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‘Gargantuan step forward’: Alaska Legislature passes bill to strengthen sexual consent laws

Alaska’s sexual consent laws are set to be updated after a bill passed unanimously through the Alaska Legislature on the final day of the legislative session.
Published: May. 23, 2022 at 7:31 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska’s sexual consent laws are set to be updated after a bill passed unanimously through the Alaska Legislature on the final day of the legislative session.

Under Alaska’s current statutes, there must be force against someone or they must be incapacitated for an unwanted sex act to be considered assault. But that is set to change with House Bill 325.

It states that sexual consent must be “a freely given, reversible agreement specific to the conduct at issue by a competent person.”

HB 325 also states that consent must be “positively expressed by word or action.”

Keely Olson, executive director of Standing Together Against Rape, said that’s important because Alaska law will now match what is being taught in schools. She said that STAR has seen “heartbreaking” cases when a young person comes forward to report an assault only to find out what happened is not technically illegal.

“If somebody says, ‘No, I don’t want to engage in that sex act,’ that’s not a crime,” said Deputy Attorney General John Skidmore during a press conference last Thursday. “It takes more than that today, in the laws that we have in place.”

Skidmore said House Bill 325 made “a gargantuan step forward” in strengthening the state’s sexual consent laws. It made other changes, too:

  • It makes revenge pornography a domestic violence offense
  • It seeks to protect teenagers by making it illegal for someone more than 10 years older to have sex with a 16 or 17-year-old.
  • It makes “rape by fraud” a crime, meaning it will be illegal to impersonate someone to have sex with someone else who would not have otherwise consented to the encounter

HB 325 was introduced by Rep. Sara Rasmussen, R-Anchorage, and it only included the revenge pornography changes, but legislators across the aisle amended it at the end of the session to include the provisions in House Bill 5. Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, carried that second bill.

“We’ve long known that the definition of consent that we currently have is not working and does not reflect what we consider sexual assault,” Tarr said.

Tarr explained that there has been a years-long push to change Alaska’s 40-year-old sexual consent statutes. Victim advocacy groups have been working with legislators on the precise wording of the new consent definition with hopes that it will see positive changes when the new law comes into effect.

“We can’t prevent every bad thing from happening, but we can definitely make sure that the law will work so an Alaskan can get justice,” Tarr said.

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