The first of August means new laws in Minnesota.

We all are aware of the new hands-free law, but the Minnesota legislature also got another one right. They erased an archaic loophole in the law that allowed for sexual predators to walk away without charges under the “marital rape exception.”

In 2017, Jenny Teeson found a video on her then husband’s computer of him sexually assaulting her while she laid on the bed motionless with her four-year-old son lying next to her. The video had been recorded almost two years earlier.

She has no recollection of the assault. She believes she was drugged by her ex-husband prior to the attack. When she discovered the video she reported it to law enforcement immediately. He was charged with criminal sexual conduct in the third degree – a felony.

Hours later she received a phone call stating the felony charge would be dropped pursuant to then existing Minnesota law that stated a person does not commit criminal sexual conduct if the conduct is between “adults cohabitating in an ongoing voluntary sexual relationship at the time of the alleged offense, or if the complainant is the actor’s legal spouse, unless the couple is living separate and one of them has filed for legal separation or dissolution of marriage.”

Sexual assault and intimate partner violence are crimes that happen behind closed doors, that have few if any witnesses, that are rarely reported and that we don’t talk about, but happen every day.

According to statistics compiled by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, more than 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner nationwide, which equates to more than one million men and women per year.

One in five women and one in 71 men are victims of rape in their lifetime. Of those victims approximately 45 percent of female victims and 29 percent of male victims are sexually assaulted by an intimate partner, and, up until now, if the sexual assault occurred between two married or cohabiting individuals in an otherwise consensual relationship there was no action prosecutors could take to protect victims.

The statistics are astounding – approximately 12 percent of married women will be raped at some point during their marriage and 18 percent of women report their child witnessed the rape. Even harder to stomach is the statistics tell us only 36 percent of victims ever report being assaulted. 

The title of husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend or significant other used to be a free pass to consent. However, the new Minnesota law now – appropriately – protects an individual’s right to say no to anyone at any time no matter the circumstances of the relationship.

The change in law – this legal recognition – that rape within a marriage or consensual relationship is treated with the same severity as a sexual assault that occurs outside of those boundaries is a massive step forward for victims. My hope is that this empowers victims to be brave, to tell their story and to know that we are listening, that we are here to hold their abuser accountable for this incredible violation of safety and security, to protect victims from this happening again and to assist them on their journey through healing.

If you have been a victim of intimate partner violence, there are multiple local resources to contact: WRAP – Redwood Falls, New Horizons Crisis Center, Minnesota Indigenous Women’s Society or one our local law enforcement agencies.

– Jenna Peterson serves as Redwood County attorney