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Indiana lawmakers consider bill to change definition of rape

Supporters of House Bill 1079 say some sexual assault victims are denied justice.

INDIANAPOLIS — Supporters of Indiana’s House Bill 1079 say if it became law, consent would be defined - for the first time - when it came to considering an allegation of rape.   

Right now, there is no such definition, and some say that has left rape victims with a tougher path to find justice. 

“We need a law that says, 'No means no,'” said Stephanie Stewart, explaining that word never came out of her mouth two years ago when she says a salesman who visited her house raped her.   

Stewart said she was too terrified when it started. In fact, she says her memories of that day are so vague, she still wonders if she was drugged. 

“I have two memories, pushing him off my chest, saying, ‘Stop, stop, stop!'” Stewart recalled. “My next memory is of me being face down on my couch with him doing whatever he wants to me. I could not speak. I could not move. I was, like, catatonic.”

Charges were never brought against the man she reported raped her. 

“They said maybe you changed your mind, maybe you consented to rough sex,” Stewart said. 

Consent. 

That’s exactly what Stewart hopes Indiana will finally define if House Bill 1079 becomes law when the Senate takes up the bill, which has already passed in the House. 

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“If you do not get verbal or physical confirmation, you cannot assume consent and that is why this law is so, so, so important,” Stewart stressed, saying she would like to testify in front of the Senate if she gets the chance. 

“I am not going to stand down, because this is atrocious,” Stewart said. 

Right now in Indiana, sex without consent isn’t a crime, unless there’s proof of physical force, the threat of such force or the victim is incapacitated. 

Critics of the bill say adding new language to the current law brings the danger of not knowing where courts will land if there are challenges to the new language.

“Right now, prosecutors are stuck in a situation where they have to define force but not consent and those two things are very different,” said Professor Michael Leppert, who sits on the board for Women 4 Change Indiana. 

The nonprofit has been a strong advocate for House Bill 1079, with members testifying on behalf of the bill. 

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“It’s time to get in and modernize our statutes, and this is one way to do that. It’s important, and there’s no reason to wait any longer,” Leppert added. 

Stewart believes more of a wait will only mean more survivors like her are denied the justice they deserve. 

“Our laws don’t protect us,” said Stewart. 

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