(Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: Update to state’s consent definition gives me hope

  • By Katie Botz
  • Tuesday, May 31, 2022 2:30am
  • Opinion

By Katie Botz

I once had a dream when I was young that every daughter, sister, mother, aunt and grandmother didn’t have to look behind her back in public in fear of being attacked. I once had a dream where her words would hold fundamental value in the court of law in our beautiful State of Alaska. I once had a dream where victims of sexual assault knew without a shadow of doubt that yes meant yes, and no actually meant no in Alaska laws!

As a kid you shouldn’t want those things to occur, but it was my aspiration for my fellow Alaskans at the age of 12. At the age of 12 I was sexually assaulted in my home on Kodiak, Alaska. From that moment I started to continue to look behind my back wondering if I would ever be attacked again. For 18 years my abuse consumed me in the most unhealthy way. I stopped doing the things that I once loved and was consumed with fear that I was no longer safe in my own state. It wasn’t until age 30 when I was willing to face the fact that I have a mental health issue from my assault.

When House Bill 5 was introduced to the 32nd State Legislature, I was determined to advocate for the change of definition of consent in Alaska State Statute. HB 5 has three critical parts. One, it changes the definition of consent which hasn’t been changed in 40 years to a new affirmative definition. Consent went from requiring the use of force or the threat of force to now being defined as “a freely given, reversible agreement specific to the conduct at issue.” Two, it includes criminalizing the act of Rape by Fraud which has never been addressed before in state history. Lastly, rape kits will be required to be tested within six months.

As a survivor it was important for me to know that another Alaskan would be comfortable walking around their community knowing that a simple “no” would one day keep them safe. It was also important to explain to state legislators that our 40-year-old consent law was causing more harm than good to our victims, but it wasn’t an easy task. In fact, House Bill 5 was stalled in the House Judiciary Committee for a good year leaving supporters to wonder if the bill would die.

As a strong advocate for HB 5 and a survivor of sexual assault, I was on the verge of giving up the last two weeks of 32nd legislative session. From what had happened it left me feeling I was an insignificant person to a few men of the 32nd legislature. I felt I was being ignored, silenced and unvalued by committee chairs that could move or stop the bill.

While I was losing hope in our legislative process, there was much work being done behind the scenes. I’m truly thankful for Representative Tarr for going above and beyond to find another avenue to get HB 5 passed into law the last few days of session. I’m also truly thankful for Senator Hughes and Senator Kiehl for their HB 5 amendment to HB 325 on the Senate Floor on the last day of session and for Rep. Rasmussen for supporting adding HB 5 to her bill. In the last hours of the legislative session HB 5 was passed unanimously by both the Senate and House to become law. I’m feeling more positive now and believe that one person can actually help make a difference after all.

• Katie Botz is a sexual assault survivor. Botz resides in Juneau.

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