Controversy at the Minnesota Supreme Court: Felony rape dismissal yet another example of victim blaming

by Darcy Anderson, University of York student studying History

AUGUST 5, 2021

Controversy at the Minnesota Supreme Court: Felony rape dismissal yet another example of victim blaming

“A Minnesota man can’t be charged with felony rape because the woman chose to drink beforehand.”

This was the headline of the Washington Post last month following the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision to revoke Francois Momulu Khalil’s charge of felony rape.

The event in question occurred in May 2017 when the victim was on a night out with her friends in the Dinkytown neighbourhood of Minneapolis. According to court records, having consumed five shots of alcohol and a narcotic prescription pill, a bouncer denied her entry into a local bar stating that she was too drunk. It was then that Khalil and two other men allegedly approached the group and invited them to a ‘party’. Khalil drove the group to a house in a northern suburb of Minneapolis, with one woman testifying that the victim immediately lay down on the sofa and fell asleep once they had arrived.

The victim woke up to find Khalil raping her. When she told him she did not want to have sex, Khalil allegedly replied, “But you’re so hot and you turn me on.” She then lost consciousness and woke up between 7am and 8am with her shorts around her ankles.

When the case was originally brought to trial Khalil was convicted of third-degree criminal sexual misconduct. This was in light of the jury’s acknowledgment that the victim was drunk and considered to be “mentally incapacitated.”

However, last month, that ruling by the ‘lower’ court was overturned by the Supreme Court. They ruled that the definition of “mentally incapacitated” used by the jury “unreasonably strains and stretches the plain text of the statute” because the victim was drunk before she met the attacker.

In other words, the fact that the victim drunk alcohol voluntarily meant that she was not “mentally incapacitated,” effectively overturning Khalil’s conviction. In order to meet the definition, the alcohol must have been given to the victim without their consent.

This highlights flaws in the rape statute, because it completely disregards those who choose to consume alcohol, narcotics, and other substances which may leave them incapable of consenting to sexual activity. As long as the language of the statute neglects voluntary consumption, survivors of sexual assault in Minnesota will never achieve full justice.

Yet Minnesota is not alone. A ruling such as this is all too familiar:

In September 2020, a court in Peru ruled that a twenty year old woman could not have been raped because she was wearing red underwear. The South Zone Transitory Supraprovincial Collegiate Criminal Court decided that the victim’s choice of wearing lacy red knickers clearly stated that she was ‘intending or willing’ to have sex with the defendant. The judge used her choice of underwear as evidence against her claim that she was a shy and reserved person. The defendant, a twenty-two year old man, was then acquitted, resulting in mass protests in the streets. Many women chose to wear red underwear around their legs in an attempt to show solidarity with the victim.

Furthermore, in a 2018 Irish court case involving a rape allegation, the defense attorney (referring to the victim) urged the jury to “look at the way she was dressed.” The lawyer cited a lace thong worn by the seventeen year old as a sign of sexual promiscuity. The twenty-seven year old defendant was acquitted, with the hashtag #ThisIsNotConsent later trending on social media.

Luckily, the recent events in Minnesota have been met with a fierce response. One example of this has been from Minnesota representative Kelly Moller.

Following the dismissal of Khalil’s conviction she said: “Victims who are intoxicated to the degree that they are unable to give consent are entitled to justice. Our laws must clearly reflect that understanding, and today’s Supreme Court ruling highlights the urgency lawmakers have to close this and other loopholes throughout our CSC law,” going onto say that “Minnesotans who experience unthinkable trauma deserve to see the Legislature take action on this immediately.”

Moller then went on to sponsor bill HF707/SF1683 which aims to close the voluntary intoxication loophole. On April 8th, she was pleased to announce on Twitter that the bill is now moving to the House and the Senate.

But how can you TAKE ACTION?

Specific to Minnesota, there are three things you can do:

First of all, you can speak up by signing the petition on One Green Planet. Created by Shelby Hettler, it aims to protect sexual assault survivors in Minnesota and challenge the rape statute enforced by the Supreme Court.

Secondly, you can educate yourself on the issue by reading the Star Tribune series ‘Denied Justice’ which highlights the injustices faced by survivors of sexual assault in Minnesota. Although the site has not been updated since 2018 (and so has no mention of the recent ruling), it still provides an excellent account of the harmful impacts of rulings such as the ones mentioned above. Part 3 of the series explores “How alcohol foils rape investigations,” and so is particularly relevant.

Thirdly, you can donate to the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MNCASA). They provide advocacy support, medical forensic compliance, offer prevention strategies and sexual explotation training to help manage and reduce sexual assault in the state of Minnesota. You can also become a member of the group, which includes training sessions, regional meetings to exchange resources and ideas, and information packs.

Nevertheless, it is important to remember that, in order to tackle the issue of sexual assault, you must also be proactive in your own actions.

To achieve this, advice published by UN Women in 2020 on how to fight violence during a pandemic seems the most applicable in the current circumstances. (Though the advice specifically addresses women, it is of course relevant to people of all gender identities):

  1. Listen to and believe survivors

  2. Teach the next generation and learn from them

  3. Call for responses and services fit for purpose

  4. Understand consent

  5. Learn the signs of abuse and how you can help

  6. Start a conversation

  7. Stand against rape culture

  8. Fund women organizations

  9. Hold each other accountable

   10.Know the data and demand more of it

To stop injustices against victims of sexual assault, we must TAKE ACTION.

If you are a victim of sexual assault, or of any kind of violence, it is important to remember that you are not alone. The following organisations offer help and support:

  •   UK: your nearest Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) , Women's Aid or The Survivor's Trust (TST) are here to help.

  •   USA: RAINN is here to help.

  •   Worldwide: International Rape Crisis Hotlines are here to help.