09/16/2014 06:12 pm ET Updated Nov 16, 2014

Yes Means Yes: Breaking Down Sexual Violence on UC Berkeley's Campus


"She didn't resist it enough."

"She didn't say no."

"She was drunk."

"She was wearing a slutty outfit."

"She wasn't careful enough."

"She wanted it."

The above are no longer "valid" justifications for sexual assault on college campuses. The California state legislature unanimously passed a bill this month requiring universities to redefine their official definitions of consent as an "affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity." No more of this "no means no" nonsense. Now it's exceedingly simple: Yes means yes.

The bill's passing is an incredibly needed step in the right direction. Meghan Warner, a third-year UC Berkeley student, sexual assault opponent and activist, expressed her desire for the bill to be a model for the rest of the nation. While opponents of the bill claim that this creates a more difficult standard to uphold, Warner strongly disagrees.

"It's actually a much easier one to uphold," Warner said. "It'll be harder for perpetrators to go free. They can't say, 'Oh, well she didn't fight back with all of her might.' That can't be an argument anymore."

However, there is still much work to be done in the arena of sexual violence on college campuses. Warner spearheaded a Clothesline Project in Kroeber Plaza on UC Berkeley's campus to raise awareness about sexual assault. The Clothesline Project displays shirts decorated by participants that reflect their experiences with sexual violence. Warner decided that although these projects are typically displayed in April during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, it would be more effective to do it at the beginning of the school year; sexual assaults occur at the highest rates during the first two weeks of school, often called the "red zone."

"You can hang some of your pain on the line, leave it there, and walk away from it," Warner said. "It gives a chance to show people that they're not alone."

Despite the success of the Clothesline Project, Warner still has many ideas and programs to implement. Her goal is to make consent education mandatory, and levy sanctions against students who do not attend. However, as a public school, we face a unique challenge: we cannot simply throw money at the problem.

"It would cost too much people power, and we couldn't afford it because we have so little funding," Warner explained. "Unlike private schools we don't have a seemingly unlimited supply of money."

Currently, UC Berkeley freshmen are required to attend Bear Pact during the first few weeks of the school year, which includes sexual assault, alcohol, and mental health portions. In the Berkeley Student Cooperative system, all members are required to attend a consent talk at their unit. However, in the Greek system, there is no mandatory consent training.

"They now have bystander intervention training, which is great, but consent training is necessary," Warner said. "If you only do the bystander intervention training, you're just fueling this idea that the Greek system seems to have that it's not the people in their houses [at fault]."

Warner explained that many Greek community members maintain that the perpetrators of sexual assault at their parties or in their houses are guests, not members. They chant the, "No brother in my house would ever do that!" line. She believes that if they do not receive consent training, they will continue to deny that sexual violence is a problem within their community.

This is a continuing problem on college campuses, not just within the Greek system. It is hard to believe that rapists and sexual assault perpetrators are not people in dark alleyways carrying knives, ready to jump out at you while you're walking down the street. While that of course does occur, the majority of rapes are perpetrated by someone known to the victim. Additionally, one in five women will experience sexual assault during their time in college. These are not rare, isolated incidents, and they happen to people we know.

Warner is herself a sexual assault survivor. She says she was sexually assaulted and raped by two men in a fraternity house during her freshman year after her sorority sisters left her in the house.

"I got a lot of blame from members of my sorority," she explained. "After it happened, they called me in and said, 'If you were raped, we'd lose the house,' implying heavily that it would disappoint my chapter. I was so confused and betrayed. It was full of misinformation, it was full of victim-blaming, and it made me feel terrible."

They claimed that if she were to report the rape, the sorority would lose its house and the chapter would be shut down. Warner's trauma and further degradation by her sorority sisters sent her into denial. She finally read a book about sexual violence, and ran across a story identical to hers; it was then that she was pulled out of her denial. She got involved at UC Berkeley's Gender Equity Resource Center and the ASUC Sexual Assault Task Force, guided by other members of her sorority. She attempted to fight the problem from within for almost two years, but deactivated from the sorority last spring.

"People ask me why I left since you can only change it from the inside, but you can't really change them," Warner said. "Even now as co-chair of Greeks Against Sexual Assault, it's so hard to get the frats to work with me or the sororities to stop victim-blaming and slut-shaming. Even if a sorority lets me come in and talk to them about consent, there will still be a group of people who victim-blame and slut-shame, and just don't understand."

Taylor**, another UC Berkeley student, also says she experienced sexual assault at the hands of the Greek community, as well as the inaction of fellow sorority sisters. She was at an event where she and her pledge sisters were alcohol-hazed, and a brother from a fraternity forced her to consume a large amount of alcohol. He then lured her out of the house by promising to take her out to get food. Instead he took her to his apartment, where she says he sexually assaulted her.

"When I came back home, I didn't understand what had happened," she said. "I thought I should've been smarter. Because I was drunk I didn't give him the 'I don't want to do this,' but that doesn't mean that I consented to it. I didn't understand that it was sexual assault for a long time. I thought it was my fault."

She explained that her sorority sisters let her leave with him, even though they knew that she was drunk and that she was a virgin. They knew her personality well enough to know that she wouldn't do that while sober, but they let him take her out of the house.

"They think it's funny. They put the entertainment aspect or the gossip over your personal well-being," Taylor** said. "People are so disconnected from the pain of others. They claim to be a sisterhood but they aren't willing to deal with the consequences of their collective actions. People in positions of power put younger members in these vulnerable positions in which we don't have power over ourselves. This is sisterhood?"

Taylor** also explained that she has heard many guys say that they hooked up with a "wasted" girl, later bragging about it to friends. They're somehow proud of it, boasting about having sex with a girl against her will and with no consent.

"It's even worse when girls blame themselves, and think that they got too drunk," she said. "Someone saw them in that position and took advantage of it. You should be free to get drunk and not be afraid that someone's going to take advantage of you!"

Taylor** also emphasized the importance of affirmative consent. Asking for consent is vital, and can make all the difference. The question can be a wake-up call. She expressed her disappointment in people's idea that asking for consent is awkward; asking should be normalized.

"It's sad that it's awkward, because that means that it's not happening enough, that people aren't regularly asking for consent."

Sexual assault on college campuses is not uncommon. The girl sitting next to you in Psych 1, the girl studying next to you in Moffitt Library, even the guy standing next to you on the bus -- they could all easily have had experiences with sexual violence.

Be aware of people's experiences and what weight they might be carrying on their shoulders. Be sensitive to other people's pain, and step in when you suspect that sexual violence may be occurring or might occur. And most importantly, ask for consent. If you don't feel comfortable asking that simple question, then you shouldn't be having sex with that person at all.

Warner will continue to normalize affirmative consent and advocate for survivors. She is currently working with Pavan Upadhyayula, UC Berkeley's ASUC president, to make consent workshops mandatory for fraternities. She also has decided to make a map of Fraternity Row indicating which houses have voluntarily done consent training. She emphasizes the importance of student involvement, and will continue to work against sexual violence in our community as well as nationwide.

Consent Tips

1. Always ask.
2. If you think someone involved might be too drunk, don't risk it! Ask for their number. If you both want it to happen when you're sober, awesome!
3. Silence is not a yes!
4. There are plenty of ways to ask: "Do you want to...?" "Would it feel good if...?" "How do you feel about...?" "Wanna try...?" "I really like this, would you want to do it too?"
5. If someone doesn't want to do something, they don't owe you an explanation. Accepting and respecting someone's response is important!
6. Consent is mandatory and sexy! It is informed, voluntary, clearly expressed, and always revocable.