Indiana state’s redrafting of the word ‘rape’ may increase prosecutions
Editor’s note: This story includes a mention of sexual violence.
Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb signed a bill on March 14 that expands the concept of rape, which proponents hope will lead to more convictions for rape and sexual assault.
Under the House Enrolled Act 1079, rape defines scenarios in which someone has ignored another person’s words, refusals, or any visible hint of sexual behavior. Although the bill was signed almost a month ago, it will not enter into force until July 1.
Currently, Indiana law defines rape as when someone engages in sexual intercourse by physically forcing another person into sexual activity, according to Indiana law. The new definition now covers situations where participation in sexual activities is clearly denied, whether through verbal or physical gestures.
The definition comes into effect with the continuing trend of cases of rape and sexual assault on college campuses, including the IU. In 2022, at least 12 cases of sexual assault or rape have been reported to the IU Police Department on campus, according to the department’s crime log. However, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, more than 90% of cases of sexual violence go unreported on U.S. college campuses.
Dr Jennifer Drobac, a professor of sexual consent at IUPUI Robert H. McKinney Law School, noted logistical errors in Indiana’s current definition of rape, arguing that it directly calls into question how victims of sexual assault should respond to their attacker.
“In order for this to be considered rape, you had to show that you tried to repress the perpetrator aggressively to show that you did not agree,” Drobac said. “Such a required response is contrary to all the advice given to women, because if resisted, the attacker is more likely to kill you.”
Drobac noted that while the new definition is a step in the right direction, there are still loopholes in the law that could benefit attackers. He said that a better rewording of the bill would require a positive consent requirement, which would require enthusiastic verbal consent to continue sexual behavior.
“It can be argued that [redefinition] is still not enough to protect survivors, because it is common for some survivors to have a physical reaction … where they become numb or freeze or become physically unresponsive and so are unable to do so.” “No,” Drobac said.
Katherine Elton, a newcomer to the IU, has noticed that rape and sexual assault have been a problem on campus at the same time.
“I think IU definitely has a big problem on campus,” Elton said. “It’s good that people need a definite ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’ now, because if someone is really drunk, they wouldn’t necessarily say ‘no’.”
Dr. Zoe Peterson is an IU psychologist specializing in sex therapy and agrees that this new bill is a great success in rape cases in Indiana.
“Not only does this mean that more people can be prosecuted [rapists], but I think it also helps to just start challenging some of our stereotypes, such as the idea that if there is no physical violence, it’s not really rape,” he said. Peterson.