Attorney General – Missoula Prosecutor Testify On Rape Definition Bill
Montana's laws defining sexual assault and sexual intercourse without consent are antiquated, according to a bill introduced by a Missoula legislator before the House Judiciary Committee on Friday.
Democrat Diane Sands of Missoula introduced SB 29 after closely examining the wording in Montana's current laws defining sexual crimes.
"Out of every thousand sexual assaults, very few of them are ever charged, fewer are ever prosecuted, and fewer yet are even convicted," Sands said. "This bill recognizes the modern research on how victims of sexual crimes react. What really happens in a sexual assault is that the victim doesn't run or fight back, but freezes. The perpetrator is usually known to the victim and it's most often in a home, and there is no use of force. For that reason some cases have gone all the way to the Montana Supreme Court and the defendant has gone free. This bill tries to address that particular issue."
Attorney General Tim Fox appeared before the committee and explained the new definition of sexual assault within Senate Bill 29.
"Consent means words or overt actions indicating a freely given agreement to have sexual intercourse or sexual contact," Fox began. "The bill goes on to further clarify that several common myths that have been used for years to infer that the victim was asking to be raped because of the way that they were dressed or because of a previous relationships, do not in and of themselves mean that consent was given. Instead, the bill requires that law enforcement, indeed courts and juries, look at all the surrounding facts and circumstances, including expressions of lack of consent through words or conduct."
Deputy Missoula County Attorney Jennifer Clark testified that in her over 14 years of prosecuting sexual assault, she and her fellow attorneys have been hampered by Montana's antiquated sexual assault legal language.
"Under our current statute, we have to prove that defendant had sexual intercourse, that he did so knowingly, and that he knew that the victim wasn't consenting , and that's usually where we get tripped up," Clark said. "Without consent is currently defined as that the victim was compelled to submit by force."
In the second and third readings of the bill, it passed unanimously.