Carpenter bill would make sexual acts without consent a crime
AUGUSTA — A bill by Sen. Mike Carpenter, D-Houlton, would make a it a crime to commit a sexual act with another person without their consent.
The bill — LD 654, “An Act To Amend the Laws Governing Certain Sexual Offenses” — received a public hearing before the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on Wednesday.
The legislation clarifies that gross sexual assault includes a sexual act with another person without their consent. The bill also amends the language regarding the crimes of unlawful sexual touching and unlawful sexual contact by replacing the current standard of “implied or express acquiescence” with “consent.”
Lastly, the bill repeals Maine law that allows the prosecution defense that victim voluntarily consumed drugs or alcohol or allowed the actor to administer drugs or alcohol to that person.
“Far too many sexual assaults go unreported and even fewer are prosecuted,” said Sen. Carpenter. “Our law, as currently written, doesn’t do enough to protect victims. Sex without consent isn’t sex. It’s assault. This bill makes that distinction clear.”
Carpenter brought the bill at the request of District Attorney Todd Collins from Aroostook County.
According to a study by the U.S. Department of Justice released in October of last year, sexual assault is the most underreported violent crime in the United States. Of those that are actually reported, only a very small number of cases will be prosecuted.
Elizabeth Ward Saxl of the Maine Coalition on Sexual Assault (MECASA) testified in favor of the aspect of the bill involving consumption of drugs or alcohol.
She stressed that the statute associated with this part of the bill has come to mean, in practice, that the victim is unconscious. While everyone agrees that this would be sexual assault, she argued that the criminal code as written negates this if the victim is older than fifteen and “voluntarily consumed the substance”.
“In this situation, the person who is unconscious and voluntarily drank all those beers, sexual assault is not a crime. This is a vestige of the old ‘she should have known better thinking’. She shouldn’t have been wearing that short skirt, she shouldn’t have been at that party, she shouldn’t have been drinking,” said Ward Saxl. “It is long past time for this section of the code to disappear.”
LD 654 faces further action in the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and votes in the House and Senate.