Sex is always a touchy subject. But with recent changes to Alaska law on consent to sex, I feel it is important for educators, parents and law enforcement to have a deep understanding of the effect that HB 325 has had on sexual assault laws and the consequences for those who do not know the letter of the law. The language of HB 325 is ambiguous but clear. It is clear that “no” is enough to prove rape and the collateral consequences — such as mandatory sex offender registration and mandatory minimum prison sentences — associated with a rape conviction. What is not clear is what qualifies as a “yes.”
HB 325 defines “consent” as a freely given agreement to cooperate in an act expressed by words or actions. In the absence of such a freely given agreement, there is no consent and the act constitutes rape. What does this mean in practice? It means that HB 325 turned sex into a dangerous question. Long past are the days of “I thought it was OK because they didn’t say no.” What matters now is: Why did you believe they said yes?
HB 325 represent an affirmative consent law. Absent express consent to the specific act, a person exposes themselves to criminal liability as a sex offender for engaging in sexual intercourse with a partner. Teachers, parents and members of the community need to be teaching our youth that it is not enough that a partner didn’t say “no.” What matters is, did they believe there was a “yes?” Otherwise, the consequences could be dire and many could be hurt. Educating our youth and the general public is pivotal to avoiding the potential negative consequences of a well-intentioned law.
— Lacey Jane Brewster, Esq.
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