New law gives greater protection to sexual assault victims


Gov. Gary Herbert has signed into law a bill that clarifies the parameters of consent for sex, giving more control to victims to say “no” during a romantic encounter. 

(Jenna Alton)

Herbert signed the bill into law on March 24. 1HB 213 says even though consent may have been given at the beginning of a sexual encounter, withdrawal of consent at any point that isn’t respected by a partner could be considered a crime.

This bill’s sponsor Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said, “Because is a sexual act or prior consensual activity between or with any party does not necessarily constitute consent to any other sexual acts consent may be initially given but may be withdrawn through words or conduct at any time prior to or during sexual activity.”

HB 213 states that if the victim does not express the consent through words or conduct, the actor overcomes the victim through physical force or threats, or if the actor knows that the victim is unconscious and unaware of the act, it will be considered as a felony.

Even if a victim has a mental health disease, which will make the victim unable to resist or give consent, it can be considered a felony. 

Michelle McKee, a client from the Rape Recovery Center, explained how the law before the changes did not protect her.

“It’s too ambiguous, the laws that stand right now do not do anything to protect us. and that ambiguity allows quite violent people to get away with things,” McKee said.

In her story, McKee told that years ago she encountered a man in his trailer. She understood that they were engaging in romantic activity. A few moments later, four armed men get into the trailer and forced her to have sexual interaction with them.

Therefore, she did not pull back from the situation because the fear she had at the moment.

“It means whatever you can do to mitigate the violence that’s going to be acted upon your body, you get into a mentality where if you know that if you don’t agree that if you don’t submit, you’re going to either be very physically harmed,” McKee said.

After telling her story to the committee, McKee explained why she supports this bill. 

“During my incident, where I said ‘yes’ to one thing, I felt I had said no. I had four other men, including this one person in this space. There was no way for me to give consent,” McKee said. “There was no power structure to secure me in that situation, and there was no language to define that I could rescind this consent.”

Kim Cordova, executive director of the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, said, “[It is a] kind of balancing that is getting the sweet spot when you’re looking at the Constitutional issues of the presumption of innocence and verb shifting”… “the way that it fixes to address some of the concerns that some of the proponents had to clarify exactly what can and when can be thrown at any time.”

Jenn Oxborrow, executive director of the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, expressed the point of view of sexual assault victims.

“This is a really important step for survivors and victims,” Oxborrow said. “It’s important for them to know that they do have this right, we know that crimes of sexual violence, in particular, are very underreported.”

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