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Lawmaker wants to better define rape and consent in Indiana

Rep. Negele says you can deny consent with actions
Rep. Sharon Negele, R-Attica, filed House Bill 1079 which says rape is when you express a lack of consent either through your words or your actions.
Posted at 10:35 AM, Jan 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-07 19:00:41-05

INDIANAPOLIS — An Indiana state lawmaker has filed legislation aimed at better defining consent and rape in Indiana.

Rep. Sharon Negele, R-Attica, filed House Bill 1079 which says rape is when you express a lack of consent either through your words or your actions.

“For example, if a woman is pulling her clothes back on and trying to avoid this physical confrontation,” said Negele.

Currently, Indiana law says it’s rape if the perpetrator has to use threat or the threat of force, or if the victim is unaware of what’s happening or they can’t consent due to a disability.

Negele represents eight counties including parts of Tippecanoe and Montgomery counties.

“Typically, it is a woman who is raped,” said Negele. “I need to stand up for all women in this scenario."

States like Colorado, California, Florida, Minnesota, and Illinois define consent, but Indiana does not.

RELATED | State by State look at consent laws

Haleigh Rigger with the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault and Human Trafficking says changes to Indiana rape law are long overdue.

“Currently there is not a legal definition of consent in our Indiana code, and that can be really complicated for prosecutors and investigators and survivors who may not see their experience reflected in law,” said Rigger. “People can engage in both verbal and nonverbal behavior. We don’t necessarily have to be saying no to be indicating our discomfort with the situation.”

Negele’s bill is expected to help Indiana juries better decide whether a situation was rape or not.

“The burden of proof is still on the prosecutor to demonstrate that this was a case of non-consent,” said Negele. “There's still a high burden of proof for prosecutors. This is just going to enable them to find more justice for survivors.”

The legislation has the support of Carmel mother Stephanie Stewart, who says a salesman sexually assaulted her in her home, but he was not criminally charged.

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

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HB1079 would also make it a crime to commit rape by impersonation or pretending to be someone’s consensual partner.

Negele added the language after learning about a 2017 case involving a Purdue student 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.

"This is a lifelong scar that people have to live with,” said Negele. “It's time for us to make sure they feel confident to go to court, the law is behind them and they feel protected.”

The bill has been assigned to the courts and criminal code committee.

Negele said a hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 12.

WRTV reached out to the Indiana Public Defender Council and the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council (IPAC) for their response to the bill.

"IPAC is supportive of this bill, as we were with the identical bill from last year and we are planning to testify in support next week when the bill is heard," IPAC said in a statement to WRTV. "Rep. Negele has done a tremendous amount of research on this bill and topic and we believe this is the best way for Indiana to define consent."

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

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