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Minnesota legislation would make touching butt illegal

Caroline Palmer of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault testifies in a Minnesota Senate committee Wednesday, March 7, 2018, in favor of legislation making it illegal to intentionally touch someone's buttocks. Watching are Sens. John Marty and Carolyn Laine. Don Davis / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL—Jessica Goodwin was holding her 1-year-old in a Lifetime Fitness Center last November with her four other children next to her and husband not far away when a "man walked up behind me and fully groped my buttocks."

The Columbia Heights, Minn., woman talked to managers at the fitness center and police, only to learn the man's action was perfectly legal. She also learned that four other women said he groped them the same day, she said in written testimony given to Minnesota state senators.

Once she found out the man could not be charged, Goodwin began investigating. She discovered that a 1988 law made groping illegal in Minnesota for the first time, but it specifically allowed "the intentional touching of the clothing covering the immediate area of the buttocks."

So state law made groping buttocks' legal under what Sen. John Marty, D-Roseville, said was a "boys will be boys" clause.

Minnesota lawmakers on Wednesday, Feb. 7, began the process of making that action illegal when a Senate committee unanimously supported legislation to remove the exception.

The bill is not in direct response to the #metoo movement of women fighting back against sexual misconduct, but sponsor Marty said the movement probably will ensure his legislation's passage. A similar bill is to be considered in the House.

The measure is the only major sexual misconduct bill moving through the Legislature.

Ironically, Marty was co-sponsor of the bill 30 years ago that established groping as fifth degree criminal sexual conduct, although he was not part of the buttocks' exception that senators included at the last minute.

Inadvertent touching would not be against the law under Marty's bill. To violate it, a person would have to intentionally touch someone nonconsensually and in an aggressive or sexual way.

Marty said that a coach patting someone on the rear may not violate the law, but coaches probably should find a new way to express athletic enthusiasm.

To many, the buttocks exemption was news. Not to Caroline Palmer of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Palmer said in her 10 years at the coalition, "it comes up several times a year." She said that probably more than 85 percent of women have been groped.

Sen. Carolyn Laine, D-Columbia Heights, said things were different in 1988. Such activities were accepted, she said.

But, Palmer said, in the #metoo age "all of a sudden this was the right time" for a change.

Palmer said an intern in her office checked laws in other states and American territories, finding that Minnesota is the only place where touching someone's buttocks is legal.

Two former Minnesota politicians were among many across the country caught up in the #metoo fallout when women said they touched their buttocks. U.S.Sen. Al Franken and state Sen. Dan Schoen resigned after the allegations surfaced.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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