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Other’s opinion: Sexual Assault: Legislature must change rape law

The Free Press, Mankato

The Minnesota Legislature should act quickly to fix a flaw in sexual assault laws in Minnesota that allow rapists to escape charges and victims to go without justice.

The Minnesota Supreme Court recently ruled that the state’s law doesn’t consider a rape victim “mentally incapacitated” if they consumed alcohol or drugs voluntarily. Instead, the law calls for the mentally incapacitated standard to apply only if a person was given drugs or alcohol without their consent. The effect of the weaker standard for rape would likely have prosecutors bringing gross misdemeanor charges or no charges versus felony charges.

Experts say that would have far-reaching negative consequences for rape victims and the prosecution of rape cases.

Fortunately, there are bipartisan bills moving through the Legislature that would change the mental incapacity standard to include cases where victims voluntarily consume alcohol and were subsequently sexually assaulted.

A bill by Rep. Kelly Moller, DFL-Shoreview, calls for changing the third degree criminal sexual conduct statute to include cases where a victim was intoxicated to a degree where they were unable to give consent. Rep. Marion O’Neill, R-Maple Lake, is author of a similar bipartisan bill. She said the recent ruling “underscores the need to change our criminal sexual conduct laws to reflect the reality that all victims unable to consent need justice, not just those who have been forcibly intoxicated.”

The Minnesota County Attorneys Association estimates 10 million women nationwide have been sexually assaulted while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

But changing the technicalities of Minnesota law may not be enough. Wisconsin and a handful of other states make it unlawful to engage in sexual conduct with a person who is too intoxicated to consent.

The case the Supreme Court decided means the rape trial will have to be done over and the victim will have to face the trauma of testifying again. The ruling has shown a significant flaw in Minnesota sexual assault law that should be rectified as soon as possible before another rape victim faces the injustice of Minnesota law.