Op-ed: It's time to close a dangerous loophole protecting rapists in Florida

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click to enlarge Op-ed: It's time to close a dangerous loophole protecting rapists in Florida
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Trigger warning: Sexual violence.

My name is Kat Duesterhaus. I am a small business owner living in Miami-Dade County. I serve on the Board of Florida NOW and Miami Coalition to Advance Racial Equity (MCARE), and I'm a member of RAINN's speakers bureau — RAINN is our nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization — Florida Council Against Sexual Violence’s Survivor Caucus, and the Sexual Assault Response Teams of Palm Beach County, Martin County and St. Lucie County. I'm also a survivor of alcohol-facilitated sexual assault.

I was assaulted at a party after taking a few flaming shots. It was the first time I had tried drinking hard liquor. One by one, the men at the party took turns sexually assaulting me. Because of the alcohol and how the trauma affected my brain, I only remember pieces of what happened next. 

I’m sorry for these few graphic details, but I do remember struggling to breathe at one point. The one named Taylor was simultaneously choking me and plugging my nose. Why would he do that to me? To force me to open my mouth, so he could rape me there too.

Under Florida law, the fact that I was incapacitated by the alcohol and thereby incapable of giving consent … doesn’t matter. Because I willingly drank those shots. Under Florida law, Taylor and the other men who raped me can claim that I consented to having sex with them.

This is sometimes called a “he said, she said'' situation and often leads to victim-blaming. But this should not apply when someone is incapacitated, no matter how they became that way.

House Bill 525 would close this dangerous loophole protecting rapists in Florida, but for some reason the Chairman in its first committee of reference — Rep. Chuck Brannan — is refusing to schedule it. The Senate version of this bill, SB 868, has already passed unanimously in all committees of reference on the Senate side. But all hope of closing the loophole this year will be lost if Chairman Brannan doesn't schedule it in his next committee meeting.

This is an important issue, and the stakes are high. Through my work with three Florida county Sexual Assault Response Teams and in speaking out about my own experience on social media, I have heard from too many others who were also raped while voluntarily incapacitated. In fact, some studies report that one out of every four female college students experience sexual assault while intoxicated by their second year of college.

If someone gets drunk, are they fair game to be shot, stabbed or robbed? Why on earth should perpetrators of rape and other sexual assaults get a free pass? Initiating sexual contact with someone because they are incapacitated and unable to resist or even passed out is sexual assault. Period. There should be no “he said, she said” defenses to this.

No matter how we became incapacitated. Because regardless of how we got that way, a person who is incapacitated could not have possibly given consent. And it's past time our laws reflected this.

Add your voice in asking Chairman Brannan to schedule this important bill at https://bit.ly/askbrannan.

If you need help please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline 24/7/356 at 1-800-656-4673 or visit RAINN.org.

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