New York Follows California's Lead on Campus Assaults

June 17, 2015 AT 10:10 AM

New York’s political leaders have reached a deal on one of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s legislative priorities for 2015, saying they will adopt new laws intended to change the way sexual assaults on all college campuses in the state are handled.

The agreement, announced on Tuesday, proposes legislation that would establish a statewide definition of “affirmative consent,” and define consent as a “knowing, voluntary and mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity.”

This does not mean students will need to enter into a written contract before every sexual encounter; it is meant to reorient students in terms of how they approach sex, said Assemblywoman Deborah J. Glick, a Manhattan Democrat and chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee.

“It’s a question of putting everyone on notice that they have to be in a consensual situation,” Ms. Glick said. “It also sends a message to the institutions that they have to up their game on how sexual assault on campus is viewed and treated.”

The governor has spent a lot of political capital on the issue, and even brought in some star power to help. Earlier this month, Lady Gaga and Mr. Cuomo were co-authors of an editorial in Billboard magazine, and the governor has been promoting a documentary called “Hunting Ground,” about sexual assault on college campuses. The film was co-produced by his sister, Maria Cuomo Cole, and Lady Gaga contributed to the soundtrack.

Mr. Cuomo, in a statement, called the legislation “a major step forward to protect students from an issue that has been plaguing schools nationwide for far too long.”

The plan builds on a standard set by California, and extends policies in place at New York’s public colleges to private institutions in the state. It arrives as campuses across the country have come under increased scrutiny for their handling of sexual assaults. To that end, Mr. Cuomo’s plan calls for establishing a new unit in the State Police to help work with college campuses, since they are often the first point of contact when a rape occurs.

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