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Carmel woman on a mission to change Indiana's rape law after she says man sexually assaulted her

Indiana law does not define 'consent'
A Carmel woman is on a mission to change Indiana’s rape law after she says a salesperson sexually assaulted her in her own home in June 2019.
Posted at 5:00 AM, Oct 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-22 18:32:43-04

Note: This story describes an account of sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised.

CARMEL — A Carmel woman is on a mission to change Indiana’s rape law after she said a salesperson sexually assaulted her in her own home in June 2019.

Stephanie Stewart said Hamilton County prosecutors did not file criminal charges against the man.

“There’s so much that needs to be done,” Stewart said. “It’s astounding to me that it’s 2021 and it feels like we are in the 1950s sometimes.”

Indiana’s rape law says the perpetrator has to use force or the threat of force to knowingly or intentionally have sexual intercourse with another person.

It can also be considered rape in Indiana when the victim is unaware of what’s happening or can’t consent due to a disability.

However, there's one problem that needs to be addressed, according to advocates. Indiana law does not define what consent is.

Stewart, a mother of two, said she’s on a mission, writing emails daily to lawmakers, experts, and advocacy groups.

Stewart wants to change Indiana’s rape law and says lawmakers need to define what “consent” is.

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“Our laws don't cover that, which is ridiculous,” Stewart said.

Stewart explained she was raped in June 2019 by a salesman who came to her home for a scheduled appointment.

“I believe he put something in my drink because the next thing I remember was him being naked in front of me and me pushing his chest as hard as I could saying 'stop, stop, stop,’" Stewart recalled. “The next thing I remember was being faced down on the couch. I couldn't speak. I couldn't move."

The rest of the day, Stewart was confused and disoriented.

“I was just in shock, complete shock,” Stewart said. “The next morning, I went to my doctor's office. I called them first thing when they opened, and they examined me."

Records provided to Stewart by the nurse practitioner said, “It was evident from the exam that this was a non-consensual act.”

"I had bruises all over my body,” Stewart said. “During this, he had jammed a feminine hygiene product up inside me that she had to pry it out of me after several tries."

Stewart also went to a hospital for a full forensic exam, which also documented bruising on her private area, arms, legs, and hips.

“They have to get up close and personal photographs of you and scrape every inch of your body,” Stewart said. “It's nothing anyone would go through unless they had been assaulted, because who would put themselves through that?"

Carmel Police also came to her house and collected even more evidence, records show.

“I was stripped down and had more pictures taken of me,” Stewart said. “It was like a part-time job. I had to go get all these records, I had to get security video from my neighbors for their investigation.”

Despite her efforts, Stewart got a phone call several months later from her advocate.

“She told me they were not going to prosecute,” Stewart said. “I immediately started sobbing. I am not one to cry. I was so devastated and disappointed."

Stewart said her toxicology did not come back with anything unusual, plus the salesman said the sex was consensual.

“There was so much evidence of trauma that I felt it was completely wrong,” Stewart said. “I would never consent to that, nor would I ever consent to be sodomized by a stranger."

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Haleigh Rigger with the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault and Human Trafficking said that Indiana does not define consent.

"It can be very difficult for prosecutors to charge a case if there's no clear evidence of a threat of force or force. It can be challenging for prosecutors,” Rigger said. “So, defining consent would provide another tool in the toolbox for prosecutors as they're looking at cases."

States like Colorado, California, Florida, Minnesota, and Illinois define consent.

RELATED | State by State look at consent laws

"Consent isn't just no means no, it's also yes means yes,” Rigger said. “Consent must be freely given, it can't be coerced or manipulated from someone."

Indiana lawmaker, Rep. Sharon Negele (R-Attica), is taking a step to changing Indiana’s rape law.

"My objective this time is to make sure we make it to the finish line,” Negele said. “I am there for the victims."

She plans to refile House Bill 1176, which passed overwhelmingly in the house last year but died in the senate.

The bill says rape is when a victim expresses a lack of consent, through words or by their actions, to sexual conduct.

“We know if an individual is pulling their clothes back on trying to avoid that type of event, that's by action,” Negele said. “It's incredibly important that it's not just a violent approach. It also is by verbal and by action. "

The Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council supports HB1176.

“IPAC supported HB 1176 as authored by Representative Negele,” read a statement from IPAC. “Statutory language matters, and we have seen other states attempt to address these issues with language that has been less than successful. Representative Negele’s research resulted in a bill that would provide clear guidance for jurors in evaluating these cases. We would continue to support identical legislation filed by Rep. Negele or other legislators.”

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Stephanie Stewart supports Negele’s legislation as well and hopes it will open the door to other changes in Indiana’s rape law.

She has started a Facebook group to organize support for the bill.

Stewart has healed physically, but she is still trying to heal her mind from what happened.

"It's ridiculous what you have to go through,” Stewart said.

WRTV Investigates reached out to the Hamilton County prosecutor’s office regarding Stewart’s case.

"Given that we had declined to file charges on the investigation you referenced, there isn’t much more we should say on that matter," said Andre Miksha, chief deputy prosecuting attorney in Hamilton County, in an email to WRTV.

The Hamilton County prosecutor's office added that it "lauds the efforts of legislators and survivors to tackle the issue of sexual assault in a meaningful way."

Stewart hopes to help other survivors by organizing rallies and testifying in the upcoming legislative session.

"I'm trying to make a change,” Stewart said.

The deadline for filing legislation is in early January 2022.

We will monitor the bills filed and bring you any updated related to Indiana’s rape statute.

The statistics are alarming, according to the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault and Human Trafficking and RAINN.

  • One in five Hoosier women has been sexually assaulted.
  • Nationally, two-thirds of sexual assaults are never reported to the police.
  • Out of 1,000 sexual assaults, 975 perpetrators will walk free.

A new law is helping survivors in Indiana.
Senate Enrolled Act 146, which Negele sponsored, says every survivor in the state has the right to an advocate or counselor present before and during a forensic medical exam, as well as interviews with police and attorneys.

"It's traumatizing,” Negele said. “We know that and we don't want that. We don't want them to be alone. We want a victim advocate to be right there with them."

Negele plans to refile legislation aimed at closing another loophole in Indiana’s rape law.

It would make it a crime to commit rape by impersonation or pretending to be someone’s consensual partner.

The bill stems from a case involving a Lafayette student in 2017 who had sex with a man she believed was her boyfriend in a dark dorm room.

He later admitted to the act but was acquitted of rape due to a gap in state law.

"I was stunned to learn of the tragic situation involving a local college student who was deceived and sexually violated by someone impersonating her boyfriend, and she was unable to get justice because of a loophole in state law," Negele said. "We have to protect victims from these violent, life-altering crimes, and make sure they know the law is on their side. That's why I authored the bill and why I'll continue fighting until it's signed into law."

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