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Public safety panel OKs bill to grant limited immunity to victims of sexual assault possessing or under influence of drugs

One reason sexual assault is an under-reported crime is because victims in possession, or under the influence, of illegal drugs or alcohol during the assault, may themselves be fearful of being prosecuted.

But that shouldn’t stop someone reporting a rapist, says Rep. Heather Edelson (DFL-Edina).

She sponsors HF289, which would exempt a victim of sexual assault from charges and prosecution for the possession of a controlled substance, drug paraphernalia or underage alcohol consumption.

By a vote of 18-0, the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee approved the bill Tuesday and sent it to the House Floor. The companion, SF774, sponsored by Sen. Kari Dziedzic (DFL-Mpls), awaits action by the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.

The bill would also extend this limited immunity from prosecution to persons acting in good faith who contact a 911 operator or first responder to report that a sexual assault victim is in need of assistance.

“The goal of this is to remove the hesitation to assist or help report a crime,” said Edelson.

Current law does not give immunity from prosecution for drug or other minor offenses to assault victims, Edelson said, and that can prevent survivors from getting the justice they deserve.

“Victim-survivors feel silenced,” said Gurtaran Johal, a University of Minnesota student and member of the Minnesota Student Association’s Forum Board. “This has to change in order to best support and empower survivors.”

The association’s state coordinator, Sam Parmekar, cited a 2020 report by the Association of American Universities finding that 54% of college women who did not report their sexual assault didn’t do so because they were under the influence of alcohol.

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