Last week, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that when someone who voluntarily consumes alcohol is sexually assaulted, the individual cannot be considered "mentally incapacitated" under the state's criminal sexual conduct law. As a result, the attacker can escape justice.
We appreciate the outrage over this decision shared in Minnesota and across the world. Victims who voluntarily consume alcohol or drugs and are raped are entitled to justice. We believe state law must be changed immediately to reflect this understanding.
The ruling was deeply disappointing, but it wasn't surprising. Survivors, advocates and attorneys have been saying for decades that it's very difficult to charge cases where the victim of sexual assault has voluntarily consumed alcohol or drugs. The current law the court cited, which only applies if the drugs or alcohol are "administered to" the victim, dates back to 1889.
A working group — the creation of which we shepherded through the Legislature — took a comprehensive look at the state's laws regarding sexual assault to identify numerous loopholes and shortcomings that make the delivery of justice challenging and at times impossible. The group made numerous recommendations, including closing the voluntary intoxication loophole, and we're proud to author legislation moving in the Minnesota House to codify this and the other recommendations into law.
The Supreme Court ruling has more significant ramifications than the result of a single case. This should serve as a reminder to all Minnesotans that it's time to fundamentally shift the way in which we think about all sexual assaults involving intoxication. For too long, both legally and culturally, victim blaming has been pervasive. The way the statute is currently written, which doesn't protect survivors of sexual assault who are voluntarily intoxicated, is itself an example of victim blaming. Fundamentally, we think most Minnesotans understand that taking advantage of another person's intoxication to sexually assault them is predatory behavior, and our laws must provide justice.
Aside from the laws themselves, another significant barrier to justice is the fact sexual assault crimes are vastly underreported. When survivors come forward, they are forced to revisit every last detail of the trauma they experienced. Every aspect of their story is scrutinized. Too often, their claims aren't taken seriously. The gathering of physical evidence is an invasive procedure no one would willingly subject themselves to but for a pursuit of justice.
Prosecutors need tools to ensure survivors are comfortable coming forward and have the confidence to know accountability can be sought with a favorable result in court. Our legislation contains the solutions prosecutors, survivors and communities are counting on to strengthen outcomes with the ultimate goal of keeping people safe. In addition to the voluntary intoxication loophole, the legislation would enact a new measure to prevent sexual extortion, provide more protections to children and make other overdue reforms which focus on predatory behavior.
Every legislative session, sexual assault survivors come to the State Capitol to share their stories. With the eyes of legislators, the media and the public on them, they relive their trauma, discussing not just what they experienced, but how the criminal justice system failed them. They do so knowing full well that nothing lawmakers do can fix what happened to them, but by coming forward, they hope to prevent the same thing from happening to someone else in the future.
Survivors shouldn't have to come to the Legislature year after year to demand change. We have a carefully assembled, bipartisan set of solutions before us, and there's no reason for the Legislature to wait before taking action. Minnesota has long been a leader in putting survivors first, and we can't let one court ruling based on a terribly outdated law change that. Let's all commit to getting these changes done now.
Kelly Moller, DFL-Shoreview, is chief author and Marion O'Neill, R-Maple Lake, is a co-author of legislation to update the state criminal sexual conduct statute.