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Changing the definition of sexual assault

On Behalf of | Apr 18, 2022 | Sexual Assault

A recent bill unanimously passed in the Colorado legislature has dual purposes. First, it clarifies the law to facilitate the decision-making by jurors in sexual assault cases.

Second, changing one word (consent) helps victims understand whether the actions committed against them legally qualify as sexual assault.

Lawmakers cite the confusing language of the law written in the 1970s as creating difficulties with the change providing more clarity.

The difference one word can make

Enactment by Gov. Jared Polis would change the legal definition of the crime from intrusion “when the actor causes submission of the victim by means sufficient to cause submission against the victim’s will” to full knowledge by the alleged perpetrator that the victim did not consent.

Colorado would end their distinction of one of two states in the U.S. that uses outdated language. “Consent” is written into misdemeanor sexual contact laws, but previously not sexual assault allegations.

Passage of the bill comes in the shadow of troubling findings:

  • The Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault reports that the state’s sexual violence rate (23.8%) exceeds the average throughout the country (18.3%).
  • Fewer than 1 in 3 sexual assaults are reported on a national level. 16% result in arrests, while 9% lead to felony convictions.
  • Data from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network claims that less than 1 in 3 sexual assaults are reported to law enforcement on a national level. Only around 16% result in arrests, and 9% result in felony convictions.

As with any criminal allegation, particularly one as high-profile and emotionally-charges as sexual assault, legal representation is paramount to protect the rights of the accused.