By TIM STOVER/Montana State News

The Montana Legislature is considering  bills to clarify what the definition of force is in sexual assault cases as well as allowing minor victims of sexual assault crimes an increased time period to pursue charges.

Hannah Stark, direct services specialist at Montana State University’s Voice Center said the legislation is a “phenomenal move.” Stark said humans have a third instinct that goes along with fight or flight in times of crisis.

Senate Bill 29 addresses that instinct, freezing. Instead of fighting back, Senate Bill 29 will change the law to address situations in which victims of rape freeze or can’t fight back.

Sen. Diane Sands, D-Missoula, sponsored both of the bills. Currently, the bills have past the third Senate vote and are on track to pass in both the Montana House and Senate Votes.

If ratified, Senate Bill 29 would specifically dictate that “lack of consent through words or conduct means no consent or consent is withdrawn.”

The old definition of consent reads “the victim is compelled to submit by force against the victim or another.” [sic] The new language for consent would be “an expression of lack of consent through words or conduct means there is no consent or that consent has been withdrawn.”

Thus this states that victims of sexual assault crimes have a refined definition of “consent.” They are given more power over their actions in situations when they feel fighting back would put themselves in even more danger.

Senate Bill 30 “may be commenced within 10 years after it is committed, except that it may be commenced within 10 20 years after the victim reaches 18 years of age if the victim was 18 less than 18 years of age at the time that the offense occurred.” The change is from originally 10 to a newly proposed 20 years.

According to Stark, the average rape victim does not come forward for about 5-7 years. So, the change of the statute of limitations will directly address the longevity in which victims suffer.

The only “negative” concept about the change in Senate Bill 30 is that frequently “details get fuzzier” the longer the victim waits. This isn’t directly related to the statute of limitations, merely a concept that goes along with elongating the statute of limitations.

The goal for this bill is to give sexual assault victims below the age of 18, at the time the event occurred, time to consider their course of action.

Both Senate Bills 29 and 30 aim to bring modernity to Montana sexual assault legislation. The bills are designed to improve how the crimes are interpreted and make judgment more concise on sexual assault cases.

Senate Bill’s 29 and 30 will move the laws in favor of the victims.

– edited by Michelle Burger

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