Utah bill to clarify sexual assault stirs surprising debate 


By Michael A. Kruse, Capital West News Service

Kim Fischer, a reporter with KTVX Channel 4 News, spoke about her own traumatic experience with sexual assault at the Utah House Judiciary Committee as lawmakers discuss HB74. (Good 4 Utah)

A woman sat in tears as she explained to state lawmakers how she was sexually assaulted during her freshman year in college. Kim Fischer, a reporter with KTVX Channel 4 News in Utah, told about how she awoke to a man sexually assaulting her after she had spent the night at a friend’s house.

Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, sponsored a bill to clarify language in the current law to make it clear that someone who  is unconscious or incapacitated cannot consent to sexual interactions.

“The only thing I could think to do was pretend to sleep and say my boyfriend’s name,” Fischer said. She explained her simple actions stopped the man from going further. She had never told anyone, but three weeks ago she recounted the events after being encouraged to tell her story before the House Judiciary Committee as lawmakers discussed HB74.

Donna Kelly, of the Utah Prosecution Council, sat in as an expert witness to answer questions about the bill. Current state law requires proof that a victim expressed non-consent, but the bill would protect vulnerable people from attacks. “How can a victim express lack of consent if they’re unaware what’s happening?” Kelly said.

Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, had reservations that the bill removed the state’s burden to prove consent. “Is there any scenario in which a person could have sex with an unconscious person that would not constitute to rape?”

Committee Chair LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, echoed Greene’s concerns about the bill. Christensen wondered whether the current law may be sufficient, suggesting that striking the consent requirement from the law may impose a blanket policy rather than approach circumstances on a case-by-case basis.

Rep. V. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, emphasized the importance of ensuring that the state still has proof beyond a reasonable doubt that consent was not given. Snow expressed his belief that the burden of proof should take care of any fringe cases that others bring up.

“When an individual has sex with a victim that the individual knows is unconscious or unaware that the act is occurring, that’s rape. Period. End of story,” said Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City. King insisted the bill should pass to make clear the legislative body will not tolerate rape.

The committee gave a favorable recommendation to the bill with an 11-0 vote despite some impassioned debate on the matter. The bill will now head to the House floor for further consideration.

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