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House Judiciary passes bills rewriting sexual assault statutes

State Sen. Diane Sands of Missoula is among the leaders of an effort to reform Montana’s sexual assault statutes. (Freddy Monares/UM Legislative News Service)

By Cole Grant/UM Legislative News Service

HELENA – On Friday, the House Judiciary Committee heard a group of bills that would rework aspects of sexual assault law in Montana.

“One of the hardest things we have to do as prosecutors is tell a victim ‘yes, you were raped. But legally, you were not,’” said Missoula County prosecutor Jennifer Clark.

Senate Bill 29, among other things, would redefine the term “consent.” It would mean a victim would no longer need to prove “force” in rape cases. It would also create the new crime of aggravated sexual intercourse without consent.

Clark, along with other proponents, said current laws are antiquated.

“It will be one of the most impactful improvements to addressing sexual assault in our state’s history, and will fundamentally change how we approach this issue,” said Attorney General Tim Fox.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously before moving to the House. There were no opponents at the hearing Friday. It’s one of several bills modernizing state law on the issue.

“This changes the law in some fundamental ways that make it easier to prosecute crimes, hold those offenders accountable, increase public safety, and provide more justice for victims,” said Sen. Diane Sands, D-Missoula.

Cole Grant is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.