Sen. Diamond introduces bill to strengthen Maine’s sexual assault laws

Posted: April 05, 2021 | Criminal Justice and Public Safety, Senator Diamond, Uncategorized

AUGUSTA – On Monday, Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, introduced a bill to strengthen Maine’s sexual assault laws. LD 877, “An Act to Expand the Definition of Unlawful Sexual Touching,” was the subject of a public hearing in front of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

“Strengthening and clarifying our criminal code to reflect the reality of these assaults – both the intent of the perpetrators and, above all, the effect on victims – is so important,” said Sen. Diamond. “Making it clear that unwanted kissing on the mouth is, in fact, a sexual assault recognizes what victims have been through and clarifies the nature of the offense on the offender’s record. It also sends a message to everyone that this type of behavior is not acceptable.”

LD 877 would add kissing on the mouth to the definition of unwanted sexual touching. The current definition of unwanted sexual touching is limited to “touching of the breast, buttocks, groin or inner thigh, directly or through clothing, for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire.” While unwanted kissing on the mouth is currently prosecuted as an assault, it is not considered a sexual assault.

Elizabeth Ward Saxl of the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MECASA) spoke in favor of the bill, explaining the important difference to victims in how a crime is prosecuted.

“In 1999 I began work as MECASA’s Executive Director, and I still remember the first call I received from a survivor seeking policy change,” said Saxl. “She told me a man had repeatedly and aggressively groped her breasts. She went to report the sexual assault to the police, and they indicated that it wasn’t a sexual assault, but it was an assault in the Criminal Code and that they would charge him with assault.

“She spoke to me about feeling betrayed by the law,” continued Saxl. “She recognized that there was a very different intent and impact of having your arm grabbed and having your breast groped; it was a different kind of violation.” Saxl added that while unwanted kissing on the mouth is currently chargeable, it is not done so “in a way that reflects the nature of the assault, and that deeply impacts a survivor’s experience and access to justice.”

Cumberland County District Attorney Jonathan Sahrbeck also spoke in support of the bill.

LD 877 faces further action in committee.