As many of us know, rape is one of the hardest crimes to prosecute. This is mainly because the laws and burden of proof varies from state to state, and often the trials don’t hinge on consent. Luckily, this is changing now that society is finally catching up to the idea that toughening rape laws and requiring consent is essential to prosecuting rapists and protecting victims. This week, Montana finally updated their rape laws to require consent. Previously, a victim had to show that they were violently attacked to prove that they had been raped. This means that now victims can prosecute attackers if they’ve been drugged, for example, or show that their attacker used a position of power to assault them.
Previously, these were all tools for alleged attackers to claim consent. So it’s a good thing Montana finally got that all sorted out. The law reforms were championed by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Attorney General Tim Fox, and most of the state legislature. It passed 148 to 2, which means the changes actually had full bipartisan support. (FYI: Republicans Brad Tschida and Adam Rosendale were the only two who opposed the bill.)
The changes reflect a cultural shift in our understanding that victims can freeze up during an attack and that most sexual assaults are done by people close to the victim, and without life-threatening violence.
Basically, no finally means no in Montana.
Rep. Diane Sands, a Democrat, was instrumental to passing the law. She said in a statement, “We looked at really what it takes to convict someone of sexual assault. I’m very pleased we could actually pass these pieces of legislation, in most cases pretty much unanimously.” She added the reasoning behind the changes, namely that the laws just didn’t make sense anymore. Sands said, “Most of these laws were passed in the 1970s when we had a very different idea of what sexual assault was. We have had many cases of a sexual assault that everyone agrees was a sexual assault [but] isn’t a sexual assault under the law.”
In addition to reformed their state’s sexual assault laws, Montana is also going to begin sending out thousands of backlogged rape kits for testing. According to Montana authorities, some of the kits weren’t tested because the victim didn’t press charges or the investigation ended in deciding a criminal act didn’t occur. With the change in the law, hopefully more women and investigators will press charges so the state doesn’t have to add to their backlog anymore.