Women4Change

Women4Change Indiana, a coalition helping to promote equality for women, held a rally at the Statehouse March 5 to address Indiana’s lack of a definition of “consent.”

Despite several bills in the state government to address the issue of sexual violence in recent years, the state still has no definiton of consent on the books, making it difficult to prosecute sex crimes. 

According to Rep. Sue Errington, (D-Muncie), who spoke at the rally, simply saying “no” is not enough for an unwanted sexual encounter to be legally considered rape. Instead, there must be force or threat of force. 

Cordelia Lewis-Burks, Rita Venerable and Velvet Miller, members of Changemakers, a sub-committee of Women4Change Indiana, hope to change that. In a previous interview with the Recorder, all three women emphasized saying “no” should be enough to consider an unwanted sexual encounter rape. 

Women4Change Indiana hope to sway lawmakers to vote for a legal definition of consent, in part, through the Clothesline, a project the organization created to share the stories of sexual assault survivors throughout the state. Survivors can fill out a postcard and anonymously share their experience, how it has impacted them and hang it on the line. The installation has been displayed at several events throughout the state, including the March 5 rally. Women from all 92 counties in Indiana have filled out postcards describing their experiences with sexual violence.

According to Women4Change Indiana Executive Director Rima Shahid, the organization will continue to collect postcards through the summer into the next session of the General Assembly. Women4Change will host a “State of Women Conference” in September to further the conversation about consent laws. 

According to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, 18% of African American women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. However, for every 15 Black women who are raped, only one will report it, making it difficult to determine the actual percentage.

Burton Patterson, director of prevention and education for the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault, said having conversations is the first step to better serving Black victims of sexual assault.

“We first have to acknowledge the systems of oppression that are built against women of color,” Patterson said. “And talking about statistics [regarding rates of sexual assault against Black women], we need to have that conversation within the culture first to make them aware, but then invite everyone to the table to hear those statistics so they know how to serve those populations. The more we can gear those resources toward specific populations, we can shift stats.”

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper. 

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