Baker Report: The Power of Affirmative Consent

NIU President Doug Baker and Kristen Myers, chair of the VAWA Implementation Committee, attend the Sept. 2 screening of “The Hunting Ground.”
NIU President Doug Baker and Kristen Myers, chair of the VAWA Implementation Committee, attended the Sept. 2 screening of “The Hunting Ground” and the related panel discussion.

More than 20 years after the approval of the federal Violence Against Women Act, the mission to protect women of all ages from sexual assault remains a visible priority at the highest levels of our government.

During the spring of 2014, the newly established White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault issued its first report to President Obama. We were honored by NIU Vice President and General Counsel Jerry Blakemore’s role in that process as part of the advisory delegation from the American Council on Education.

Clearly, Washington takes this seriously. Springfield takes this seriously. We take this seriously, and we are on board. We want to do right by our students and our community.

To examine these issues at NIU last year, I created a VAWA Task Force, a caring, energetic, inclusive and insightful group of NIU students, faculty, staff and local residents who did great work and provided our university community with wise guidance.

Building on the task force’s report, we assembled an implementation committee, chaired by Kristen Myers, to undertake action items. One of the key issues here, and across the country, was to create a definition of “affirmative consent.”

Today I am proud to affirm a new and better definition of sexual consent for our university, developed by the implementation committee.

We are confident that this definition, now in effect, will promote mature and responsible relationship behavior among our students and go with them as they leave NIU for productive lives and careers in other communities.

VAWA-Task-Force-ReportAmong the key components of NIU’s definition are:

  • “Consent is a clear, unambiguous, informed and voluntary agreement between all participants to knowingly engage in sexual activity.”
  • “Consent must be mutually understandable by words or actions.”
  • “Consent is active, and cannot be based on the absence of an affirmative statement or act of denial.”
  • “Silence or lack of resistance does not constitute consent.”

Our redefinition of affirmative consent is one of a number of actions we are taking to provide the resources, education and support needed to enhance our approach to the prevention of sexual violence and reinforce our commitment to campus safety.

The task force and I believe that this kind of clarity is critical in establishing positive relationships and important for the university to establish in alignment with VAWA.

To this end, we have also voluntarily participated in the White House’s “It’s On Us” campaign last year, recently screened “The Hunting Ground” film and will hold an Oct. 16 conference on “Creating a Safer Campus.”

All Huskies want a safe and just environment, and this is an important step forward for us.

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