Overturning the Definition of Consent

On Wednesday, March 24th, a Minnesota rape case centered on an attack that took place four years earlier was overturned by the Supreme Court of Minnesota. The case involved a woman who waited to enter a bar in Dinkytown, but she was turned away by the bouncer because she was already intoxicated. After she was turned away, three men used a ruse to successfully take her to a house where one of the men – Francios Momolu Khalil – raped her after she passed out on a couch. The woman woke up during the assault but then lost consciousness again.  

The events of the case are neither in dispute nor are they being argued in the court, instead Khalil’s original conviction of a third-degree criminal sexual conduct charge is the focus. He was originally convicted on the statute that defines a “criminal sexual conduct in the third degree” as rape by someone who “knows or has reason to know that the complainant is…mentally incapacitated.” Mentally incapacitated, according to this state statute is defined as when “a person under the influence of alcohol, a narcotic, anesthetic, or any other substance, administered to that person without the person’s agreement, lacks the judgment to give a reasoned consent to sexual contact or sexual penetration.” 

Using the logic of the state statute, if a person is raped after being forced to consume or unknowingly consuming alcohol, then it is considered nonconsensual sex and the offender can be charged with a third-degree criminal sexual conduct charge. However, if a person drinks alcohol voluntarily and is raped, then the case would not be taken as seriously and the assault might not be considered rape, because apparently, it is then the survivors fault. The Minnesota Supreme Court unanimously (6-0) overturned the original appellate ruling and demanded that the case be sent back for another trial because of the fact that the woman had chosen to drink. 

This is not the first instance of women being told to take preventative action, and for centuries women have faced victim-blaming. From constantly being told to cover up and be careful with where they go and who they talk to, the responsibility of staying safe and away from being assaulted falls on the shoulders of the women rather than teaching men not to rape. Women are met with phrases such as, “boys will be boys” and “you were asking for it with what you wore,” yet often when men are accused of sexual harassment they receive protection comments about how an accusation will ruin the rest of their life but they have too much potential. This is evident in the number of male politicians that have sexual harassment charges against them, yet still have a successful career despise the lasting trauma they imposed onto those they committed these crimes against. The case with Khalil and the victim only worsens the common act of victim-blaming and violence against women, lessening the consequences of rape. 

The truth is, one cannot consent when drunk and drinking is not consent. Consent is often taught, when taught, as “no means no” but it should be taught as “yes means yes.” The case in Minnesota aids in evidence as to why. The state statute, stated above, implies the notion that a drunk person can consent when in actuality someone is taking advantage of that person in the state they are in. The isolated event of saying saying no is not the only way to refuse sex, and there are many other ways to say no than just blatantly saying “no.” Someone saying yes after being pressured into having sex is not consent, being a minor and saying yes is not consent, being unsure is not consent, the clothes one is wearing is not consent, the act of drinking is not consent. External factors must be taken into consideration as well – such as whether someone is inebriated, their state of mind, previous events, etc. Nothing except an enthusiastic, consistent yes while in a clear state of mind is consent.

The overruling of the Minnesota sexual assault conviction enforces the idea that women should be held responsible for being harassed rather than teaching men to respect women – further perpetuating this severely outdated idea. It increases the fear that so many already possess about being out at night alone, or even doing routine tasks during the day – when efforts should be made to curb this fear and make women feel safer. Instead of moving forward in time, our society is reverting back to the way things used to be and ensuring that patriarchy remains firm.