House Lowers the Bar for Third-Degree Rape

In Olympia, lawmakers hope to fix a technicality that’s denied justice to countless victims of sexual assault.  Dan Frizzell, from the Washington State House Democratic Caucus, has more.

In current law, sex predators can avoid conviction for third-degree rape if they force a sex act on a person who did not consent to the act and whose lack of consent was not, and we’ll quote here, “clearly expressed by the victim’s words or conduct.” When state Representative Tina Orwall discovered that, she did some homework and learned that a trauma like a forced sex act can produce the familiar fight-or-flight reaction in some instances, but many victims can literally be paralyzed by fear.  In medical terms this is called tonic immobility, and a person experiencing it can’t clearly express anything, including lack of consent. Orwall, a Democrat from Des Moines, says it’s one reason only six of every thousand accused rapists will ever do prison time in the state, and she wrote a bill to change the language of the law.

ORWALL: “I think it’s going to fix what’s difficult when a victim goes through the law and the enforcement process because they feel like they’re on trial for how their body reacted. And what we want is the perpetrator to be on trial.  So we think this is going to be justice in the courtroom to survivors and a very important step forward.” 

Her bill, which left the House on a 98-to-nothing vote Thursday, allows charges of third-degree rape when the victim did not give consent, period. It takes the onus off the victim and if it makes it through the Senate and is signed into law, it promises to make life a lot tougher for rapists in Washington state.  In Olympia, I’m Dan Frizzell.

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