ST. GEORGE — A new bill set for discussion in the upcoming 2015 General Session of the Utah State Legislature may alter the definition of consent in criminal cases involving sexual offenses.
The proposal, House Bill 74 – Consent Definition For Sexual Offense, seeks to alter two sections of the current Utah Criminal Code for sexual offenses in order to place more accountability on the alleged perpetrator, Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City and the bill’s sponsor, said. While this bill does not extremely alter the existing code, it does call for a change in how the alleged victims are dealt with.
The first section of the Utah Criminal Code that the bill looks to alter involves alleged victims who claim to be unconscious or unaware the act is taking place, or were physically unable to resist.
With the current language in the code, these alleged victims would need to find a way to prove that they were unconscious, Romero said. By striking out some of this language, it switches that responsibility around.
“It puts a little bit more responsibility on the alleged actor,” Romero said. “Because if someone is unconscious, how are they supposed to say, ‘I do not want to have sex with you?’”
The bill also looks to strike out similar language in situations involving an alleged sexual abuse victim who may be suffering from a mental disease or defect, Romero said; as with those who claim to have been unconscious, proof of the alleged victim’s defect must be offered.
The way the code reads now, Romero said, if an alleged sex crime happens involving a person claiming to have been suffering from a mental disease or defect, the responsibility for proving that disease or defect actually exists would fall upon the victim or even his or her survivor. Once again, this proposed change would switch the responsibility around.
“If somebody is under mental duress or you know that somebody has these certain mental disabilities, it’s probably in your best interest to not pursue a sexual relationship with them,” Romero said, “especially if you know they can’t … be an active participant.”
This is not the first piece of legislation Romero has pushed relating to sexual assault, and she said it will likely not be the last. In the 2014 General Session, Romero sponsored a bill titled “Child Sexual Abuse Prevention.” The bill proposed that schools wishing to teach sexual abuse education to children from kindergarten-sixth grade in the 2015-2016 school year be allowed to do so, and it also required all educators to undergo sex abuse prevention training in some form.
“I was told by some (people) when I ran that piece of legislation that it probably wouldn’t pass because I was new to the Legislature and that those are topics that people generally don’t want to discuss,” Romero said. “I took a chance because I was committed to the survivors I was working with at the time.”
Romero’s drive in the issue paid off and the proposed bill was passed and signed into law by the governor on April 1, 2014 and became effective on May 13, 2014. A total of 71 representatives voted yay for the bill in its final form with none opposed and four absent or not voting. Southern Utah representatives Jon Stanard, Michael Noel, Brad Last, V. Lowry Snow, Don Ipson and John Westwood were all among those who voted in favor of Romero’s bill. The senate also passed the bill with an overwhelming 20-8 vote and one absent or not voting. Southern Utah Sens. Ralph Okerlund, David Hinkins, Steve Urquhart and Evan Vickers all voted in favor of the bill.
While Romero said she is quite confident that her Consent Definition bill will pass through the legislature with overall approval, nothing in politics can ever be certain. So far though, she has heard no opposition towards her proposal.
This piece of legislation is important, Romero said, because it can help the state take a step in the right direction. Often times people who have survived sexual violence can feel like they are being blamed for the act or that their credibility is the first thing being questioned when they come forward.
“I want to change the way we view victims and survivors of sexual violence and sexual assault,” Romero said.
The Utah State Legislature will come into session on Jan. 26 and continues on until March 26. A full list of the bills along with weekly schedules for the 2015 session can be viewed at the Utah State Legislature website.
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