On March 27 I woke up, picked up my phone, opened Instagram and saw the post: “A Minnesota man can’t be charged with rape, because the woman chose to drink beforehand, court rules.”
I was devastated by the ruling. I was angry. I was exhausted. I was numb.
But I was not surprised.
On March 24 the Minnesota Supreme Court overturned a conviction of third degree criminal sexual assault because the sexual assault survivor had voluntarily consumed alcohol the night a man raped her. According to Minnesota state law, voluntary consumption of substances that lead to intoxication do not qualify as mental incapacitation under which someone cannot consent to sex.
This ruling is not surprising when we live within a system with a long legacy of condoning sexual violence. The ruling and the policy it’s informed by are symptoms of a larger issue — they’re embedded in a society that works against survivors at the most foundational levels.
Many people have accurately pointed out that the Minnesota Supreme Court *had* to rule unanimously because of the statute that defines mental incapacitation. Many people have reinvigorated their efforts to change the definition of mental incapacitation and have encouraged those expressing their outrage at the court’s ruling to simply redirect themselves towards supporting legislation that could do so.
HF 707, introduced in 2019, is a bill currently in the Minnesota House that could change the definition of mental incapacitation, broadening the definition and blocking loopholes such as the one allowed for this recent ruling. And I support that change. Yet the idea that people who are outraged, who are terrified, who are devastated by the Minnesota Supreme Court’s ruling should simply redirect their energy to the senators who are not supporting HF 707 is missing the entire point.
Passing HF 707 will change a definition, that is true. But it will not bring justice. We cannot collapse this issue of systematic injustice into a simple question of changing one definition.
We live in a society that has built and continually upholds a system that has always failed and continues to fail sexual assault and rape survivors. We live within a legal and political system that will do anything to place the blame on survivors. As recently as the 1990s many states had laws preventing the prosecution of aggravated rape if the survivor was a “voluntary social companion,” essentially denying the existence of date rape. We live within a system that will silence, shame and discourage any survivors if they dare to speak up. To make steps towards justice we must change that system.
Anna Mulhern ’22 is from Minneapolis, MN.
Her majors are chemistry and