ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota lawmakers are on the verge of passing legislation to make it illegal for police officers to have sex with people in their custody.
The state House approved Tuesday a public safety bill that includes a provision that would close what some say is a sexual assault loop hole, the Pioneer Press reported .
Minnesota police officers can currently argue that sex is consensual, despite what many advocates say is an imbalanced power dynamic.
The bill would make it illegal for officers to have sex with someone in their custody or anyone who doesn’t reasonably believe that they can freely leave the officer’s presence. An officer could be charged with third or fourth degree criminal sexual conduct, which are both felonies.
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“Clearly, when someone is in custody of a police officer, (the officer) is in a position of power over them,” said state Rep. Kelly Fenton, R-Woodbury. “I was surprised it wasn’t illegal already.”
Advocates for sexual assault victims say it’s a long-overdue change.
A Minnesota woman filed a lawsuit in 2014 alleging that a senior special agent for the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension used her immigration status as leverage to coerce her into a sexual relationship. The woman was being paid to be a confidential informant after having been arrested in a drug bust.
The agent said the relationship was consensual. The case was settled in 2015 for $117,500. The agent wasn’t charged with a crime. He was suspected for 30 days without pay, reassigned to different duties and stripped of his senior agent title.
The bill has now been referred to a Senate finance committee.
New York, Maryland and Massachusetts are among the states that have already enacted similar legislation or are in the process of doing so.
Minnesota lawmakers have closed multiple gaps in the state’s sexual assault codes this year. Lawmakers have moved to make it illegal for high school teachers to have sex with students and tightened regulations on inappropriate touching.
Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, http://www.twincities.com