TW: mention of sexual assault
If you were on Instagram sometime over the past couple of weeks, chances are you saw something about the Minnesota Supreme Court ruling. The ruling states that someone who is voluntarily intoxicated is not considered mentally incapacitated in regards to charges of sexual assault and misconduct. This specification of what falls under mental incapacitation is hugely detrimental to victims of sexual assault and has sparked some well deserved backlash.
The new ruling comes from a 2017 sexual assault case that the court overturned. A woman consumed a significant amount of alcohol before heading to a bar with a friend. Upon arriving at the bar, the two of them got invited to go to a party by three men and decided to go. They got into the car and shortly after arrived at the house—but no party was going on. Following their arrival, one of the women blacked out on the couch and woke up to one of the men, Francois Khalil, sexually assaulting her.
Francios Khalil was originally convicted on a third-degree criminal sexual assault charge, but the charge was overturned in late March of this year. The court decided that because the woman made the decision to drink, she was voluntarily intoxicated and did not fall under the category of being mentally incapacitated. This new specification made of whether or not someone can be considered unconscious enough is a giant step back in the fight for justice for sexual assault survivors and for raising awareness of the issue. The basis of judging an action on what occurred before and not on the action itself shows a general neglect to treat sexual assault seriously in the eyes of the law. The court's decision that a woman's inability to give consent does not matter just because she is the one who drank takes away from the seriousness of the situation at hand.
This ruling falls into a long history of blaming women for being sexually assaulted. From picking apart women based on what they wore, what they drank, and how they acted, we see a continuous failure to adequately put the blame on the perpetrator and not the victim. Not only does it blame the survivors for what happens to them, but it further deters others from coming forward with their sexual assault allegations. The process of coming forward with allegations is already extremely long and emotionally draining for the victim, having to recall in vivid detail what happened and clinging onto the hope that someone will believe them. This statute adds another worry: that the victim will go through the whole process, and the court will believe them but say it is their fault. Their fault for drinking, their fault for not being in control to say no, their fault that they were raped. And after the long and draining process, the perpetrator walks free. Many rapes occur when the woman is under the influence, and this emerging fear that they could be blamed can have widespread effects on whether women come forward.
The outrage sparked by the ruling has led to increasing support for a bill introduced in February that would expand the definition of mentally incapacitated to clarify that it is a person who is incapable of consenting, understanding, or controlling their conduct. The bill has bipartisan support and if passed will no longer allow for such outrageous interpretations of whether or not someone is truly mentally incapacitated.
The Minnesota ruling not only displays a general lack of action to adequately protect women and others from being sexually assaulted, but it reveals the detrimental ways laws can be interpreted based on what the court wants. Since "mentally incapacitated" was not thoroughly explained and defined, it was up to the interpretation of the court based on the situation. This shines a light on a huge issue in politics and the variations that can occur from the same law. This lack of structure and consistency shows the need for more legislative reform in order to thoroughly protect victims and reveals how much farther we have to go in the fight for protection and support for sexual assault victims.