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California Enacts 'Yes Means Yes' Law, Defining Sexual Consent

California has become the first U.S. state to define when "yes means yes" in sexual assault cases on college campuses, after a bill sponsored by state Sen. Kevin de Leon was signed into law Sunday. Rich Pedroncelli/AP hide caption

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Rich Pedroncelli/AP

California has become the first U.S. state to define when "yes means yes" in sexual assault cases on college campuses, after a bill sponsored by state Sen. Kevin de Leon was signed into law Sunday.

Rich Pedroncelli/AP

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill into law that makes California the first in the nation to have a clear definition of when people agree to sex. The law goes further than the common "no means no" standard, which has been blamed for bringing ambiguity into investigations of sexual assault cases.

The new law seeks both to improve how universities handle rape and sexual assault accusations and to clarify the standards, requiring an "affirmative consent" and stating that consent can't be given if someone is asleep or incapacitated by drugs or alcohol.

"Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent," the law states, "nor does silence mean consent. Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time."

California's Legislature approved the measure last month, with broad support. But while victims' rights advocates have welcomed the new standard, the law also has its critics, who say its requirements place too much burden on the accused.

The law requires colleges that receive state funding to have policies covering more than a dozen situations that can arise in sexual assault or domestic violence cases, from protecting privacy to training campus officials and providing counseling for victims.

Earlier this year, the Department of Education said it was investigating at least 55 colleges and universities for possibly violating federal law in their handling of sexual violence and harassment cases.

The California bill was introduced by Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, who said Sunday, "Every student deserves a learning environment that is safe and healthy."

"The State of California will not allow schools to sweep rape cases under the rug," he added, according to the AP. "We've shifted the conversation regarding sexual assault to one of prevention, justice, and healing."