Rep. Angela Romero wants Utah to adopt a 'yes means yes' model of consent
Utah Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, is trying again to make it easier to prosecute sexual assault cases. Just 7% of cases with sexual assault kit evidence resulted in successful prosecution in Salt Lake County from 2012-2017, according a study by Dr. Julie Valentine, an associate professor of nursing at Brigham Young University.
“[This bill] would fill a gap I think we have right now in Utah's law when it comes to rape and sexual assault and the lack of prosecution,” Romero said.
Romero is sponsoring a bill that would create a separate offense for engaging in sexual activity with someone without getting affirmative consent with a verbal agreement or actions. Essentially, under this model, consent isn’t just the absence of a “no” — it’s the presence of a “yes.”
“In many situations, if someone's experiencing trauma, they freeze,” she said. “So if someone freezes, they can't actually give consent … so it's important that people know that if they're going to go down that road, that they have someone's consent.”
The offense would be a third-degree felony — a lower penalty than rape, which is a first-degree felony.
Romero ran this bill last year, too. It got voted down in its first committee hearing, but she said she is hoping this year she can at least get it to the House floor so lawmakers can have a more robust debate on it.
“A lot of this is education and understanding of our evolving systems,” she said. “To see where we have come as a state when it comes to sexual assault and intimate partner violence, it gives me hope.”
Romero listed eliminating the rape kit backlog and strenghtening a law to prevent child victims of sex trafficking from being prosecuted for prostitution as examples of progress Utah has made in going after perpetrators of sexual violence.
The affirmative bill is modeled after a similar law in Wisconsin. According to an article in the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, only Wisconsin and Vermont have “pure” affirmative consent laws.