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Indiana adds concept of consent to state rape law

Sue Errington (D-Muncie) says the bills on elements of rape and sexual health education are supposed to work together.
Lauren Chapman
IPB News
Sue Errington (D-Muncie) and co-authors have introduced the bill each year since 2019.

Gov. Eric Holcomb has signed legislation into law that expands the definition of rape in Indiana to include the element of consent. Several lawmakers have spent years trying to widen the crime’s definition in state law.

Under the long-standing state definition of rape, an assault has to include threat or force, serious bodily injury, or involve drugs. When talking about consent, only an act done to a person who can’t give consent due to mental disability was included.

“Our public policy hasn’t evolved the way the general public’s thinking about rape is concerned,” Rep. Sue Errington (D-Muncie) said.

Since 2019, Errington has authored or co-authored bills to add consent for every person. For the past two years, she said state Rep. Sharon Negele (R-Attica) agreed to be the bill’s lead author to better get it through committee hearings.

“As a Democrat in a Republican supermajority, it’s hard to get your bill through," Errington said. "It can happen, but not very often.”

This year’s bill received broad bipartisan support, with only a handful of “no” votes on both chamber floors. House Bill 1079 broadens the definition of rape to include any sexual activity done to someone without their permission “through words or conduct.”

According to state data, one in five Hoosier women have experienced sexual assault.

One part of the bill was removed as it moved through the General Assembly – “rape by deception.” The term is based off a 2017 incident at Purdue University, where a man pretended to be someone else to have sex with a fellow student. Though he admitted his actions in court, charges were dismissed because his actions didn’t meet Indiana’s narrow definition of rape.

When asked if she’ll file a separate bill on that next session, Errington said, “We’ll wait and see what happens in the courtroom, whether there are more cases like the Purdue one, and what happens to it.”

This session, Errington also filed a bill to to require Hoosier schools to provide sexual health education that’s medically and scientifically accurate. House Bill 1047 did not receive a hearing in the House education committee.

Errington said she and Negele are considering next asking to broaden the definition of “sexual battery.”

Updated: March 14, 2022 at 4:27 PM EDT
This story has been updated to reflect Gov. Eric Holcomb’s signature on HB1079.