in February to discuss it with them. The bill is unlikely to impact Yale, which is one of two colleges in the state that had already adopted an affirmative consent policy as of last September.
Jackson Beck ’17, legislative coordinator for the Dems, said the group was glad to hear that the bill had passed through committee, echoing Flexer’s and Haddad’s belief that students had played a major role in this discussion.
“College students have a really large role to play, as this is one [issue] legislators don’t know as much about,” he said.
At the bill’s public hearing on Feb. 26, the Dems were well-represented, with five students providing statements. Each of the individuals said that affirmative consent policies had provided Yale with an positive environment in which concerns of sexual assault and violence on campus could be discussed.
In her statement, Dems Communications Director Hedy Gutfreund ’18 said the affirmative consent policy contributes to Yale’s generally positive sexual climate — though it “is far from perfect.”
Moving forward, Dems Events Director Olivia Paschal ’18 said the organization hopes to meet with individual legislators in order to explain to those who will be voting why they believe the affirmative consent bill has been successful so far at Yale.