Updated: Apr 18, 2021
By Mary Grlic
Image via The Washington Post
*Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault*
A woman walks into a bar and decides to have a few drinks. A man sees this as an easy way to get to know her. He sees her choice to drink as an invitation to take advantage of her because she is seen as an easy target. Later that night, she becomes a victim of sexual assault. Unfortunately, this is a common scenario: women are constantly taken advantage of sexually, especially when they cannot coherently give consent because they are intoxicated. It’s easy to just say “she was drunk, she doesn’t even remember,” and move on as though assault is not a serious issue. This must be fixed, and while many efforts are being taken to bring justice to assault victims, new state laws are making it even easier to be taken advantage of after consuming alcohol.
In May 2017, Francois Khalil encountered a woman under the influence of five alcoholic beverages and a prescription narcotic. He invited her and a friend to an alleged party, and after they agreed to attend, they went to a house in Minneapolis where there was no party. The woman blacked out on the couch and woke up to Khalil on top of her, testifying that she was being sexually assaulted. Khalil was convicted of third-degree sexual conduct involving an impaired victim in 2019. However in March 2021, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that Khalil would only be charged with a fifth degree gross misdemeanor, citing that people who are voluntarily intoxicated cannot be raped. Minnesota law states that in order to be considered mentally incapacitated, the person must be given alcohol without their consent. According to this logic, a person knowingly consumes alcohol, they are essentially mentally capable, and therefore, cannot be raped under the state’s law.
Minnesota is not the first state to implement such a ruling. In fact, the same law exists in New York, as well as about 40 other states, according to the Brooklyn Law Review in 2016. In 2018, District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. wrote that “there is no difference between an intoxicated individual’s ability to consent to sexual acts when he or she was drugged, and an intoxicated individual’s ability to consent when he or she voluntarily drank alcohol or took narcotics.” When someone choses to drink alcohol, they are not consenting to sex. Their mental capabilities can be just as impaired as they would be if they were drugged or involuntarily intoxicated. Just because they chose to drink does not invalidate that they could still be sexually harassed or taken advantage of, especially when they cannot give consent.
Being that this law is a blatant attack on all assault victims, many are concerned about what this ruling will mean for the future. As Democratic Minnesota state representative Kelly Moller said, "Victims who are intoxicated to the degree that they are unable to give consent are entitled to justice. Minnesotans who experience unthinkable trauma deserve to see the Legislature take action on this immediately.” Victims do deserve justice, especially in a situation where they can so easily be taken advantage of. It is not fair to discount sexual offense just because the person voluntarily drank and was thus unable to give consent. Moller also points to the idea that many men look for women in such a condition to take advantage of them. Minnesota’s ruling continues to allow men to act like this with limited repercussions.
In a society where sexual assault is far too common, it is especially disturbing to see laws like these continue to pass. A recent study shows that 97 percent of women between the ages 18 and 24 have experience some form of sexual harassment and that nine out of ten women do not feel safe in public places. Action must be taken to ensure safety for all sexual assault victims and prevent further instances of harassment. Minnesota’s ruling makes it even more challenging to speak up about sexual assault as it silences victims from a real trial.
There must be a change in Minnesota’s law to protect anyone from being sexually assaulted. No one should lose their rights to their own body just because they chose to drink, and we must fight a legal system that does not defend this. We can help by signing this petition to change Minnesota’s new law, hopefully we can bring justice to the woman’s case as well as all other victims of sexual assault.
Written by writer Mary Grlic