‘Yes means yes’: Consent to sex standard would change under Nebraska bill

‘Yes means yes’: Consent to sex standard would change under Nebraska bill
Patty Pansing Brooks

Nebraska’s sexual consent standard could shift to “yes means yes.”

Under Legislative Bill 173, introduced by State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, there would be no consent to sex if it is not “knowingly, voluntarily, or freely given.” Silence and lack of resistance does not demonstrate consent, Pansing Brooks said. Consent could be given verbally or through overt actions.

“This bill is more than a definitional change,” Pansing Brooks said at Wednesday’s hearing before the Judiciary Committee. “This bill is about empowering survivors of sexual assault to seek justice from their attacker.”

Many survivors of sexual assault told their stories at the hearing. One woman testified that while at Doane College, she once consented to having sex with a man. Later, he assumed she’d say yes again, she said.

“After resting and repeating the word ‘no’ a few times, I finally accepted there was no viable way out of the car. The only way I was getting back out of that car was to shut up and take it,” the woman said in written testimony read aloud on her behalf. “Once there was a lack of a verbal ‘no,’ he assumed he was free to do as he pleased.”

Consent can’t be assumed just because it had been given before, Pansing Brooks said.

An opponent of the bill and Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers said the bill wouldn’t properly address some unclear situations, like drunken encounters and situations where affirmative consent is originally given but then a person has a change of mind.

“The reality is, it’s subtle,” said Spike Eickholt of the Nebraska Criminal Defense Attorney Association. He also said the current law isn’t as loose as Pansing Brooks suggests.

The committee also heard bills on:

Human trafficking.

  • The statute of limitations for human trafficking would be extended to seven years if the victim was an adult, and eliminated entirely if the victim was a juvenile, under LB 519, introduced by Peru Sen. Julie Slama. It would also allow the use of wiretapping in human trafficking investigations.

Consent by minors.

  • Using consent by people under the age of 18 would not be allowed in civil actions regarding sexual assaults, under LB 478, introduced by Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas.