Editor’s Note: This story includes mention of sexual violence.
Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb signed a bill March 14 that will broaden the definition of rape, which supporters hope will lead to more convictions in cases of rape and sexual assault.
Under House Enrolled Act 1079, rape will define scenerios in which someone has ignored the refusal of another person’s words, actions or any visible insinuations against sexual conduct. Although the bill was signed almost one month ago, it will not go into effect until July 1.
Currently, Indiana law defines rape as when somone has sexual intercourse by physically pressuring another person into sexual conduct, per Indiana statute. The new definition will now incorporate situations where there is clear refusal to participate in sexual activities, whether that be through verbal or bodily gestures.
The definition will go into effect alongside a continued trend of rape and sexual assault cases on college campuses, including IU. There have been at least 12 on-campus cases of sexual assault or rape reported to the IU Police Department in 2022, according to the department’s crime log. However, over 90% of sexual violence cases go unreported on U.S. college campuses, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
Dr. Jennifer Drobac, a sexual consent professor with the Robert H. McKinney School of Law at IUPUI, noted logistical errors in Indiana’s current definition of rape, claiming it directly challenges how sexual assault victims should respond to their assailant.
“In order for it to be considered rape, you had to show that you aggresively tried to fight off the perpetrator to indicate you were not consenting,” Drobac said. “That type of required response runs counter to all the advice that’s given to women… because you are more likely to be killed by the attacker if you fight back.”
Drobac noted that while the new definition is a step in the right direction, there are still holes in the law that may benefit attackers. She said that a better redraft of the bill would require there be an affirmative consent requirement, which would require enthusiastic, verbal consent when proceeding with sexual conduct.
“One could argue that [the redefinition] is still not sufficient to protect survivors, because it is common to see some survivors who have a physical reaction… where they go numb or they freeze or they become physically incapable of responding, and so they don’t indicate ‘no,’” Drobac said.
IU freshman Katherine Elton has noticed that rape and sexual assault has been a concurrent problem on campus.
“I think IU definitely has a big problem on campus,” Elton said. “It’s good that people need a firm ‘yes’ now rather than ‘no’ because if someone’s really intoxicated… they wouldn’t necessarily say ‘no.’”
Dr. Zoe Peterson is a psychologist at IU that specializes in sex therapy, and agrees that this new bill is a great improvement for rape cases in Indiana.
“It not only means that more people can potentially prosecute [rapists], but I think it also just helps to start to challenge some of our stereotypes like these ideas that if there’s not physical violence, it’s not really rape,” Peterson said.