What is Consent?
What is consent? I have spent the last few years writing about how to talk about consent with children in order to keep them safe but did you know that the definition of consent is dependent on the state in which you reside? Today, I took another look at one case that inspired me on my own journey for justice, a case that centered around the legal definition of consent in the state of Indiana.
(Victims of sexual violence have the right to remain anonymous, but Abigail Finney decided to go public in order to bring awareness to sexual crimes.)
In a dorm room of Purdue University, Abigail Finney went to sleep in bed with her boyfriend. As she slept, her boyfriend left the room and his friend, who had been sleeping on the futon, climbed into bed and began to initiate sex with her. After the two had sex, Abigail went to the bathroom and came back to find that it was not her boyfriend in bed. She found his friend smiling up at her.
At this point Abigail was confused and thought she was part of a joke. She wasn't certain if she had dreamed the events or if it had actually happened. She asked where her boyfriend was and he said he didn't know.
Abigail found her boyfriend down the hall and told him that someone had sex with her and she didn't know what to do. As her boyfriend went to confront his friend about what he had done, Abigail went to the hospital to report the rape.
Within hours of the event, Purdue police picked up the alleged rapist and questioned him about the events. In police documents, the man admitted to waiting for Abigail's boyfriend to leave the room, climbing into bed with her and stated that he believed she thought she was having sex with her boyfriend.
Yes. He admitted that he believed she was unaware that he was not her boyfriend. He used her. He preyed on her while she slept and took advantage of her when she was vulnerable.
Consent is a person's voluntary agreement for something to happen, in this case: sex. Abigail did not consent to having sex with this man and he knew that. He knew it and yet he decided to continue. Some might say this should have been an open and shut case but this horrible event exposed a loophole in how Indiana defines consent.
According to Indiana law, rape only exists in these three circumstances:
if a person is compelled by force or imminent threat of force
if a person is unaware that the sexual intercourse or other sexual contact is occurring
if a person is so mentally disabled or deficient that consent to sexual intercourse or other sexual contact cannot be given
Defense for the man stated that he had no used force or threat of force and she was aware of the sexual intercourse. They argued that he had not gone out of his way to pretend to be her boyfriend, although we all can see he also didn't go out of his way to make sure she knew he wasn't.
A year after the event, a jury found this man not guilt of rape and his record was expunged. When asked about the verdict, the defense attorney related this deception to a simple lie saying "So, every time a guy lies and says, 'Honey, I love you.' You’re going to prosecute him for rape? Insanity, just because they are lying or being deceptive doesn't make it rape."
As I reexamine the facts of this legal case, I am disheartened to think that laws could be written so incompletely as to not protect young women such as Abigail. And after her attempt to have the law changed to include the "rape by fraud" circumstances that allowed her attacker to go free, Indiana proved to have more important things on the docket in 2019. The bill died and the loophole remains open.
To learn more about how your state defines rape and consent, read more here.
To read more about Abigail Finney and her attempt to help others in Indiana, read more here.
As I near the trial phase of my own fight for justice, I have yet again examined Indiana law in hopes that if I read it enough, jurors will understand it.
Defines rape as "knowingly or intentionally having sexual intercourse with another person or knowingly or intentionally causing another person to perform or submit to other sexual conduct when:
The other person is compelled by force or imminent threat of force;
The other person is unaware that the sexual intercourse or other sexual contact is occurring; or
The other person is so mentally disabled or deficient that consent to sexual intercourse or other sexual contact cannot be given."
And for extra measure, intoxication is not a defense for committing such a crime.
If you or someone you know has been harmed or are in danger, you have options. Get help!