Focusing on the wording of consent is not a promising strategy for reducing campus sexual assault [“ Calif. debates ‘yes means yes’ sex-assault law for colleges ,” news, Aug. 11]. Regardless of how a university defines consent, it is difficult for campus investigators to determine what happened, moment by moment, during a series of escalating sex acts occurring in private, without witnesses and that frequently involve alcohol-impaired participants.
If we are to make strides in reducing campus sexual assault, steps must be taken long before the parties are called upon to interpret each other’s movements. As the majority of campus assaults are perpetrated by male students, young men must be taught to listen to their sexual partners, to followup on ambiguity with questions to clarify the person’s position, to appreciate that physically smaller women can feel intimidated and that respecting the other person’s boundaries creates trust and positive outcomes.
We must also teach young women to candidly express their wishes regarding sexual activity, to unabashedly draw boundaries regarding their own bodies, to reject unwanted advances without fear of hurting that person’s feelings and, importantly, that we will support them if they tell us they did not consent to sexual activity.
These common-sense lessons will go much further in reducing campus sexual assault than reconfiguring the language for policing these situations.
Rebecca Leitman Veidlinger, Ann Arbor, Mich.
The writer is a Title IX investigator at the University of Michigan.