“Yes Means Yes” Law – A Step Forward in Countering the Campus Rape Crisis

By Genevieve Morse, Shop Steward, MTA UMass (personal capacity)

In September, a bill was signed into law in California that overhauls university standards in handling rape and sexual assault cases and attempts to outline a new standard of “affirmative consent.”

This is a result of women standing up against the systematic covering up of rape and assault, especially at universities.

Emma Sulkowicz, a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year. (Photo: AFP)
Emma Sulkowicz, a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress in protest of the university’s lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year. (Photo: AFP)

To make the crime – but also the cover-up of university authorities – visible, Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz began carrying the mattress on which she was assaulted. She carried it everywhere she went on her campus in Columbia University. “Carry That Weight” quickly spread awareness and spurred solidarity action across the country.

The California “Yes Means Yes” law is a reaction to this outcry. It is the first legal victory based on the movement of young women against university administrations that have either tried to cover up the extent of sexual assaults or totally lacked policies to protect young women on college campuses. The U.S. Department of Education said earlier this year that over 55 colleges and universities were under investigation for their handling of sexual assaults and harassment.

carrytheweight“Carry That Weight” came quickly after the #YesAllWomen protests and the wave of protests about the NFL domestic violence cover-up. Altogether, this shows the potential for a much bigger movement taking up the sexist and misogynist discrimination in society, a society based on divide-and-rule, a society relying on systematic discrimination along the lines of gender, race, and sexual identity to allow the top 0.1% to keep control over the majority in society, whom they exploit.

While the California law represents a step forward in the struggle, we need to be clear that there have been very important setbacks for women on other fronts, especially in terms of reproductive rights. There is a determined campaign by the right, particularly in the Southern states, to cut access to abortion services. Roe v. Wade – the Supreme Court decision to guarantee a woman´s right to decide over an abortion – is being systematically whittled away in many parts of the U.S.

The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) recently published statistics on sexual violence. Every two minutes, a person is sexually assaulted, and they estimate there are 237,868 victims of sexual assault each year. 80% are under the age of 30.

Socialist Alternative demands:

  • Independent review boards for sexual assault cases, free from university administration influence. Hold universities accountable.
  • Independent bodies based on democratic women’s organizations and labor unions to offer counseling, help, and sex education programs, funded through universities, both public and private.
  • Defense of abortion rights – fight back against all attacks and for the immediate repeal of all anti-abortion legislation.
  • The reversal of all funding cuts to education, health care, child care, and education; add funding for rape crisis treatment.
  • That labor organizes a campaign against domestic violence, assault, and discrimination in workplaces, neighborhoods, campuses, and schools.
  • The building of a powerful movement to challenge sexual violence in society.
  • A joint fight-back against all cuts, for free education and health care, for affordable housing, decent jobs, and living wages to cut across the capitalist agenda of divide-and-rule.
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