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Ireland law to criminalize sex where one party is too drunk to consent

The law will also protect people with disabilities.


Jessica Machado


Published Jan 24, 2017   Updated May 25, 2021, 3:42 am CDT

Ireland Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald plans to bring a set of provisions to the cabinet today that will redefine the meaning of sexual consent. This will include a wide range of scenarios that make sex with someone who is “being taken advantage of” illegal—from a person with disabilities to a person who is unconsciously drunk.

Sources told the Irish Independent that the definition 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” cannot give consent.  

Current Irish law defines rape broadly, saying it is when a person has not consented to sex and/or if the perpetrator was reckless about getting the victim’s consent. Advocates for redefining the legal definition of rape say this will lead not only to more convictions but to more rape victims coming forward, since victims have historically been afraid to press charges and go through the legal process only to have their case dismissed because of the murky laws on consent. 

The Times in the U.K. says the government is expected to agree to the provisions, which the Law Reform Commission recommends be written into law as far back as the ’80s.

In the U.S., states set their own definition of consent, and those definitions are often broad and loosely interpreted. Last year, an Oklahoma court ruled that oral sex with an unconscious victim is not a criminal offense. Even in states that do convict rapists for having sex with unconscious victims, their sentences remain relatively low. See Brock Turner.  

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*First Published: Jan 24, 2017, 10:00 am CST