TOPEKA — The Kansas House of Representatives discussed the removal of an amendment to House Bill 2079 on Wednesday, which currently states that spouses are exempt from being charged with sexual battery in the state of Kansas.
The amendment is sponsored by Rep. Brett Parker (D-29th), who expressed a need for explanation on the difference between sexual battery and rape as well as highlighting the difficulties within the legal community when it comes to defining consent. It comes at a time when there are more and more victims of sexual assault that are deciding to take justice into their own hands and tell their stories via movements like Me Too and Time’s Up.
Sexual battery, which is defined in the bill as “the touching of a victim who is 16 or more years of age and who does not consent thereto,” is not the same as rape or sexual assault, nor is it the same as aggravated battery, the latter of which is defined in the bill as sexual battery in which the victim is overcome by force or fear, or is physically powerless.
In fact, the relationship between victim and abuser is irrelevant in just about every offense except for sex crimes. It is important to note that the spousal exemption for the statute of rape was removed from legislation in 1975, but remains in place for sexual battery. This “outdated and unnecessary language,” as Parker described it, needs to be removed because he believes that “marriage should not absolve offenders of guilt nor deprive victims of justice.” The bill is widely supported by members of the House, however there were a few requests for clarification in regards to more ambiguous situations and a concern that a spouse may invent an accusation to seek revenge when they are angry at their significant other. Research shows, however, that false accusations of assault are extremely rare. According to the National Sexual Violence Research Center, between two and 10 percent of sexual crimes are falsely reported.
Michelle McCormick, program director for the YWCA Center for Safety and Empowerment in Topeka, which provides services and support for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, stated in her written testimony that one in three women have experienced sexual violence by a partner. She wrote that she was “stunned” to learn that the current law doesn’t protect married individuals from sexually abusive spouses and believes that keeping the law the way it is only reinforces “a deeply flawed and antiquated cultural norm indicating that consent is implied by the act of marriage, and that spouses do not retain agency over their own bodies.”
Rep. Kellie Warren (R-28th), was the first to question the legal definition of consent, and was curious as to how other states have handled this situation. Although marital rape is illegal in all 50 states, the laws become hazier when it comes to sexual battery. Sara Rust-Martin, legal and policy director of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence in Topeka, mentioned affirmative consent, which is defined as explicit, informed and voluntary agreement in regards to a sexual act. This is the most widely accepted and most valid form of consent, however it is not a term widely known by the general population.
Rep. Dennis “Boog” Highberger (D-46th) asked about situations involving sexual battery between unmarried people who have been living together for an extended period of time. Parker and Rust-Martin agreed that this situation is no different than that for married couples. The main objective of this amendment, according to Parker, was to clarify that being married does not mean that a person can take advantage of their spouse and get away with it simply under the pretense that they’re husband and wife.
The amendment will be discussed further in the coming week as representatives confer over remaining technicalities including the definition of consent.
Marissa Ventrelli is a University of Kansas senior from Chicago majoring in journalism.