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Overview of California Consent Laws

Consent plays a very large role in the way we understand sexual relationships today. In the wake of several high-profile sex crime cases on college campuses, many states have started looking at the definition of consent. You are not automatically committing a crime if you don’t receive verbal confirmation at every step of a sexual encounter, but doing so and taking some additional measures may protect you from unfair allegations later. This is what you should know about consent laws in our state.

LEGAL CONSENT IN CALIFORNIA

In the state of California, a minor (someone under the age of 18) cannot legally consent to sexual intercourse with an adult. An adult who has sex or engages in any sexual activities with a minor is committing statutory rape, regardless of the minor’s perceived consent. Depending on the ages of the individuals and the circumstances, the prosecution may charge a sex crime with a minor as a misdemeanor or a felony.

Under California law, an individual is only consenting if he or she engages in the activity freely and willingly, and if he or she understands the nature of the act. A relationship of any kind does not automatically qualify as consent.

In California in late 2015, Gov. Jerry Brown approved a requirement (SB 695) for sex education to include a “yes means yes” as the standard for consent. Today, schools must use this affirmative consent standard when investigating the validity of sexual crimes claims (SB 967). High schools must teach the standard as part of a health graduation requirement.

What Yes Means Yes or Affirmative Consent Means for You

The affirmative consent standard is designed to change the way people approach sexual encounters. Instead of assuming the other partner is ready for and okay with engaging in any sexual activities, the standard asks that you receive verbal confirmation at some point in the process. Furthermore, the standard highlights the need for individuals to consider a partner’s ability to give consent. After several drinks or doing drugs, many individuals are too impaired to understand the nature of the act.

Some critics of the measure believe the measure represents a slippery slope. The standard recognizes the need for clear communication, but it fails to instruct participants on what exactly constitutes legal consent between two adults. Does someone have to ask before touching you? Do you have to receive consent every few minutes? The legal understanding of consent remains vague and open to interpretation.

To protect yourself and your partner, here are some tips for adhering to California’s standards for consent:

  • Consider your relationship a partnership. Both parties need to agree to any sexual activities explicitly.
  • Get comfortable talking about it. Sex therapists spend their careers helping people gain confidence in talking about sexual encounters. If you can openly express your wants, needs, and consent, you will both enjoy a more rewarding experience.
  • Avoid engaging in sexual activities under questionable circumstances. Don’t act on impulse if you or your partner is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. To give consent, verbally or nonverbally, someone needs to have an unaltered mind.

The nature of consent is in flux in the legal world. Without precedents to clarify the affirmative consent standard, teachers and lawmakers can’t prescribe a standard method of obtaining consent. Under current state laws, accused individuals do not have to prove they obtained consent during the sexual encounter. The standard is merely a tool for college campus investigations and for teaching appropriate sexual communication.

If you are worried about the changing definition of consent, take some basic precautions to engage in safe and respectful sexual encounters without fear of legal reprisal. A little awkwardness in the beginning could save you from a life-changing negative experience.