STATE-ASSEMBLY-01132021-KS-222

Senators gather in the chamber on the first day of the 73rd General Assembly at the state Capitol in Denver on Jan. 13, 2021. 

The Colorado legislature unanimously approved legislation that seeks to modify the state’s sexual assault law by adding the word “consent.”

The state Senate passed House Bill 1169 in a final 34-0 vote on Monday, following the state House of Representatives’ unanimous vote last month. The bill will now be sent to Gov. Jared Polis for final consideration.

The bipartisan bill — sponsored by two Democrat women and two Republican men — aims to clarify the law to help jurors make decisions in sexual assault cases and to help victims understand whether what happened to them legally qualifies as sexual assault.

“We want to make it clear and, right now, our language is confusing,” said bill sponsor Sen. Faith Winter, D-Westminster. “These are very difficult cases and having clarity around consent is imperative for moving forward in our state.”

If enacted, the bill would change Colorado’s legal definition of sexual assault from sexual intrusion when “the actor causes submission of the victim by means sufficient to cause submission against the victim’s will” to when the actor causes sexual intrusion “knowing the victim does not consent.”

The current law was written in the 1970s and Colorado is one of only two states in the country that still uses the language. The bill sponsors said 34 other states currently use the language proposed under the bill in their sexual assault laws. Colorado also includes the term “consent” in its law for misdemeanor sexual contact, but not for sexual assault.

The bill would maintain Colorado’s existing legal definition of consent for sexual activity, which is cooperating in a sexual act using free will and with knowledge of the nature of the act. The definition also specifies that a current or previous relationship does not constitute consent and consent cannot be given under the influence of fear.

This bill come as, last year, the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault reported that Colorado’s sexual violence rate is higher than the national average. The organization said 23.8% of women in Colorado had experienced sexual violence, compared to 18.3% nationally.

Nationally, less than one in three sexual assaults are reported to law enforcement, and, of those reported, only around 16% result in arrests and 9% result in felony convictions, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network

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