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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

New Illinois Law Changes Idea Of Consenual Sex

Aired July 31, 2003 - 20:36   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Now on to the Kobe Bryant case. A judge has ruled the NBA star must appear at a hearing next Wednesday to hear the felony sexual assault charge against him.
There are some other developments as well. According to various news reports quoting unnamed sources, the contact between Bryant and his accuser started out as consensual. Then became nonconsensual. CNN hasn't confirmed those reports, whether they're true or not, they are raising a very interesting issue and it is being addressed in the law books of a number of states with language that says no means no, even if contact started with consent.

Illinois signed such a law on Friday and Polly Poskin is the executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault and she's going let us get a better idea here what this all means. Good evening. Welcome.

POLLY POSKIN, DIRECTOR, ILLINOIS COALITION AGAINST SEXUAL ASSAULT: Thank you, Paula. Good evening.

ZAHN: So, can you explain to us how this law works?

POSKIN: Yes. Essentially, the law is a clarification of the Illinois law that says consent is a freely-given agreement to the act of sexual penetration or sexual conduct. So what the new law says is that at any time after an individual withdraws consent during sexual activity, sexual penetration or sexual conduct, if that activity continues, then it's by force, against the victim's will, and therefore a crime in the state of Illinois.

ZAHN: The one thing, though, that will remain consistent here, regardless of the change of law, is the fact that this is a very gray area of she said, he said, isn't it?

POSKIN: Yes. Well, you know, all aquaintance rape, all consent cases, you know, rape are usually two types of cases, either consent or identity. And acquaintance rape is usually always a consent case. So, yes, what the prosecution will have to prove, and I think an effective prosecutor can use this new law to define that consent is not just about the initial agreement to the sexual act in question, but that consent is anything that exists throughout the activity.

So that once it's withdrawn, then -- and there is continuation of the activity, then it's force or threat of force. I also think that judges can use this in the jury instruction to juries about what it is that constitutes consent. It's beyond our traditional definition of consent, Paula, that we usually think that means, sort of, the initiation or the commencement of the sexual activity. This clarifies that consent reigns throughout the sexual activity.

ZAHN: So with this new definition of what constitutes a sexual assault, what impact do you think this change in law will have on the reporting of alleged rapes? Well, I think that it will increase the reporting. I think this will say to rape survivors that they know now what is consent. And I think the experience that they've had will tell them that there is a law and there are people who are going to believe them.

That, indeed, the consent that they maybe initially, you know, enjoined with the other person, was withdrawn and that that experience says to them after that, that's a crime. So I think it's going to increase the reporting. I think it's going to increase the effectiveness of law enforcement to look at consent in a broader way than they have before. And as I said, I think it's going to help prosecutors who want to clearly define to the juries, perhaps in their closing argument, of what really is consent. And once you understand consent in sexual activity, you have a better understanding of what constitutes rape.

ZAHN: Well, it's a whole new area of the law we all need to understand. Polly Poskin, thank you so much for educating us tonight.

POSKIN: Thank you, Paula.

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