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Montana Lawmakers Consider Changes To State's Rape Laws

Montana Capitol.
William Marcus
Montana Public Radio

Montana lawmakers are considering a change to the state’s rape law. A draft bill would update the definition of “consent” in cases of sexual assault. Current law defines the term ‘without consent’ but leaves the word ‘consent’ mostly undefined.

The draft bill presented to the Law and Justice Interim Committee Wednesday would change that.

Missoula Deputy County Attorney Suzy Boylan says current law is outdated and doesn’t reflect the reality of sexual assault or current research on the crime.

“So we can tell victims, and I’ve been in this situation more times than I can count, I’m sorry you’ve been raped, but you have not legally been raped under our statute.”

The bill’s new description of consent did not have support of everyone in the room.

Public Defender Jennifer Streano raised concerns she saw in the drafted bill that could shift the burden of proof in sexual assault cases.

“What is built in here is the presumption that no consent is there. In a trial the defense would have to present evidence to prove that consent was given. And that goes completely contrary to our constitution, which says the State has the burden to prove all elements of the offense.”

The Law and Justice Interim committee will meet again in April. Any final draft of a law changing Montana’s definition of consent is unlikely to be ready until the committee’s final meeting in August.

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