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Cuomo proposes anti-sexual-assault legislation for all state higher education

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo presents the fourth part

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo presents the fourth part of his "2015 Opportunity Agenda" during a presentation at New York University on Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015. Credit: Office of the Governor / Kevin P. Coughlin

All college students statewide would need to secure explicit consent for each step of an intimate encounter on or around campus under anti-sexual-assault legislation proposed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

State-run colleges and universities adopted the requirement last year, but the legislation Cuomo announced Saturday would apply at all New York institutions of higher education, public and private -- more than 1 million students, according to his office's estimate.

He plans to include the proposal as part of his State of the State address Wednesday. The State Legislature would have to pass the bill.

Known as affirmative consent, or "Yes Means Yes," the provision would require "a clear, unambiguous, and voluntary agreement between the participants to engage in specific sexual activity." Affirmative consent flips the traditional notion that one party consents to sex absent an explicit "no."

"It's not a burden on the woman to say 'no,' and then have to defend whether or not she said 'no,' " he said. "It has to be an affirmative consent by the woman. That's what they mean by 'Yes Means Yes': The female has to affirmatively consent to any sexual acts."

A prior relationship does not imply future consent under the policy, which covers a range of activity, including kissing, an administration official said. The policy would apply to all genders and sexual orientations.

If enacted, New York would join California, which passed a similar bill last year, as well as the State University of New York, where affirmative consent is the rule at all 64 of its institutions. New York University, where Cuomo announced the proposal, already has a "Yes Means Yes" rule.

The SUNY policy covers not only encounters on campus, but also conduct that takes place off-campus that may have a "nexus" to the school.

Messages seeking comment from several private colleges around the state were not immediately returned last night.

The Obama administration has also sought to address the issue of sexual assault prevention, launching a national campaign called "It's On Us." The U.S. Department of Education is investigating dozens of colleges for allegedly mishandling sexual assault investigations.

Cuomo's legislation would require schools to tell people who report sexual assault accusations that they can choose to involve the campus authorities as well as the police, including the State Police.

To foster the reporting of sexual violence, the legislation would also grant amnesty to accusers or bystanders for violations of certain campus rules, such as prohibitions on drugs and alcohol.

Christine Quinn, whose first day was Saturday as Cuomo's special adviser, announced Cuomo's consent policy.

Quinn, a 2013 New York City mayoral candidate and former City Council speaker, campaigned for Cuomo's re-election last year on the Women's Equality Party the governor created. Quinn will work part time for Cuomo until she finishes a fellowship at Harvard, and then become full time.

Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever said the paid position's salary was being finalized.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who beat out Quinn for the Democratic mayoral nomination in 2013, said through spokesman Phil Walzak: "The mayor welcomes Christine back to public service."

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