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Bar Buzz: Marital rape exception signed away

Minnesota Lawyer//May 6, 2019

Bar Buzz: Marital rape exception signed away

Minnesota Lawyer//May 6, 2019

Jenny Teeson managed to do what few achieve these days. She got the entire Legislature to stand behind her in her crusade to rid the state of its marital-rape defense.

On Friday, Gov. Tim Walz joined them, signing into law a bill for which Teeson had fought for several years. He called her “a courageous survivor and courageous citizen advocate” who persisted and got the bill passed.

“[Teeson] came to through this building and came through the process and said, ‘Never again to anyone else,’” Walz said. “It’s a real act of selfless service.”

But the path to that result began with what Teeson described as a nightmare.

She said she was raped by her husband in 2016 while she was unconscious—she thinks she was drugged. She only learned of the incident months later, after the couple became estranged. She found a video file of the incident, which her husband loaded onto the family laptop.

In it, she said, her 4-year-old child is asleep beside her during the assault.

She immediately filed sexual assault charges, which Anoka County prosecutors initially pursued. But then they learned about Minnesota’s marital rape exception.

“I cannot imagine how she felt,” said Sen. Michelle Benson, while introducing House File 15 on the Senate floor April 29, shortly before its 66-0 passage. “How helpless she must have felt,” Benson added, “that a prosecutor was willing to do this and there was nothing to be done.”

The House voted 130-0 to pass the bill on Feb. 21. After that vote, lawmakers gave Teeson a standing ovation.

Her ex-husband was eventually convicted on a lesser charge of invasion of privacy. He was sentenced to 45 days in jail but was never required to register as a sex offender, court records show.

Teeson was present Thursday at the bill’s signing in the Governor’s Reception Room. In an interview shortly beforehand, Teeson said the path to the bill’s passage was difficult, but she feels good about the way things turned out.

“Something that was very tragic happened to me,” she said. “But it is just the most incredible feeling to be able to turn that for good and to be able to be strong enough to have a voice for so many.”

Teeson, of Andover, has told her harrowing story numerous times in legislative committees and elsewhere. While that has been hard, she said, she is gratified to know that because she did it, other victims will know they can report their assaults and that their attackers will be prosecuted.

“Justice will be served now,” she said.

Teeson’s parents, Jerry and Terri Teeson, also appeared at the Capitol ceremony where Walz signed the bill into law.

“I’m so proud of my daughter,” Jerry Teeson said. “She changed the world.”

The measure will go into effect on July 1.

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