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Celebrating Minnesota’s New Laws on Criminal Sexual Conduct

September 21, 2021

We have much to celebrate after the Minnesota Legislature updated the criminal-sexual-conduct laws this year. Over a two-year period leading up to the legislative session, sexual assault survivors joined advocates, attorneys, and law enforcement in a work group. The work group meticulously drafted updates to the statutes that reflected a current understanding of sexual violence and exploitation. Our former staff attorney Kaarin Long represented The Advocates in the work group. On September 15, 2021, the new laws took effect to address various harms that were previously not penalized.

The work of the group took on new urgency in March of 2021. While the Legislature was in session at that time, the Minnesota public was shocked to learn that state law did not punish the sexual violation of a victim who became intoxicated by drinking voluntarily. The Minnesota Supreme Court, in State v. Khalil, determined that the criminal-sexual-conduct law at that time applied only if the intoxicant was administered without the victim's agreement. It overturned Mr. Khalil's conviction and ed a firestorm among members of the public and the media.

But the work group was already hard at work discussing that gap as one of its most important missions: the law did not protect victims who used an intoxicating substance intentionally to the point of extreme intoxication, but without becoming "physically helpless" (almost unconscious) by legal definition. Professionals and survivors in the work group carefully crafted a solution to this gap, as well as many others.

Among the many important provisions in these new laws are these:

  • A "voluntarily intoxicated" provision to punish those who knew or should have known that the other person was too intoxicated to give consent to sexual conduct
  • A sexual extortion provision to punish using blackmail-like threats to compel unwanted sexual conduct - such as threats to the victim's housing or employment, to share private sexual images, or to report the victim to immigration authorities
  • A provision to clarify that educators and their staff are prohibited by their professional jobs from sexual conduct with high-school students, even if they are not directly in a position of authority over the student, as provided in current statute
  • A low-level felony offense for sexual penetration without consent, even absent proof of force or intoxication, to emphasize that sexual penetration requires affirmative consent
  • A provision protecting thirteen-year-olds as the children that they are instead of grouping them with older teenagers under the law regarding sexual conduct with children
  • A provision that caps at five years the age-range within which an older person can claim they made a "mistake of age" regarding sexual conduct with a 14- or 15-year-old, replacing the previous ten-year cap on the "mistake of age" defense

These provisions were based in the experiences of survivors and those who wished to seek justice for them, but could not do so based on current law. Once the work group drafted the language, leaders in the House of Representatives stepped up to bring the language forward as a bill. House Representatives Kelly Moller and Marion O'Neill co-authored a bill with this language and steadfastly worked to see it through the House and Senate until it passed into law.

In the last decade, public awareness of the pervasiveness of sexual violence and exploitation has increased enormously. Social media campaigns and news coverage have given a platform for the voices of many who have historically remained silent. And with new awareness came the acknowledgement that Minnesota laws on sexual violence were not in keeping with the current, more nuanced understanding about how sexual violence and exploitation occur, short of brute force. The new laws effective September 15 reflect today's expectations, giving survivors and criminal-systems professionals better tools to address the reality of sexual harm today.

The Advocates for Human Rights will recognize the work of the representatives and the Steering Committee of the Criminal Sexual Conduct Statutory Reform Working Group with its 2021 Gold WATCH Award on Sept. 29, 5:30pm to 7:30pm, at its Party in the Park. Register for free to join us in the celebration and meet those involved with the passage of the law.

By Kaarin Long, Investigator at the Minnesota Department of Human Rights

The Advocates for Human Rights is a nonprofit organization dedicated to implementing international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law. 

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