How Ireland's New Law Will Protect Sexual Assault Survivors

It essentially redefines consent by stating under which circumstances people are incapable of giving it.

Late last year, a Eurobarometer poll found that as many as 21 percent of Irish people considered sex without consent to be OK in certain cases. Nonconsensual sex was justifiable, some said, if a person was drunk or on drugs; if they went home with someone who wore provocative, sexy clothing; or, absurdly, if a person was walking outside alone at night. Now the country is poised to pass laws that will essentially redefine the definition of consent to protect future survivors of sexual assault and rape.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald is reportedly expected to propose the laws at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, including one that will make it illegal to engage in intercourse with someone who is in no position to give clear-headed consent. According to the Irish Independent, Fitzgerald's proposal will "make it clear that a person who is incapable of consenting to a sexual act due to, for instance, being asleep or unconscious, as a result of intoxication" is unable to give consent.

The new changes to Ireland's laws also target online predators and child pornography, as well as create extra protections for survivors of convicted sex offenders. 

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What constitutes sexual assault and rape in the law is often complex and inconsistent, and it seems to have fallen largely to nonprofits and other organizations to educate the public on matters of consent. Campaigns like "yes means yes," aimed at educating people on the importance of enthusiastic consent, have become more common. 

Sexual assault has become a talking point in recent years, particularly on college campuses as survivors increasingly go public with their experiences to help raise awareness. The outrage fomented by troubling — but still incomplete — statistics about sexual assault has prompted lawmakers to push for legislation that would protect survivors and serve perpetrators heavier punishments. 

Cover image via Shutterstock / urbazon.

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