The U.S. Flag and Alaska state flag fly on the roof of the Alaska State Capitol on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

The U.S. Flag and Alaska state flag fly on the roof of the Alaska State Capitol on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Opinion: Alaska needs to clearly define consent

House Bill 5 would do that.

  • Tuesday, April 27, 2021 10:07am
  • Opinion

By Katie Botz

I recently submitted testimony for House Bill 5, which aims to make Alaska safer for women and other targets of sexual violence by enabling our courts to remove perpetrators of rape and assault from our communities. According to experts, Alaska’s rate of sexual assault is the highest in the nation (nearly four times the national average!) in part because we do not clearly define “consent” in state law. House Bill 5 would change that.

I withdrew my testimony from the public record because I am deeply uncomfortable sharing the details of my story. I think this is the challenge that faces many survivors of sexual violence: we want to stop our attackers from harming others, but we fear the stigma of being a “victim.” Telling your story impacts your relationship with everyone you know. It changes your standing in your community.

It took me 12 years to “recover” from my rape. For five years, I cried myself to sleep every night and relived the experience in nightmares. I have a notebook full of goodbyes I wrote to family and friends, and when my father took me out on his boat, I would think carefully about how I could climb the bridge we always passed so I could jump to my death. I cannot tell you how many times I thought of suicide.

My rapist was discovered when my mother caught him in the act. He spent six years in prison for what he did to me. I suffer depression, lost opportunities and lost time, and the hurt and angry part of me wishes he had spent more time behind bars. To this day, I have had just one romantic relationship that I would consider healthy. I left the University of Alaska in Anchorage early and never graduated because I feared the physical abuse I believed I would suffer at the hand of another boyfriend. I just went away.

Unlike my experience, most perpetrators of rape and sexual assault are not caught in the act, and because current Alaska law makes it so difficult to prove that a survivor did not consent to sex, the perpetrators behind fewer than one in 10 offenses are convicted. The law intervened to remove my attacker from our community and prevent others from being harmed, but that outcome is the exception, not the rule.

This is why I support Alaska’s bill to define “consent” in state law, sponsored by Rep. Geran Tarr. Developed over a period of two years by more than 100 survivors, advocates and legal experts, Alaska’s consent bill would enable us to remove offenders from our communities by giving courts clearer language for recognizing when an offender did not obtain another person’s consent for sexual activity. Because many sex crimes are committed by people who have a habit of assault, if we pass House Bill 5, Alaska’s rate of rape and sexual assault should fall as our rate of conviction rises, experts say. If we define consent clearly and affirmatively, the law will become a tool for teaching Alaskans about how important consent is to healthy relationships.

I have shared with you just the vaguest details of my story and even that causes me real discomfort. With voices both quiet and loud, Alaska’s survivors are crying out for their elected legislators to use their power to protect us from the ongoing tragedy of rape and sexual assault. Please join us by emailing a brief note of support for House Bill 5 to both your legislators and Representative Tarr.

• Katie Botz resides in Juneau. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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