Though it should go without saying, rape is one of the most serious crimes a person can possibly commit.The complete dominance and taking of power by one person towards another is an affront to personal liberty and equality. In recent years, views towards rape have evolved, as our culture has come to realize that sexual assault and rape are not done out of a sexual desire, but out of one of power and dominance.
But, just because society has started to evolve on the topic, it does not mean that our laws have advanced with it.
It is for this reason that Representative Angela Romero (Democrat – Salt Lake City) is pushing HB 74 – Consent Definition for Sexual Offense.
Romero’s bill would make two very important updates to Utah’s current sexual offense laws that are long over due.
First, it may come as a surprise to some that the law currently states that “[sexual offenses occur when] the victim has not consented and the [perpetrator] knows the victim is unconscious, unaware the act is occurring, or physically unable to resist.” Under Romero’s legislation, the state would eliminate the requirement that the victim has to in some way demonstrate that they did not consent to the sexual act prior to it taking place.
Utah law also states that a sexual offense occurs when the perpetrator “knows that as a result of mental disease or deficit, the victim is at the time of the act incapable either of appraising the nature of the act or of resisting it.” Romero, under her legislation, would eliminate the mental disease or deficit section of the code to more broadly define the term to simply state that an offense occurs when one is unable to resist for whatever reason.
These two changes would mark a strong shift in Utah policy towards punishing sexual offenders. Currently, Utah could be described as a “no means no” state, a policy that was advanced for its time; however, as our culture has evolved, there is a greater understanding that silence can also mean no and that “yes” doesn’t always mean “yes.”
The problem with basic policies such as “no means no” or “yes can mean no” is that it ultimately still places blame on the victim for the act. With HB 74, Romero is stating that the perpetrator, and not the victim, is the one who makes the decision to commit a crime.
This marked change will no doubt cause problems for Romero as she attempts to advance this legislation. Lawmakers will no doubt joke (or perhaps honestly ask) if paperwork will be required prior to a sexual act. Questions about false accusations will also arise as lawmakers forget about or disregard the fact that forensic evidence is also required for a conviction.
It is true that some may abuse the changes in the law, however this fact is the case with all laws – even with the most heinous of crimes. Our criminal justice system has ways of handling such accusations in both criminal and civil court, and to use the false accusation argument shows a lack of trust in the criminal justice system.
Romero, ultimately, would be taking a great step forward in protecting victims, placing blame where it belongs, and emphasizing the fact that the true policy towards sexual assault shouldn’t be “no means no” or “yes means yes,” the true policy should be “don’t rape – period.”
To contact Representative Romero, Click Here or call 801-722-4972
|Impact on Average Utahn||0-1-2-3-4-5|
|Need for Legislation||0-1-2-3-4-5|