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New Law Aims to Redefine Consent

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Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Jake Herman, News Editor

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A new bill mandating that MCPS schools teach affirmative consent as a part of family life units in health classes was introduced in the Maryland state legislature Jan. 25.

 

The bill, known tentatively as HB 365, defines affirmative consent as “clear, unambiguous, knowing, informed, and voluntary agreement between all participants to engage in sexual activity.”

 

“I support this bill to make sure that students learn and understand early in their lives what healthy relationships are,” John F. Kennedy High School student Nathaniel Tinbite said. Tinbite testified before the state legislature in favor of HB 365.

 

This proposed bill comes as another step in the growing national attention that the issues of sexual assault and consent standards are receiving.

 

According to the Washington Post, national discussion of issues relating to affirmative consent has increased since California passed a similar law in 2015 defining  “yes means yes” as a basis for consent in sexual assault cases on college campuses. This law was passed in response, in large part, to a high-profile rape incident at Stanford University.

 

The Maryland General Assembly is weighing proposals that have been made in other states into the decision as to whether they, too, should pass laws relating to affirmative consent.

 

According to the Maryland General Assembly’s Fiscal and Policy Note regarding HB 365, the bill echoes attempts to pass similar legislation in Michigan, Illinois, Connecticut, and Virginia.

 

A previous attempt in 2016 at affirmative consent legislation in Maryland failed to receive a vote after being met with opposition. The bill, called HB 1142, sought to require all colleges in Maryland to adopt affirmative consent policy standards.

 

According to Capital News Service, representatives from many colleges in Maryland testified against HB 1142 due to language that they believed would cause confusion and unreasonable standards.

 

Supporters of HB 365 hope that by establishing affirmative consent as the standard taught in the health classrooms of Maryland, clear policies and less ambiguity will exist surrounding consent.

 

According to Tinbite, he believes that teaching affirmative consent in health classes will “ultimately lead to the decrease of sexual assault in the near or far future, with students equipping this skill to think twice and understand that only yes means yes in Maryland.”
HB 365 is currently assigned to the Ways and Means committee in the Maryland General Assembly and has yet to be voted on.

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