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Governor signs bill to address consent in Indiana’s rape law

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Prosecutors and advocates for sexual assault survivors on Monday said they were jubilant over the governor’s signing of a change to the state’s rape law.

Indiana’s existing law applies the charge of rape to cases where the act was done by force, or to someone who either was unconscious or has an intellectual disability. It doesn’t address issues surrounding consent. Beginning July 1, Indiana’s definition of rape will expand to include cases where “the person disregarded the other person’s attempts to physically, verbally, or by other visible conduct refuse the person’s acts.”

Courtney Curtis, assistant executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, said the existing law is unclear, especially to jurors, whether a crime was committed if someone is raped and tries to move away from their attacker, for example. She said the new law will open up a new avenue to approach rape cases.

“We teach our sons and we teach our daughters ‘no means no,’” she said. “There are things victims will do outside of saying ‘no’ to indicate this is not a consensual act, and now the letter of the law that appears on our books matches what we’ve been teaching our children this entire time.”

Beth White, president and chief executive officer of the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault and Human Trafficking, said seeking justice through the criminal justice system is one part of the healing process for survivors. She said she hopes the new law encourages more survivors to come forward and ask prosecutors to file charges

“We know it’s not perfect, we also know that often, perpetrators are not held accountable. But we are encouraging survivors to come forward,” she said.

White said lawmakers still need to more clearly define what qualifies as consent, as other states have done. She said her group and others will lobby for such changes during next year’s legislative session.

Curtis said because the law doesn’t take effect until July 1, rape cases from before that date will still be prosecuted under the old law.