The year Jeanne Anne Clery was raped and murdered in her dorm room at Lehigh University, I was a freshman at nearby Moravian College in Bethlehem.
On April 5, 1986, Clery awoke during an attempted robbery by Josoph Henry, a fellow student at Lehigh, who beat, cut, raped, sodomized and strangled her. She was a freshman. He was a sophomore. During his trial, he claimed alcohol consumption caused his crime. The state rejected the argument. He is serving a life sentence in prison.
Up until that horrific event, dormitories on the campuses of Lehigh and Moravian — and likely most others — were not locked until a set time of night. Students did not use an ID card security system.
College life changed dramatically after that. Main entrances to dormitories were locked at all times. Campus security patrolled the grounds much more frequently. Fewer students walked alone, opting instead to travel in groups.
In 1990, the Clery Act was enacted, requiring postsecondary institutions to disclose college crime statistics and security information. Legislation on this issue continued to evolve throughout the years. In 1994, funding grants became available for institutions seeking to reduce these crimes. In 2001, employees were required to be trained to address harassment on campuses as well as to report any incidents.
In 2013, the Campus Save Act was enacted. An amendment to the Clery Act, this legislation mandated extensive “primary prevention and awareness programs to battle sexual misconduct and related offenses.”
I was long out of college by that time and not thinking much about safety and security on college campuses — that is, until it was time for my older daughter to begin her freshman year in 2015.
The “no means no” initiative was presented to her incoming class during freshman orientation that summer. We parents also had the opportunity to hear a similar talk during our own session. As a family, we talked a lot about the presentations and what we had learned. It was important to me that she fully understand the meaning of “no.” After all, we would soon be heading home to the Lehigh Valley and she was starting college life in Philadelphia.
The idea of “no means no” seemed obvious and logical to me until we started seeing reports on national news of offenders using a defense of “she/he didn’t say no.” Offenders had seemingly found a loophole. In some cases, however, the victim claimed she/he couldn’t say no, often because she/he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Fast forward to June 2018. My younger daughter was about to begin her new student orientation at college. She chose to attend the same college as her sister, and my husband and I thought we would be hearing the same information at our orientation programs.
We were very wrong. During our presentation by the university nurse, we were told of a new initiative being boldly introduced on campus — “yes means yes.”
Although only a few states have adopted this initiative as a whole, many campuses are using the program to teach students that consent is required each and every time a situation presents itself. It’s not a blanket statement — that is, if a female/male gives consent once, that consent does not hold in each subsequent case. No longer can an offender use the defense of “she/he didn’t say no” because the new question is “but did she/he say yes?”
The rise of the me too. movement and TIME’S UP™ have helped to change the focus on this topic and what is acceptable. According to theconversation.com, “The affirmation model of consent essentially relies on the positive agreement between the parties … — in simple terms, a clear and unequivocal ‘yes.’
“The affirmation model removes any ambiguity around the issue of consent — it is either yes or no.”
My daughters’ university website includes a short YouTube video titled “Consent: It’s Simple As Tea.” This nearly three-minute episode compares consent with a cup of tea, suggesting that at any moment between a person’s acceptance of the offer of tea and the actual presentation of the cup of tea, that person can decide against the tea. It might seem illogical to illustrate the idea of consent in this way, but it’s actually brilliant. When searching for it on YouTube, choose the clean version. It’s plenty informative.
If you have children or grandchildren — girls or boys, it does not and should not matter — help them to understand the idea of consent. Only yes means yes. There’s no sliding scale. All abuses should be punished.