Minnesota lawmakers are pushing an effort to provide amnesty to minors who have been sexually assaulted while drinking or using drugs.

Under the bipartisan measure, sexual assault victims and those assisting them would be protected from prosecution for certain controlled substance and alcohol violations. Sponsors of the legislation hope to encourage more sexual assault survivors to report without fear of prosecution.

“Even though [prosecution] doesn’t happen often, it’s a deterrent for victim-survivors to report. We want to make sure that we can say with certainty … that you will not be prosecuted if you were drinking when you were assaulted,” said Trish Palermo, president of the University of Minnesota’s Student Association, which worked with lawmakers on the bill.

The measure is modeled after a “medical amnesty” law passed in 2013, which allows minors who have been drinking and have a medical emergency to dial 911 without being prosecuted.

Rep. Cheryl Youakim, DFL-Hopkins, the main author of the House measure, said the proposal would help eliminate ambiguity in the reporting process.

“I do think it’s all about … the perception for students. A prosecutor may not prosecute for it, but students don’t know that,” she said.

Katie Eichele, director of the U’s Aurora Center, said in a statement that victims already face many barriers to reporting their assaults, and this proposal would “open as many doors as possible” to encourage them to come forward. The Aurora Center offers services to students and others who have experienced assault and harassment.

In a statement, Rep. Marion O’Neill, R-Maple Lake, called the measure a “common-sense proposal” that will help victims feel safe when reporting their assaults to law enforcement.

“This policy puts victims first and has the potential to save lives,” O’Neill said.

Prospects for the measure are still uncertain. The bill missed a legislative committee deadline last week, and Youakim said she may now push for an informational hearing or ask for a rules waiver to allow a legislative hearing.

Palermo said she hopes lawmakers will come together this year to support the legislation.

“It’s not a huge ask. It seems like a very obvious thing that we should already be doing,” she said.

 

Ryan Faircloth is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.