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'No means no:' Indiana lawmakers pass bill closing loophole in which there was no definition of sexual consent

Indiana Lawmakers Pass Bill Closing Loophole In Which There Was No Definition Of Sexual Consent 02:59

CARMEL, Ind. (CBS) -- No finally means no in Indiana - or at least it will when House Bill 1079 is soon officially signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb.

As CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey reported, the bill closes a loophole in the law in which there is no definition of what consent means for sexual activity - which survivors of rape in the Hoosier State say has prevented justice from being served.

"I grew up hearing, 'No means no,' and then I was quite shocked to learn after I was assaulted that actually, it does not mean no," said survivor and advocate Stephanie Stewart.

In 2019, a visit to her home from a security system salesman left Stewart traumatized and sexually assaulted.

"The next thing I remember is him being naked in front of me; me pushing his chest as hard as I could, saying: 'Stop! Stop! Stop!'" Stewart said.

Stewart filed a report for rape with the Carmel, Indiana Police Department, and preserved all the evidence. But after three months of investigation, she was told by prosecutors that they wouldn't be filing charges.

"She basically told me: 'Our consent laws are weak. We have a patriarchal system. We're not convinced we could get a jury to convict,'" Stewart said.

Stewart was livid. She would learn that unlike Illinois and more than a dozen other states, Indiana doesn't have a definition of consent. This means that sex without consent is not a crime in Indiana unless there is "a proven use of physical force, threat of force, or incapacitation."

The issue is particularly glaring for survivors in Northwest Indiana, because what side of the often-invisible state line with Illinois you live on could mean the difference between your case being prosecuted and not.

"I didn't know that this was a problem in Indiana," said Rima Shahid, chief executive officer of the nonprofit Women4Change. "I didn't realize that no doesn't mean no in our state."

Shahid also helped support the charge to create a legal definition of consent.

"The next thing that we hear is, 'How is that possible in 2022?'" she said. "And so I think one of the biggest takeaways is advocacy works."

After several failed attempts, House Bill 1079 finally passed on Wednesday. Now it's headed to the governor's desk.

Northwest Indiana state Sen. Mike Bohacek (R-Michiana Shores) was a sponsor of the bill. Upon its passing, he said, "No means no in Indiana, and now we can enforce it."

"I am free to scream from the mountaintops and to anyone who will listen, and I just decided that was the best thing I could do for myself, for my daughters, for my friends," Stewart said.

As for Stewart, she says her work is not done. Next, she wants to focus on extending the statute of limitations for reporting rape cases and focus on issues with noncompliant prosecutors. 

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