- Associated Press - Thursday, January 19, 2017

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - The Montana Senate approved three bills Thursday that would change the state’s rape laws, including the proof needed to prosecute cases and the penalties for teens convicted of having sex with younger teens.

The measures now go to the House for consideration.

One bill would lighten the prison sentences for teens convicted of sexual intercourse without consent for having sex with a 14- or 15-year-old, if it’s a first offense and no force was used. The teens also wouldn’t have to register as sexual offenders, under the measure.

The legal age of consent is 16 in Montana, but backers envision the bill as lightening the penalties for a 17-year-old in a relationship with a 15-year-old, for example.

“This bill is about teenagers who felt love for one another,” said Sen. Sue Malek, D-Missoula, during debate on the measure Wednesday.

Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, objected that the change would conflict with the state’s legal age of consent. Sen. Jedidiah Hinkle, R-Belgrade, said he wasn’t comfortable with a change that could apply to an eighth-grade girl and a male college freshman, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported (https://bit.ly/2k7mz8v).

A second bill, also sponsored by Malek, would allow a woman who has a child as from rape to terminate her rapist’s parental rights through civil litigation if a judge finds convincing evidence that rape occurred. Malek said rape survivors who don’t pursue criminal charges against their rapists could initiate civil litigation under the bill.

The third measure would eliminate the requirement that force has to occur to prove rape in court. That requirement presumes that rape survivors will resist their attackers, but many freeze and are unable to fight back, said Sen. Diane Sands, D-Missoula, the bill’s sponsor.

“It updates our statutes so it reflects our current understanding of how sexual assault takes place,” she said.

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