RAINN Calls on Mississippi to Make Reporting Sex Crimes Safe When Substances Have Been Used



RAINN Calls on Mississippi to Make Reporting Sex Crimes Safe When Substances Have Been Used

Jackson, M.S. – Today, RAINN, along with Representative Dana McLean (R-District 39-MS), the Center for Violence Prevention, Joyful Heart, and Ole Miss’ VIP: Survivor Support called for the passage of HB 1537 in Mississippi. The Bill provides immunity from offenses involving substance use to those seeking to report a sex crime.

“As lawmakers, it is our responsibility to encourage victims and witnesses of rape and sexual assault to report these life-altering crimes,” says Representative Dana McLean (R-District 39-MS). “HB 1537 is a positive step forward, offering immunity to those who bravely report these sex crimes, ensuring they will not face punishment for any underlying substance abuse violation.”

HB 1537 works to increase reporting by ensuring that when someone goes to report a sexual offense, they should not be arrested for a related offense involving alcohol and/or other substances (i.e.: underaged alcohol consumption). Currently, in Mississippi, many colleges provide immunity from campus disciplinary procedures for students who come forward to report sexual assault or rape. However, this immunity does not apply to off-campus or to non-students.

“Reporting an assault can be an important first step towards healing, and the fear of being blamed or accused of using substances should not prevent a survivor's pursuit of justice,” said Zoey Brewer, RAINN policy and grassroot coordinator. “According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2022, 78.6% of sexual assaults went unreported to the police, so we have to take a serious look at the barriers that exist to reporting.”

On college campuses, even more of these crimes go unreported. Staggeringly, more than 90% of college campus sexual assaults go unreported. Young women are most at-risk for sexual violence, with the most at-risk age demographic being 18-24 year-olds. While immunity from campus disciplinary procedures can help students, neither students nor non-students can access the criminal justice system without fear of repercussions for substance use.

“RAINN thanks Representative Dana McLean (R-District 39-MS) for her support of this important legislation,” said Brewer.

Fear of being blamed or accused of using alcohol inappropriately presents a barrier to catching sexual offenders. These barriers to reporting should be eliminated and HB 1537 makes it safe for victims to report rape without being charged with drug or alcohol use that may be found in the process of reporting. This sense of safety enables survivors to report and be truthful when talking about what happened. Alcohol or drug use should not be the reason someone doesn’t report a rape.

“Victims and/or bystanders should not fear reporting a violent crime under any circumstances. Mississippi’s Center for Violence Prevention has assisted many victims of sexual assault, most being college students, who refused reporting because of alcohol or drug involvement,” said Sandy Middleton, executive director the The Center for Violence Prevention. “Let’s continue the good work started last year with the overhaul of the rape laws and offer this additional support for victims.”

“Sexual assaults are already drastically underreported and coming forward after an assault is distressing enough. Approximately 50 percent of student sexual assaults involve alcohol. When punishment, including being arrested for underage drinking, is a possibility, survivors are even less likely to report the crime,” said Ilse Knecht, Director of Policy and Advocacy for Joyful Heart Foundation. “We're asking Lt. Governor Hosemann and the Senate to pass this bill to remove this unnecessary barrier to reporting and provide protection for victims.”

“As VIP: Survivor Support of The University of Mississippi, we fully support this bill. We provide immunity to all of our students and the citizens of Mississippi deserve the same,” said Lexi Pelton, Graduate Assistant of Prevention Programming, VIP: Survivor Support of Ole Miss.



RAINN, the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization, created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline. RAINN also carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, help survivors, help organizations improve their sexual assault prevention and response programs, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, free, confidential help is available 24/7 by calling 800.656.HOPE (4673) or visiting Hotline.RAINN.org.

Erinn Robinson
Director of Media Relations

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