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SUPPORT WITHIN REACH: Tougher legislation could help sexual assault victims come forward

On July 1, 2021, Gov. Tim Walz signed into law the Criminal Sexual Conduct Statutory Reform. This reform included a number of critical provisions related to reducing sexual violence and improving access and well-being for victims and survivors.

Riley Irish Support Within Reach column WEB.jpg
Riley Irish is a criminal court advocate at Support Within Reach and coordinator of the Beltrami County Sexual Assault Multidisciplinary Action Response Team.

On July 1, 2021, Gov. Tim Walz signed into law the Criminal Sexual Conduct Statutory Reform. This reform included a number of critical provisions related to reducing sexual violence and improving access and well-being for victims and survivors.

These changes included the elimination of the Statute of Limitations for criminal sexual conduct crimes and changes to the definition of Mentally Incapacitated and Coercion.

Statute of Limitations refers to how long the prosecution has to charge an individual after a crime has been committed or has been reported. Previously, there was no time limit for sexual violence cases with DNA evidence in Minnesota law if you have the necessary evidence.

The new legislation would eliminate the statute of limitations on sex crimes. Now, even if there is no DNA evidence, you can still file criminal sexual conduct charges. Previously, prosecutors have been limited to filing charges within nine years of the offense or three years after it was first reported to law enforcement.

This change matters to victims of child sexual abuse who tend to wait years or even decades before disclosing their abuse, which could be long after any physical evidence of the assault could be collected. This will give victims more time to process what happened to them. It can give them time to find the help they need and give them a safe space to decide whether or not to press charges on their own terms.

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This legislation is also widening the definition of "Mentally Incapacitated" to include voluntary intoxication. This protects individuals who are drunk or high when they are assaulted, meaning they are not in the right state of mind to give consent to sexual contact or sexual penetration.

Starting Sept. 15, according to the new law, anyone who is under the influence of alcohol, a narcotic, an anesthetic or any other substance, lacks the judgment to give reasonable consent to sexual contact or penetration. This is true whether administered to that person willingly or without the person's agreement.

Prior to this legislation, victims and survivors of sexual violence who became intoxicated willingly prior to the assault, whether with the offender or a group of friends, could not get the justice they deserved. Just because you ask for a beer at a bar doesn’t mean you’re giving away your consent.

The new legislation is also strengthening the definition of coercion. Extorting or threatening someone into sex is now a crime. Sexual coercion is any unwanted sexual activity that happens when you are pressured, extorted, worn down, tricked, threatened or forced in a nonphysical way.

Coercion can make victims think they owe someone sexual favors. This might occur when an individual has power over you, like a boss, co-worker, teacher, landlord, partners, etc. Remember NO person is ever required to have sex with someone else. Tougher, more specific legislation like this could help victims of sexual assault feel comfortable enough to come forward.

Be safe, take some time for yourself and happy holidays!

Riley Irish is a criminal court advocate at Support Within Reach and coordinator of the Beltrami County Sexual Assault Multidisciplinary Action Response Team.

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