Clearing up confusion on the Minnesota Supreme Court ruling

The Women’s Center is a resource on campus for students. Photo credit: Isabella Kraft  

The Minnesota Supreme Court has ordered a new trial for a man convicted of raping a woman who was under the influence of alcohol. The previous conviction for this man was overturned stating the court’s definition of mentally incapacitated only applies to a victim if they were given alcohol or drugs against their will, not if they took this substance voluntarily.  

Headlines erupted as many survivors and advocates against sexual assault stated this created a loophole for perpetrators to get away without convictions. Assistant Director of the Women’s Center, Rebecca Kotz became confused when she first saw headlines surrounding the case.  

“It is really important to look beyond those headlines because there is often a bit more context than we realize,” Kotz said. “It is hard because when you see that headline, whether you are a survivor or someone who just cares about this issue, our natural response is going to be outrage and that is valid.” 

The case brought before the court is still being held just under a different degree of charges. Originally charged with criminal sexual conduct in the third degree the charges have been reduced to the fifth degree since the woman took alcohol voluntarily.  

The reasoning behind lowering the degree of charges comes from the definition of mental incapacitation under the third degree of criminal sexual conduct. The difference between these two degrees is the penalty, which is more severe in the third degree.  

“That doesn’t mean though that if a victim was drinking and they were sexually assaulted that the perpetrator can’t be charged or convicted or consider sexual assault, it’s just a difference in degree,” Kotz said. “An abuser or a perpetrator can still be charged and convicted under criminal sexual conduct in the fifth degree.” 

One of the many challenging aspects of this case is misinformation and the downgrade of charges can make survivors feel like they are not being heard or that it is their fault. With many cases of sexual assault not making to the court system or even being reported achieving justice for survivors can seem like a difficult road. 

“When we are looking at sexual violence it is never the actions of victim that are relevant in these cases,” Kotz said. “It is really about what the perpetrator choses do and so I think this ruling even though can be very triggering and invalidating to survivors it also will be a catalyst for change.” 

To help bring awareness for those seeking justice in sexual assault cases, a protest was held in front of the Minnesota State Capital. Student Brianna Gill is an active voice in finding justice for survivors, she found out about the protest and the ruling through a news alert on her phone. 

“It makes me angry,” Gill said. “Survivors fight for their rights every, it is a never-ending battle. It hurts every survivor to see a ruling like this.”  

To help bring justice Kotz suggests contacting local legislators to tell them the importance of changing laws to help survivors and keeping track of bills that are going through state. She also stressed that perpetrators can and will still be held accountable, even though this case reversal seems like loss at the moment. 

“I think going forward more than anything this has been a catalyst to relooking at how we are going to change these laws, ” said Kotz. “So they are not victim blaming. So that they are updated and revised from old language and kind of out-of-date attitudes and belief systems about sexual violence.”

To be more involved in conversations like these. students can join the Women’s Center, Women on Wednesdays talks on Zoom every Wednesday at noon.  

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