Yes Means Yes: UCLA Student & Sexual Assault Survivor Says New Law Will Create Monumental Cultural Shift

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Savannah Badalich is an undergraduate student studying Gender Studies at UCLA and is the UCLA Student Wellness Commissioner, a health representative of 28,000 undergraduates. After her sexual assault by a fellow UCLA student and friend, she created 7,000 in Solidarity: A Campaign Against Sexual Assault, a multi-campus sexual assault prevention campaign that combines education, arts activism, and advocacy work with the help of student governments, campus departments and resources, survivors, and their advocates.

Savannah talks about the concept of affirmative consent and explores the effect California’s newly signed “yes means yes” law will have on college campuses. WYSK is honored to be able to partner with Savannah and No More to bring you this frontline perspective.

By Savannah Badalich

SavannahBadalichLast Sunday, California set a precedent for the country in creating a culture of consent on our college campuses for all students. Governor Brown signed into law SB 967, otherwise known as the “Yes Means Yes” or “affirmative consent” bill, which would re-define consent on colleges campuses as “an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. The definition alleviates the burden from the survivor, which historically required an explicit “no” from survivors.

To call the law monumental is an understatement. Many survivors don’t report their sexual assault due to the feeling of shame or guilt, as if they could have prevented their own assault. Had they just said no, fought back, or kept fighting back, but many freeze or are unable to react in the situation due to shock, specially if they are assaulted by a friend, which according to the National Sexual Assault Resource Center, happens to 9 out of 10 survivors. Prior to SB 967, a university’s conduct hearings or honor court could use their own silence and shock against them, asking: “Why didn’t you fight back?” “Why didn’t you say no multiple times?” “Why were you drinking with them?” or “Why did you put yourself in that situation?”

This law goes beyond changing a definition for an adjudication process – it’s creating a cultural shift.

Worse, friends and peers are often times the first people survivors rely on and tell their experience to, and survivors are still shamed. Honestly, why would survivors go to administrators or the police if even their own friends blame them?

This law goes beyond changing a definition for an adjudication process – it’s creating a cultural shift. All incoming freshman and transfer students must go through new student orientations with these new definitions. Students will be educated on affirmative consent to not only prevent sexual assault from occurring but also help shift a campus climate from one of silence and stigma to one of support and healing. When peers and friends know what consent is and their resources, they can better support survivors when they decide to come forward.

Not to mention, an often overlooked portion of the bill is its amnesty clause, which prevents schools from sanctioning student survivors or witnesses to the assault for drinking, which will hopefully promote more reporting, and bystander intervention.

Hopefully, California will be the first of many states to bring a law such as this to support their students, but we shouldn’t be limited to college campuses. We must try to reach past its scope on college campuses to include all residents, not just those who can afford to attend a university.

Lead image by Becky Phan courtesy of 7000 in Solidarity. You can follow Savannah on Twitter @sbadalich.