Are the proposed regulations for sexual conduct on colleges campuses being considered by the California Legislature yet another intrusion by a nanny-state government into the bedroom?
That's certainly the easy answer for critics of this effort to combat sexual assaults on women at California's colleges and universities. And, being so easy, it's the nonsense being spouted by many.
But when you look at the problem in actual search of a solution rather than a chance to use an often-apt libertarian cliche, "yes means yes" makes a lot more sense than "no means no."
The reason comes out of a truth on which nearly everyone agrees: Campus sexual activity that results in charges of assault almost always involves alcohol. And when you're too drunk to make sense, you're certainly too drunk to say much of anything at all, including "no."
Senate Bill 967, a bill to require California colleges to have such an "affirmative consent standard," co-sponsored by Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, passed the state Senate in May and is in committee in the Assembly, where we hope it is approved and sent to the governor.
It's the next step toward dealing with an assault problem that for generations has been ignored on America's college campuses for the same reason that date rape was ignored, or at least not talked about in polite company: Women had been conned into silence and passivity by a society that didn't want to talk about sex.
That problem is in the past -- sometimes to society's detriment. In the days of "Ozzie and Harriet," at least you didn't feel the need to jump in the shower after turning on daytime TV.
But since we can now talk about sex openly, let's use that to cure what is clearly still a big problem. UC Berkeley, USC, Occidental, and even Harvard and Princeton are on a list of 55 colleges nationwide being investigated by the federal government on suspicion of underreporting and otherwise mishandling sexual assault cases.
UC President Janet Napolitano acknowledged recently that college administrators are simply unequipped to be prosecutor and judge in sexual assault cases. That's clear from what too often happens: Acknowledged assaulters return to campus with victims after some slap on the wrist.
Knowledge is power, as ever. We must begin calling out this form of rape for what it is. A White House task force, citing statistics that indicate one in five American women college students are sexually assaulted during their time on campus, established a website, www.notalone.gov, that offers resources to victims. California's bill and other steps like it should lead to societal changes that loudly repudiate the notion that raping an incoherent woman is somehow acceptable. It isn't.