Pubdate: Thu, 16 Feb 2006
Source: Journal Times, The (Racine, WI)
Copyright: 2006 The Journal Times
Author: Janine Anderson
Bookmark: (date rape)


RACINE - State Sen. Cathy Stepp wants to include alcohol as an
intoxicant in the state's sexual assault statue, putting too many
drinks on the same legal level as a date rape drug.

Stepp, R-Yorkville, said the issue was brought to her attention by a
University of Wisconsin-Parkside student. The current sexual assault
statute lists several intoxicants, all of which are controlled
substances or controlled substances combined with alcohol.

Alcohol is listed as an intoxicant in four other places in the
statutes: when people are operating vehicles, ATVs, snowmobiles and

Wisconsin is the only state in the country that does not classify
alcohol as an intoxicant in its sexual assault statutes.

Scott Nelson, legislative counsel in Stepp's office, said under the
existing law, alcohol falls into a gap when it comes to sexual assault.

"There's no logical reason to have this gap in the law," Nelson said.
"There's no difference between smoking marijuana and getting high and
drinking alcohol and getting drunk."

Alcohol was removed from the statute in the mid-1990s, when the
statute was rewritten to include date rape drugs like rohypnol.

"We have advice for women, like keep your drink with you at parties
and don't let anyone fill your cup up for you," Stepp said. "Alcohol
is not listed in there. This is one of those situations where you say
'What? Are you kidding? That can't be so,' and it is so. We're looking
to change that because clearly alcohol is an intoxicant."

The statute creates stiffer penalties for people convicted of having
sex or sexual contact with a person who has had enough drinks to
compromise their ability to accurately assess the situation. The
statute also requires the perpetrator be aware that the victim is

A person convicted under this statute could be fined up to $100,000 or
sentenced to up to 40 years in prison.

The wording of the bill covers situations where the victim finds
themselves intoxicated beyond the ability to judge a situation clearly
and those where the perpetrator has purposely given the victim alcohol
or other drugs to incapacitate them.

Stepp said this change is necessary because people often do not
consider alcohol a drug.

"People have to take (alcohol) seriously as an intoxicant," she said.
Too often they say 'So what, you have too much to drink.' It is a big
deal. If someone's trying to ply you with alcohol to take advantage of
you, there's no difference between that and slipping something into
someone's drink, in my mind."

Karen Carnabucci is a clinical social worker working as a
psychotherapist in Racine. She has extensive experience working with
trauma, sexual assault and domestic violence. She said alcohol and
other substances often play a part in sexual assaults.

"Alcohol distorts people's abilities to think clearly," Carnabucci
said. "It certainly distorts individuals' judgments, both on the part
of the would-be perpetrator and the victim. It's not uncommon for
individuals who are intoxicated to put themselves in risky situations
where they may lose their best judgment about what may be safe."

She said sexual assault victims already have a great deal of shame
associated with the crime committed against them, and that when
alcohol and other drugs are involved it becomes even more difficult.

"It is typical after a sexual assault to feel a great deal of shame,
just with an assault itself," Carnabucci said. "When an intoxicant may
be involved there may be an additional layer of shame as well. Often
from the point of view of a survivor there may be a lot of

Legislators have proposed similar changes to the statute before, but
they have never passed. The Senate Judicial Committee held a hearing
earlier this month on the most recent bill; no one spoke against it.
The committee is expected to vote on the bill today. Once out of
committee, the bill will come before the Senate for a vote and, if
passed, will then move to the Assembly. If it passes both the Senate
and Assembly, it would then go to Gov. Jim Doyle before becoming law.
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