Democratic representative Terese Berceau from Madison visited Lawrence on May 14 to discuss the definition of alcohol. Speaking to a small but attentive audience in the Coffee House, Berceau explained and argued for her bill that would “re-define” alcohol as an intoxicant under the second degree sexual assault statue.
Under current law, a person can be convicted of second degree sexual assault if “1) He or she has sexual contact or sexual intercourse with an individual (victim) who is under the influence of an intoxicant; 2) as a result of the intoxicant’s effects the victim is incapable of appraising the person’s conduct; and 3) the person knows of the victim’s condition” (2001 Assembly Bill).
Defined today, “intoxicant” includes substances such as Rohypnol, GHB (those drugs commonly know as the “date-rape” drugs), marijuana, cocaine, heroine, as well as many other controlled substances. Berceau argued, however, that because date rape drugs, such as GHB, are used very rarely—in less then three percent of reported rapes, whereas alcohol is used in over 63 percent of reported rape cases—the fact that alcohol is not considered an intoxicant under current laws is preposterous. Berceau argued that this bill would be especially important to college students since alcohol is a common factor in “most” campus violence.
Besides including alcohol as an intoxicant under law, the bill would also protect victims of rape and witnesses of rape who are under 21 from legal action for under-aged drinking. Berceau argued that this would be especially helpful in allowing victims and witnesses to testify against the aggressor without fear of being punished themselves.
Much controversy surrounds Berceau’s bill, controversy that she herself describes as legal wording that only lawyers would be able to explain. Most importantly, Berceau admitted that actually convicting a person would be difficult under the bill since most rape cases involving alcohol are reported too late to actually prove that the victim was drunk enough not to be able to give consent. Still, she argued that, if passed, the bill would be helpful in convicting aggressors who take advantage of a person’s drunkenness, because it would make the question of consent/lack of consent easier to argue.
She explained that under current laws, since alcohol is not considered an intoxicant, it is very difficult to argue against the aggressor having the victim’s consent, especially in cases where there are little or no signs of force.
Berceau made many strong arguments concerning the passing of her bill, which has already been vetoed once in the House.
To learn more about Berceau’s platform, visit her website at http://www.legis.state.wi.us/assembly/asm76/asm76.html.