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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Montana Lawmakers Consider Changes To Sexual Assault Laws

Montana Capitol, Helena, MT.
William Marcus
Montana Public Radio
Montana Capitol

Montana legislators are considering overhauling Montana’s sexual assault laws during the next legislative session. On Tuesday, Montana lawmakers reviewed potential bills that could change the legal definition of rape, revise the mandatory minimum sentences  for rape, and rework laws regarding the penalty for the distribution of sexual images or recordings.

During the the Law and Justice Interim Committee meeting in Helena, legislators reviewed 10 bill drafts on sexual assault law.

The bills are still in the early stages of revision and have not yet been approved as a formal committee bill.

Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana, Caitlin Borgmann, told committee members that many of Montana’s sexual assault laws need to be changed because they are outdated.

"In particular, Montana’s current linking of consent to the presence or absence of force is problematic and doesn't reflect current understandings about rape."

One proposed bill draft addresses that issue by removing language that defines “without consent” as when a victim is compelled to submit by force. The bill would allow prosecution unless all parties explicitly give consent to sexual activity.

Instead the bill draft defines consent as words or overt actions indicating a freely-given agreement to have sex.

By the end of the Law and Justice Interim Committee meeting Tuesday the original ten bill drafts on sexual assault were whittled down to six. Those drafts will be reviewed and finalized during the committee’s last meeting before the 2017 legislative session. That meeting will be held on August 22 in Helena.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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