This piece was put together in partnership with our friends at Women4Change Indiana—and we are so grateful for their work in this important area affecting women across our state.
There is currently no legal definition of sexual consent in Indiana. Yes, you read that correctly. This means that “sex” without consent is not a crime in our state unless there is a proven use of physical force, threat of force, or incapacitation.
This has widespread repercussions covering everything from assault to sexual harassment in the workplace.
Here are just two daunting statistics that will likely make you sit up and take notice:
- One in five Hoosier women has been sexually assaulted.
- Indiana ranks the 4th highest in the nation for the number of reported rapes among high school girls.
Passing legislation that defines sexual consent would significantly help to mitigate these rates by eliminating legal loopholes and ensuring stronger accessibility to the justice that survivors deserve.
What are some of the key issues that need to be addressed?
One of the specific ways that Indiana fails to protect its residents is within the corporate sector. Loopholes in Indiana’s state code allow businesses with fewer than 15 employees to require that the employer give consent for a workplace sexual assault case to be brought to court. This prevents many victims of workplace harassment from bringing their case to court, denying them the justice that a trial could provide.
Another major issue regarding workplace harassment in Indiana is the lack of restrictions around non-disclosure agreements. These are company agreements that prevent survivors of sexual harassment from speaking out or sharing their story. Often, these agreements force women in the workplace to choose between staying silent about their own assault or losing their job.
What is being done to enact change?
On March 5, 2020, as part of an awareness campaign led by Women4Change Indiana, called El Tendedero/The Clothesline Indiana, clotheslines bearing more than 1,500 postcards with Hoosiers’ personal statements about sexual assault were hung in the Indiana Statehouse, illuminating the problem’s magnitude and calling for legislative action. Two months later, the Indiana Legislative Council assigned a committee to study the topic of sexual consent. On September 15, the study committee met to hear testimony from survivors and advocates about changes needed in Indiana law.
Women4Change has worked tirelessly to pass House Bill 1160, legislation that defines sexual consent. In order to make the language in HB 1160 less vague, team members at Women4Change added lines to the legislation that would help make the definition of consent more specific. By examining what necessary information was missing from the original legislation, they conducted research on bills that define sexual consent in other states. They also researched bills in Indiana that defined consent in non-sexual contexts, such as robbery. The team members then incorporated additional lines to the legislation, one being: Consent is voluntary, contextual behavior or verbal communication to express a willingness to engage in sexual activity; for example, expressing affirmative statements such as “yes.”
However, in early October, The Interim Committee on Corrections and Criminal Code unfortunately decided not to recommend passing this proposed legislation. Despite this setback, Women4Change remains determined to protect and support all Hoosier womxn. The organization continues to push for increased training and education of state officials regarding sexual misconduct, and elimination of the legislature that gives employers final veto power on whether a workplace sexual assault case can be filed in court.
What can you do to help?
Women4Change encourages everyone to let legislators know that developing consent legislation must still be a priority during the 2021 Legislative Session. You can also use their 2020 Voter Guide, which provides OneClick tools and pre-written messages to contact elected officials about consent in our state.
Another way to get involved is to learn about consent and sexual harassment in Indiana. You can start by reading Women4Change’s 2020 Voter Guide, and visiting the website of their partner organization, the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault & Human Trafficking.
Bronwyn Bartley is a legislative intern with Women4Change Indiana. She is a senior at Butler University, double majoring in English (Professional Writing Track) and Race, Gender & Sexuality Studies.