Consent Is Golden
Why “Only ‘Yes’ Means ‘Yes’ and Students Want Texas to Admit It
Campus sexual assault is a core issue for us at Deeds Not Words. In the Texas legislature, several bills have been introduced regarding sexual violence and we’ve been training young advocates — our student #ChangeMakers — to raise their voices in support of them. One of the most important of these bills, Senate Bill 970, sought to change how the concept of Consent is defined.
As you’ve probably come to understand, the current mantra defining consent has long been “‘no’ means ‘no.’” SB 970 sought to flip that notion on its head and instead introduced the requirement of affirmative consent. In other words, when it comes to sexual contact, “only ‘yes’ means ‘yes.’” The bill would have clarified the definition of non-consensual sexual contact — both for students’ understanding and for guiding appropriate administrative responses when investigating incidents of campus sexual assault.
Unfortunately, though other important provisions of SB 970 survived, the bill’s author Senator Kirk Watson had to remove the provisions redefining Consent in order to successfully move the bill through the Texas Senate.
We still hold out hope that affirmative consent will become the law of Texas because a Texas House member may revive it in the Texas House. That’s where students’ voices will, once again, be needed.
Many of our student advocates testified in support of the affirmative consent provision of SB 970 last time around, believing it an important and necessary step to providing a safe campus environment. One of those students is UT’s President of Voices Against Violence and campus assault survivor, Mia Goldstein. Mia tells us that while she’s disappointed that the concept of affirmative consent has not yet successfully become law, this issue was important enough to encourage her to tell her story — and she hopes others will follow suit!
What compelled you to testify for SB 970?
I had attended Deeds Not Words’ “Hands Off” advocacy event and when they said, “you’re the experts, you can create tangible change. You just have to show up,” it resonated with me. Sexual assault prevention is about changing the conditions and norms that allow violence to occur in the first place and this bill would have provided the culture shift that we need.
I came to the realization about a month ago that being a student of UT I have an extreme amount of privilege and an amount of influence on the Capitol.
At UT, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 20 men experience sexual assault. Eighty percent of sexual violence is committed by someone the victim knows. But even one sexual assault is too many. While no single piece of legislation can solve the problem, this bill was certainly a step in the right direction. It just required us to show up.
How did you prepare?
When I learned of the bill at the event, I thought it was great that a state like Texas was leading the change on campus sexual assault by concretely defining consent. Consent is about the sovereignty of one’s own body. And make no mistake about it, consent is a basic human right and it’s important that the state define it as such. Of course, “‘no’ means ‘no’” but really, only “‘yes’ means ‘yes.’”
But for preparing, I just went for it and shared my story. It was easier because you’re talking to legislators, you can use your story without getting really nitty gritty and raw. Telling the basic and powerful enough details.
Could you tell me about why you wore the shirt “Consent is Golden”?
The second time I was sexually assaulted, I was wearing the shirt that I am wearing now. It says, “Consent is Golden.” Above my bed were Sexual Violence Prevention Month posters and it’s almost funny how ironically terrible that is.
I know too well that this issue cannot be solved simply by awareness campaigns alone — it requires mandatory consent education that changes behavior and campus culture. But this bill, by defining consent for every college and university across the State of Texas, would have been a huge step forward.
While the concept of affirmative consent is something we’ll keep pushing on the House side of the Texas legislature, there’s another Senate Bill that’s caught our attention because it actually de-legitimizes consent in an important and devastating way.
Senate Bill 576, which passed through the Senate last week on a 30–1 vote (only Senator Kirk Watson bravely voting “no” vote on the bill) created a system on college campuses requiring the mandatory reporting of incidents of alleged sexual assault to the head of the college or university. Whether the survivor consents to the reporting or not, and even if the survivor requests confidentiality when reporting, a leader of a campus organization would be required to pass the information along.
The bill was a well-intended effort to hold colleges accountable for appropriately responding to instances of sexual assault and to penalize those who purposefully cover-up these incidents (prompted by egregious behavior by Baylor University employees). It is far too broad in its reach, however, and creates a deterrent effect for students who have been victimized for coming forward. As an officer of the organization Voices Against Violence, Mia also felt compelled to voice her concerns with this bill as it might unintentionally drive more survivors into the shadows.
Another piece of legislation, SB 576, was also heard that same day in the Capitol. Why did you not raise your voice in support of that bill?
I think Senate Bill 576 undermines consent in a couple of ways. It should be up to the survivor if and when they want to report what happens to them. They need to have full autonomy over that decision. As a student leader, I can’t help but think… “that could be one of my friends whose story I’d be legally forced to disclose.”
If, as a student leader, I’d then be compelled to say “don’t tell me because I’m a mandatory reporter because of this legislation,” that could detract from a survivor’s support system — and I’m not ok with that.
Does that mean we can expect you back at the Capitol?
I can see myself there a lot more. When we [other members of Voices Against Violence] were leaving the Capitol, we said, ‘It was so easy, we should make it a weekly thing!’
And though SB 970 no longer regards the definition of Affirmative Consent, I absolutely will be continuing to work towards a law that defines it for all of Texas in the future — hopefully very soon in the Texas House.
It’s unacceptable to leave the definition for consent ambiguous, which it’s not — it should be crystal clear.
Are you interested in joining the fight against sexual assault in Texas? Help us build a future where only “‘yes’ means ‘yes’” by signing up for our state advocacy updates! Your voice is needed and Deeds Not Words is here to help you best use it to make lasting change — whether it be to define affirmative consent or propel other women’s rights into law.