Minnesota lawmakers are facing growing pressure to update the state's criminal sexual conduct laws to make it easier for victims of extortion and alcohol-related assaults to get justice.
A proposal with bipartisan support at the Capitol aims to tackle gaps in state laws that make it harder to prosecute cases where the victim is too intoxicated to consent or is coerced or blackmailed into unwanted sexual contact.
The legislation got renewed attention last week after the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that, according to existing law, someone is only "mentally incapacitated" if the person is involuntarily drugged or intoxicated. The bill would include voluntary intoxication in the definition of mentally incapacitated and make it a felony to engage in a sexual encounter with someone who is incapable of understanding or consenting.
"I was just shocked, being in 2021, and having voluntary intoxication be a reason for someone not being a felon is just absolutely insane to me," said Kenna Groschen, who organized a rally at the Capitol on Monday. "If something like that happens to us we need to know that we'll have the courts on our side."
More than 100 people gathered on the Capitol lawn on Monday carrying signs that said "drinking is not consent" and "boys will be held accountable" to urge the Republican-controlled Senate to hold a hearing on the bill this session.
The proposal came out of a yearlong working group prompted by the Star Tribune's Denied Justice series, which showed the challenges in getting justice in cases where the victim was drinking.
It would also add a new crime of sexual extortion, where someone is blackmailed or threatened into unwanted sexual contact. The proposal has passed out of two committees in the DFL-led House but has not yet been heard in the Senate, where Dave Senjem, a Republican from Rochester, is carrying the proposal.
Sen. Julia Coleman, a freshman Republican lawmaker from Chanhassen, said she's pushing in her caucus to get the proposal passed this year.
"Sexual assault survivors have already gone through enough trauma. Seeing their perpetrators escape justice is unacceptable," she said. "Our statutes shouldn't allow for victim blaming, and I am committed to doing whatever is necessary to create a culture where all victims of sexual violence get justice."
The Supreme Court ruling also granted a man convicted of criminal sexual conduct a new trial. In 2017, Francios Momolu Khalil picked up a woman who had been refused entry from a Dinkytown bar for being too intoxicated and brought her back to his north Minneapolis home. She passed out and woke up to Khalil raping her. A jury had found Khalil guilty of third-degree criminal sexual misconduct.
Madisyn Priestley, a 19-year-old student at the University of Minnesota and a sexual assault survivor, said it "doesn't feel like we have anyone to protect us."
"We need to keep pushing our Legislature to make them know that this is not OK. No means no. Being drunk is not consent," she said. "You have to keep pushing legislators because if you don't, nothing will happen."
Briana Bierschbach • 651-925-5042