Alaska Legislature Passes Bill Overhauling Public Safety Statutes

JUNEAU – The State Legislature completed a major overhaul of Alaska’s outdated public safety statutes. House Bill 325, sponsored by Representative Sara Rasmussen, addresses many of the deficiencies in current criminal statutes, which currently hinder prosecutors from seeking charges in cases of domestic violence and sexual assault.

 

“For too long, Alaska has led the nation in the highest rates of domestic violence and sexual assault. With the passage of HB 325 we are taking the necessary steps to protect women in Alaska,” said Representative Sara Rasmussen (R-Anchorage). “Finally, no will mean no. I hope this sends a clear message that rape and sexual assault will not be tolerated in our state any longer.”

 

“This change to the consent law will impact every sexual assault case in the state because establishing consent is a key element of these crimes,” said Representative Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage). “This important legislation fixes three key elements of our broken consent statute to an affirmative definition that consent is a freely given, reversible agreement, removes the use of force from the definition and makes it an element of the crime, and creates a victim centered approach. The current, more than 40 year old statute routinely denies justice to Alaskans and we are fixing that. The bill also establishes the crime of rape by fraud and contains the last piece of our multi-year rape kit reform initiative to require rape kits be tested within six months.”

 

The original bill changes statute to acknowledge the severity of “revenge porn,” in which an abusive individual distributes (or threatens to distribute) explicit images of their partner in an attempt to control, humiliate, or otherwise harm that person. HB 325 redefines this type of behavior as domestic violence, as it has the potential to negatively impact the victim’s life and future.

 

HB 325 was amended in the Senate to include many of the components of House Bill 5, sponsored by Rep. Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage), and Senate Bill 187, Governor Dunleavy’s criminal justice legislation. These changes include modernizing Alaska’s definition of consent to be a freely given, reversible agreement, specific to the conduct at issue. Alaska’s consent definition currently requires that use of force must be proven in order to prosecute a case of sexual assault. This updated definition modernizes this statute and acknowledges that “freezing” is also a common reaction to a traumatic situation.

 

This bill also criminalizes what is known as “rape by fraud,” in which an offender impersonates a person known to another individual in order to obtain sex, when that individual would not have otherwise consented. Under current Alaska law, this kind of deceptive behavior would not be prosecutable.

 

Additionally, HB 325 expedites the processing of rape kits in order to ensure timely justice and answers for victims of sexual assault. Under current statute, rape kits must be processed within a year of receipt. After the passage of HB 325, that timeline will be decreased to 6 months.

 

There were other amendments added to HB 325 by Senator Roger Holland (R-Anchorage). His amendment requires that an individual seeking to change their name must notify the courts about any charges, parole/probation status, and/or registered sex offender status, and the name change must not be done with fraudulent or criminal intent. Another amendment from Sen. Holland also would require the lifetime revocation of a teaching certificate for individuals who possess and/or distribute child pornography.

 

“The ANDVSA would like to thank the legislators for passing legislation to strengthen Alaska’s response to sexual assault by a unanimous vote in each body,” said Brenda Stanfill, Executive Director for ANDVSA. “We appreciate Rep. Tarr’s leadership in this critical area and think these are first steps in aligning the justice system’s response to new community norms- Yes means yes.”

 

“I’d like to take the opportunity to say thank you to Representative Geran Tarr and her amazing staff David Song for their hard work and dedication to seeing HB5 passed the finish line. It is my sincere hope, as a strong advocate for HB5 that victims of sexual assault can finally be comforted knowing that State law believes in them and also support victims of sexual assault because it’s long overdue,” said Katie Botz, sexual assault survivor advocate.

 

“I am glad the state defined consent, and ended many loopholes which were allowing perpetrators to keep hurting people. This law will now be able to help bring justice to so many people,” said Niviaaluk Brandt of Nome, survivor and advocate.

“This law was made in partnership with survivors, advocates, law enforcement and health professionals. Our voices are in this bill,” said advocate Lisa Ellanna of Nome. “After years of advocacy, our leaders have heard our voices! Thank you to the legislators who did the tireless hard work to make justice a reality! It’s a relief knowing our prosecutors now have the tools they need to protect citizens and hold perpetrators accountable!”

 

“We are absolutely elated about the passing of House Bill 5, and the elements it includes that address affirmative consent, rape by impersonation becoming illegal, shortened timeline for the processing of rape kits, notification of victims when their offender changes their name, and other loopholes making sexual violence more prosecutable,” said Jennifer Brown, STAR Development Manager.

 

Recent data from the 2020 Alaska Victimization Survey states that 41 out of every 100 adult women who reside in Alaska has experienced sexual violence in their lifetime representing 106,937 Alaska women. These numbers are unacceptable. It is critical that Alaska continues to improve and strengthen their laws to reduce and end sexual violence in our state,” said Council Chair Blaze Bell and Executive Director Diane Casto in a statement from Alaska’s Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (CDVSA).

 

“For these reasons, CDVSA strongly supported HB 5 and are extremely proud of Representative Tarr for her work on changing Alaska’s consent laws and commend the House and Senate for their strong support to revise Alaska’s outdated consent laws. These changes will save women’s live and improve outcomes for all victims and survivors of sexual assault.”  

 HB 325 now goes to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.