December was a busy time for Yes Means Yes, which was featured in a number of media outlets, including on op-ed on Motherhood Moment, an interview with Cyrus Webb on Conversations with Cyrus Webb, and an interview on Publish with Connie. For your convenience, I've reproduced my op-ed from Motherhood Moment below. Enjoy.
Why did you decide to write this book?
Three years ago, I started researching possible topics for a new novel. News stories about college sexual assault were common. In 2011, the Department of Education had released its controversial “Dear Colleague” letter, requiring colleges to take a more proactive role in eliminating sexual assault on campuses, or face Title IX investigations. Then, the state of California passed a law requiring college students to obtain informed consent before engaging in amorous relationships. This consent must be ongoing, could be withdrawn at any time, and could be non-verbal. The law was nicknamed Yes Means Yes and became the title of my new book. The subject is compelling, timely, and surprisingly complex—the perfect subject for a novel.
How has your perspective been affected by being the father of a young adult daughter?
I raised my daughter in equal custody with her mother from the time she was six. Neither of us remarried during those years before college, and fortunately we lived within miles of each other. My daughter built lasting friendships with a small group of girls in middle school, ones that survived high school and even through different colleges. As I watched my daughter and her friends experience academics, sports, dating, college admission, and early careers, to my knowledge, none of them ever experienced sexual assault.
However, as I researched my book, and began interviewing many young women who were attending, or had recently attended college, my limited view gave way to a realization that many young men feel entitled to sex and are willing to use drugs or alcohol to achieve an encounter. In my opinion, this objectification of women is a strong component behind the issue of sexual harassment so prevalent in the news today. Luckily, or maybe with some degree of successful parenting, my daughter was savvy enough to recognize this problem and seek out men who stood on higher moral ground.
Now twenty-four and living in Los Angeles, she visited me this past Thanksgiving. Over dinner one evening, we discussed details of my book. After I finished describing the plot and the issues of sexual assault described in the novel, she sat back and looked at me with disarming confidence and simply said, “Dad, the rule for guys in college is: Don’t have sex with a drunk student.” She made it sound so obvious. And so easy.
How do you balance messages of safety without inhibiting fun?
That’s an excellent question. During a recent book signing, I fielded questions from the audience. A mother asked me what she should tell her son before he leaves for college. She’s worried by stories she’s read of male students who believe they’ve had consensual sex with a female, then are later accused of sexual assault. It’s widely accepted that in university investigations, if a male and a female are both intoxicated, a notoriously difficult state of mind to measure, have sex, and then the woman later complains, the male will almost always be found guilty of sexual assault. Disciplinary panels consider who initiated sex and whether informed consent was received. A female student cannot give consent if she is intoxicated, and if a male student is intoxicated, the argument goes, he would be physically unable to initiate sex.
My advice to the mother was to encourage her son to know his partner well. If in doubt, wait. If too much alcohol has been consumed, wait. Even for a day. I suggested he have a friend able to testify to the state of mind of both students before and after the event. These personal testimonies are important in the disciplinary hearing. This certainly takes the fun and spontaneity out of such encounters, but when expulsion and being branded an assailant are possibilities, the risk is very high.
Why is the issue sometimes more complicated than "victim" and "perpetrator?"
On a university campus, young adults experience a precarious transition from youth to adult. Most sexual assaults occur during the first four semesters of college, and ninety percent of victims know their perpetrators. The prevalence of drugs and alcohol almost guarantee great decisions aren’t being made. Students who willingly and knowingly enter into a consensual sexual relationship will join prior generations of students. Trouble arrives when legal and affirmative consent is not clearly stated and received.