Joined by survivors and activists at a press conference outside her Upper East Side office Tuesday, Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright introduced legislation that would for the first time define consent in New York’s penal law for sexual assault and all crimes.
The proposal would remove ambiguity in jury deliberations over the meaning of consent, which in the past has contributed to disparate outcomes in convicting sexual predators, according to Seawright. The legislation would define consent as “freely given, knowledgeable and informed agreement ... obtained without the use of malice such as forcible compulsion, duress, coercion deception, fraud, concealment, or artifice.” Currently, the state’s penal law only outlines the elements that constitute a “lack of consent.”
“The proper definition of consent in New York’s laws will clarify lawful sexual conduct, guide behavior, and make it possible to hold sexual predators accountable,” said Seawright, who announced her legislation on the National Day of Action of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. “This vital concept must no longer be left to chance.”
Joyce Short, who formed the advocacy group Consent Awareness Network (CAN) and the author of “Your Consent - The Key to Conquering Sexual Assault,” spoke in support of Seawright’s bill, calling the measure the first of its kind to be introduced in any state.
“Defining consent in our laws will consistently hold sexual predators accountable and conquer sexual assault as well as laying down the law in other crimes,” said Short. “Whether consent is applied to your COVID-19 vaccination, placing data on the internet, revenge porn, sex trafficking or sexual assault, consent is always... freely given, knowledgeable and informed agreement. New Yorkers desperately need this law - yesterday!”
In one recent and high profile example, jurors in the rape and sexual assault case against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein asked the judge for a definition for consent. The judge told the jury to use their common sense.
“Before testifying in the trial of Harvey Weinstein, I didn’t know there wasn’t a true definition of consent in our laws,” Tarale Wulff, a New York actor and model, said at Tuesday’s press conference. “Weinstein claimed to be confused, and that he thought most men are confused...There’s a generation of woke individuals who won’t be silenced. By clearly defining consent, there will be no confusion.”
Dawn Dunning, a creative director and model who also testified in the Weinstein trial, was also present Tuesday.
“Consent is consent in all things, not only sex,” said Dunning. “Applying consent in the general law makes it clear that the same ‘consent’ that protects your property also protects your body.”