Platte and Colfax county prosecutors are on board with a measure to bring more clarity to the state’s standard for prosecuting criminal sexual assault cases if progress continues on boosting victims’ rights.
“As long as we’re not blaming the victims of sexual assault. We don’t want to do that, ever,” said Platte County Attorney Carl Hart while discussing a bill that would adopt affirmative consent as the guide prosecutors use to take sex assault cases to court.
“We’ve really evolved on victims’ issues in the last 40 years,” Hart said. “It’s been a necessary cultural shift.”
His Platte County office prosecuted a decade-high 30 sexual assault cases in 2016, up three from 27 in 2015. The office handled 25 sexual assault cases in 2009 and 19 in 2008.
Colfax County Attorney Denise Kracl was happy to see Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks’ bill (LB988) introduced last week.
“I applaud lawmakers that we’ve at least started the conversation,” said Kracl, who prosecutes sexual assault cases through her office and also serves as president of the board for the Center for Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Survivors in Columbus.
“We’re very much in support of the affirmative consent standard,” said Lia Grant, executive director of the local victims’ support group.
Currently, state law says a victim must express a lack of consent through words or conduct as the standard for criminal sexual assault cases.
With the newly introduced bill, consent means words or overt actions that indicate a knowing and voluntary agreement, freely given, to engage in sexual contact or intercourse. A person could also still withdraw consent with words or conduct.
According to the bill, these things would not imply or give consent: current or previous dating; social or sexual relationship by itself; how the person is dressed; the victim's use of drugs or alcohol.
The bill mandates an affirmative consent standard requiring a clear, unambiguous and voluntary agreement to participate in a specific sexual activity.
Instead of the common rule of "no means no," which implies that unless a person says no, the other person in a sexual encounter assumes there's permission, an affirmative consent would be required.
Hart, along with law enforcement, just wants a clearly defined affirmative consent standard in investigating and prosecuting cases.
“It’s not up to me, it’s our burden and we’ve always taken it on while looking at situations on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “I’m interested in following the law, whatever it is.”
“No means no” oftentimes puts the burden on the smaller, less aggressive member involved in a relationship, Kracl said.
“Tell me, why do we make victims fight back (under today’s standard)?" Kracl said.
“We were ready for this conversation 10 years ago, but when we pass it is when we’ll make real progress,” she said.