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margaret wente

Sixty years ago, sexual behaviour among the young caused deep alarm among the puritanical religious right. Today, it causes deep alarm among the puritanical progressive left. Like their forebears, they are doing their best to restrict and regulate it.

This weekend, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that makes universities redefine consensual sex. From now on, students must effectively obtain the "affirmative consent" of their partners, which must be "ongoing" every step of the way. Those accused of violating the consent rule will be judged on the preponderance of the evidence. Perpetrators face suspension or expulsion, and universities face heavy penalties for failure to enforce.

The new measure is designed to stem a tidal wave of rape on campus that, in fact, does not exist. (Violent crime, including sexual assault, has been in decline for 20 years.) Even so, universities across North America have set up vast new administrative apparatuses to deal with the crisis. Many of them have also expanded the meaning of "sexual violence" to include anything that makes you feel bad.

A choice example comes from Ontario's Brock University, where Jami Coughler, program co-ordinator of the sexual violence support centre, told the student newspaper: "Sexual violence is anything that makes someone feel unsafe; it could be catcalls, peer pressure to act a certain way in a situation, verbal harassment and unwanted touching. Many of these things occur daily without anyone giving a second thought to them. "

I owe this example to a website called The College Fix, which should get a prize for its diligent reporting on campus lunacy. It unearthed another gem at my old alma mater, the University of Michigan. According to its abuse website, sexual violence includes such offences as "criticizing the partner sexually" and "withholding sex and affection" – things that in my day were known as "being in a bad relationship."

I don't have the slightest wish to trivialize rape or sexual assault. It's campus vigilantes who are doing that. They are also determined to demolish anyone who dispenses perfectly sensible advice, such as counselling female students not to drink themselves into oblivion lest they do something they may later regret.

Last month, the former president of George Washington University, Stephen Tractenberg, made the mistake of remarking, "Without making the victims … responsible for what happens, one of the groups that have to be trained not to drink in excess are women. They need to be in a position to punch the guys in the nose if they misbehave. And so part of the problem is you have men who take advantage of women who drink too much and there are women who drink too much. And we need to educate our daughters and our children in that regard."

Naturally, he caught it right between the eyes. So did Forbes contributor Bill Frezza, an MIT alumnus who wrote a piece provocatively titled Drunk Female Guests Are The Gravest Threat To Fraternities. His advice to men: "Never, ever take a drunk female guest to your bedroom – even if you have a signed contract indicating sexual consent. Based on new standards being promulgated on campus, all consent is null and void the minute a woman becomes intoxicated – even if she is your fiancée." He was correct, but within hours, he and the column were summarily bounced.

Will the progressive left have any better luck regulating sexual behaviour than the puritanical right did? Somehow, I doubt it. The universities should get back to educating young people and leave sexual assault where it belongs – with the police.

The original print and online version of this column incorrectly quoted a University of Michigan abuse website as suggesting that sexual violence includes such offences as "having sex with other people."

In fact, the website includes as examples of sexual violence: "forcing partner to strip as a form of humiliation (maybe in front of children), to witness sexual acts, to participate in uncomfortable sex or sex after an episode of violence, to have sex with other people; and using objects and/or weapons to hurt during sex or threats to back up demands for sex."

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