Our Response: Pioneer Press Article on Minnesota State passing Affirmative Consent
We our thrilled with the news that Minnesota State passed an Affirmative Consent policy on, February 21, 2018. State Chair Faiçal Rayani, Vice Chair Lexi Byler, and Board Member Kayla Shelley attended the Board of Trustee's meeting along with several staff members. Our intention has always been that, if and when this policy passed, we would begin the education/re-education phase of our work around affirmative consent.
Below is an article that was published in the Pioneer Press shortly after the Trustees passed affirmative consent. We see this as an opportunity for us to begin our education process, as the article had some very common misconceptions and raises some common questions that our organization's leaders, because of years of working on this topic, can answer. Here is a letter written in response to the article:
Response to Clear Consent Needed Under New Minnesota State Colleges Sex Policy
Students United, the organization that represents the 65,000 students of the Minnesota State universities, was mentioned in the article “Clear Consent Needed Under New Minnesota State Colleges Sex Policy” as the leaders who have been advocating for Minnesota State to adopt its new affirmative consent policy.
After becoming informed, our student leaders began supporting the need for affirmative consent and have spent an immense amount of time, energy, and resources to understand the issue and dispel the myths. We would like to do the same here on the basis of fact, not belief.
The article title says Minnesota State colleges have a “sex policy.” Consent is defined in the sexual misconduct policy, providing definitions to prevent sexual assault, rape, and harassment. It is not a policy on sex.
The article states affirmative consent “puts the onus on the partner initiating sex to obtain clear consent rather than on the receiving partner to object.” While this may technically be true if one person wants to initiate an activity with another person, the purpose of affirmative consent is to enhance communication between all parties rather than reinforce the idea that sex is a one-way transaction from an active initiator onto a passive receiver.
The article includes the uncited criticism that some “say consensual sex often takes place without affirmative consent.” Though this is true for many individuals, it’s a dangerous norm. We live in a society that accepts gray areas, misconstruing silence and absence of protest or resistance as consent. This makes coercion the reality for far too many people. Affirmative consent is a culture shift towards enthusiastic, communicative, healthier relations.
The article includes the common argument that affirmative consent opens a door for more false accusations. Independent of the fact that false accusations of sexual assault happen at the same rate as other crimes, affirmative consent doesn’t change the standard of evidence or burden of proof.
The article states “other additions to the policy make clear that even dating couples must obtain affirmative consent each time, that consent must be present throughout the encounter.” This is correct. We are surprised by the inclusion of the word “even,” as it could be interpreted as implying that this is an absurd idea. People dating, married, or having had any kind of continuous sexual relationship can be sexually assaulted by their partners.
We felt our knowledge on this topic, grounded in facts and not just beliefs, could help address concerns and myths discussed in the article.
Sexual assault is a college campus epidemic. Even with underreporting, 1 in 5 women report being sexually assaulted in college with even higher rates for people of various LGBTQIA+ identities. Students comprehend this need for a culture change. The student leaders of the seven Minnesota State universities unanimously said, loud and clear, that affirmative consent is what they want for their institutions and expect of their fellow campus community members. And now, they have it.