Wednesday, March 18, 2020
Aya Gruber, The Complexity of College Consent, Adjudicating Campus Sexual Misconduct and Assault, Cognella, 2020
Teachers, parents, and administrators tell students that consent is “simple.” To be sure, every day, millions of people follow the directive to have only consensual sex with great success and have mutually wanted, unproblematic intimate contact. Law and policy, however, rarely intervene in easy cases. Consent standards intervene in the hard cases. College sexual consent policies delineate when sex between two competent adults of equal status, without force or threat, is a punishable offense. They determine what should happen when the accuser feels harmed but the accused believes he or she has not committed harm. They weigh in on default views of sex — whether people generally desire, are ambivalent toward, or fear sex. They guide decision makers on whom to believe in “he-said-she-said” cases. In short, consent is far from simple. This chapter, written for the book Adjudicating Campus Sexual Misconduct and Assault, unpacks the complex concept of consent in college codes. Its aim is taxonomical and explanatory: to categorize various consent formulations and clarify how they regulate behavior and resolve disputes. The first part of the chapter is a brief history of “ordinary” and affirmative consent standards in criminal law. The second turns to the concept of consent itself. There, I explore what it means to say that a sexual transaction between two people is consensual and whether consent relates to a state of mind, communication, or both. The third part examines the various formulations of consent in college codes, placing them on a scale from most to least regulatory. Finally, I discuss the complicated costs and benefits of affirmative consent.