By Rowan Kane
The president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System lent his support Tuesday to legislation that would mandate all state universities to adopt a standard of affirmative consent.
“When it comes to the safety and well-being of our students we simply cannot be overly diligent,” Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System, told the legislature’s Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee.
The bill mandates that all state universities will adopt a standard of affirmative consent, which requires two parties involved in sexual activity to consent to that activity. Under the legislation, the university would be responsible for conveying information about health services and disciplinary proceedings to any student who reports being a victim of sexual assault.
The bill also defines affirmative consent as “active, clear, and voluntary agreement by a person to engage in sexual activity” and mandates training for every student.
Carolyn Treiss, executive director of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, told the committee that this “will not be a sea change” for Connecticut’s colleges and universities, most of which already have policies that require affirmative consent on their campuses.
Treiss said the policies on Connecticut campuses vary, but the bill “ensures consistency and best practices for all institutions” in the state.
Opponents of the bill, including Shelley Dempsey, who is part of a group called Families Advocating Campus Equality (FACE), told the committee Tuesday that the bill will unfairly shift the burden of proof onto the accused student. Dempsey’s son was accused of and cleared of sexual assault at Bucknell University.
In her testimony, Dempsey cited examples of similar cases in California and Tennessee where students were improperly expelled because of “yes means yes” regulations at universities.
“I know hundreds of young men who have been falsely accused of sexual assault,” Dempsey testified. “Or where a night of drinking has been recast as an assault.”
Dempsey said it doesn’t happen to everyone.
But she heard a young woman testify that she has to have pepper spray to go out at night, as if there are “18- to 22-year-old men — monsters — roaming the campus, just waiting to rape them, and that just is not true,” Dempsey said.
Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Danielson, who introduced the legislation, said “the fact is there are.”
“If one in five women who go to college are raped or sexually assaulted, there clearly are scores of men on college campuses who are ready to assault them,” Flexer said. “That is a fact.”
Flexer quoted statistics from a 2007 study funded by the U.S. Department of Justice to support her point.
“There are, in fact, people on college campuses who are, in fact, predators,” Flexer said.
Dempsey disputed the statistics that it’s one in five women who are raped or sexually assaulted on college campuses.
The exchange between Flexer and Dempsey over the merits of the legislation was heated.
A similar bill passed the Senate last year, but it failed to get called for a vote in the House. This year’s bill is a House bill so if the committee approves it by March 15 then it will go to the House first.