Fox: proposed change in rape definition will help prosecutors

(MTN NEWS) Attorney General Tim Fox says a proposed change in Montana’s legal definition of rape will be a big step forward in helping the prosecution of sex crimes.

“It’s something that we really needed,” he told MTN News on Tuesday – one day after a legislative panel endorsed a half-dozen proposals to update sex-assault laws in Montana. “(Now) you basically have to prove that you were held down or beaten up, in a way that was very violent.”

The proposal would change the definition of “consent” for sexual activity, and remove language that says a victim, to prove rape, essentially must show that he or she was physically forced to submit to sex.

The new law, if adopted by the 2017 Legislature, says a person gives consent only by “words or overt actions indicating a freely given agreement” to engage in sexual activity.

Fox and other supporters of the change say that sexual-assault victims sometimes may not overtly fight back, because they’re in shock or fear being harmed further.

“I think this (new definition) brings it into the 21st Century with what we know is the trauma involved with a victim of sexual assault, how they act in a particular situation, and I think it will be very, very helpful,” Fox said.

Fox has created a special unit within his office to assist with sexual-assault prosecutions and supported the 2015 bill that led to a legislative study of the issue and the draft bills endorsed on Monday by the bipartisan Law and Justice Interim Committee.

The panel also endorsed bills that would reduce maximum sentences for certain sex offenses, on the premise that treatment sometimes is a better option than long prison terms.

Fox said he’d be consulting with his Department of Justice staff before deciding whether to support those proposals.