By Sylvia Cunningham
Connecticut state Senator Mae Flexer and State Representative Gregg Haddad visited the University of Connecticut Storrs campus Friday morning to talk about Senate Bill 636, “An Act Concerning Affirmative Consent.” The bill strives to clarify what consent means and shift the threshold from “no means no” to “yes means yes.”
Affirmative consent is a policy that has been at UConn for over a decade and Flexer and Haddad spearheaded this bill to extend it to all private state universities and colleges in Connecticut. Flexer said she hopes the bill will help to change the culture of victim blaming “so that we will stop asking women why they wore short skirts and instead ask the perpetrators of these crimes why they thought they could act in this manner.”
UConn senior Megan Grant explained that affirmative consent addresses victim blaming by shifting the focus to the behavior of the accused rather than putting responsibility on the victims to prove they did enough to resist their attackers. Grant said oftentimes in instances of sexual assault, victims are fearful of triggering more violence if they say “no” and therefore remain silent.
“In these cases, the affirmative consent standard is especially useful because it safeguards victims who do not say ‘no’ but who also do not say ‘yes,'” Grant said.
Flexer said it was a great accomplishment to get out of the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee, and she said it wouldn’t have happened without student support. State Representative Gregg Haddad agreed.
“I personally have been tremendously informed by my conversations with students here at the University of Connecticut.”
Jillian Gilchrest is a senior policy analyst at the Connecticut Permanent Commission on the Status of Women. Although she commended the committee for passing the bill through to the state senate with a bipartisan 14-3 vote, she said the tone of the discussion around the bill was very problematic.
“Many lawmakers perpetuated this notion that women lie about sexual violence when we know that this is not the case,” Gilchrest said. “Many lawmakers perpetuated the notion that men’s lives will be ruined as a result of false accusations when we know women’s lives are being ruined by sexual violence, and there was just truly a lack of understanding of consent in a sexual relationship.”
Flexer said she’s been promised by state senate president Martin Looney that there would be a vote on the bill soon after it reaches the senate floor.