Minnesota Endorsed Rape Culture

Leah Himlie, online publishing coordinator
“Minnesota Judicial Center, Home of the Minnesota Supreme Court, St. Paul, Minnesota” by Ken Lund is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. Accessed through Creative Commons. 

We all love to talk about Minnesota Nice and how the state is so progressive. But Minnesota still has a lot to improve on, including the state law’s definition of “mentally incapacitated.” On March 24, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that when a person becomes intoxicated of their own will, they are not considered “mentally incapacitated” and therefore any sexual activity that occurs cannot be treated as sexual assault.

Looking at the wording of the current law, I see how the MN Supreme Court came to this decision. The law states the substance must be “administered to [the victim] without that person’s agreement”; however, that does not make the decision or the law morally right. That just means the law needs to change to close this incredibly dangerous and exploitative loophole.

In the case that led to this ruling, the New York Times reports that the attacker had previously been charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct. This decision from the MN Supreme Court reversed that charge and ordered a new trial for the perpetrator. In doing this, the justices unanimously reinforced and endorsed rape culture.

First, this is the very definition of victim blaming, a central concept in rape culture. The MN Supreme Court essentially said “Well, she got drunk voluntarily! She was asking for it,” and proceeded to reverse the charges against the perpetrator as if he didn’t do anything wrong. 

Second, this message undermines efforts to educate people on what consent means. Consent must be an enthusiastic yes from a person that has not been coerced or threatened and is sober. Regardless of if a victim ingested drugs or alcohol of their own will, they are still in an altered state of mind and therefore cannot give consent. The law needs to change to reflect this definition.

Third, this law unfairly protects the attacker rather than the victim. People, especially women, should be able to become intoxicated if they choose and still have their rights protected. Since this is a bigger problem for women, it’s essentially saying that women can’t choose to become intoxicated without throwing away her right to not be raped. There is absolutely no circumstance where someone willingly throws this human right away. 

Finally, there is already a gross undercharging of perpetrators of rape and sexual assault. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), sexual assult is underreported and perpetrators are under-incarcerated. Out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, only 230 are reported, only 46 of those reported lead to arrest and only 4.6 perpetrators are incarcerated. Reversing this charge only contributes to the fact that rapists and sexual assaulters are very likely to go unpunished.

The New York Times article added that women’s rights groups are pointing out this law is applied similarly in roughly 40 states. It’s not just Minnesota, but I expected more from my state. This law needs to be changed nationwide. Ideally a federal law would be passed for uniformity, but since I don’t trust that to happen anytime soon, we need to hold our state accountable and work to change our laws. Survivors and victims deserve justice. Minnesota, we need to do better.