Is It Illegal to Grab a Woman’s Butt in Minnesota?

On March 7, 2018, a state Senate committee voted to make butt-grabbing illegal in Minnesota. You read that right – until the unanimous vote, grabbing someone’s butt was not against the law and did not qualify as sexual misconduct under Minnesota law. Many citizens find it hard to believe that “intentional touching of the clothing covering the immediate area of the buttocks,” as the law reads, was an exception to the definition of “sexual contact” in the state’s criminal sexual conduct statute. Yet this was exactly the case until Wednesday’s Senate vote.

The Origin of the 1988 Minnesota Sexual Conduct Law

Residents and lawmakers alike are buzzing with questions about how butt-touching and grabbing became an exception to the state’s sexual misconduct law. Minnesota’s “Criminal Sexual Conduct in the Fifth Degree” statute, section 609.3541, first came into law in 1988. Lead sponsors of the bill back then, Sens. John Marty, DFL-Roseville and Carolyn Laine, DFL-Columbia Heights seem unable to explain how or why the exception made it into the statute. All they can recall is that it was a late, last-minute change with unclear origins. (Some sources, however, quote Sen. John Marty calling it a “boys will be boys” clause.)

Some prosecutors of the law have referred to the loophole as the “coach’s exception,” pointing to the idea that perhaps the notion was that football coaches could avoid liability for patting players on the behind as a means of encouragement. However, the language of the law would not have made butt-patting illegal unless the coach had done it with “aggressive or sexual intent” – making the pointed exception moot. Still, the bill passed into law in 1988, complete with the exception for butt-touching, and has remained there for 30 years.

Problems with the Butt-Touching Exception

Since 1988, the bill’s exception has proven problematic for many plaintiffs – namely women – who have tried to bring claims against assailants for butt-grabbing. In one written testimony by Jessica Goodwin, she states that a man “fully groped her buttocks” while she was at a Minnesota Lifetime Fitness Center holding her one-year-old child. She reported the man to local police only to learn that his action technically was not against the law in Minnesota.

Goodwin’s testimony read that this was not her first encounter with sexual assault, and that the man groping her buttocks was just as “demeaning, violating and traumatizing” as other forms of assault. The perpetrator did receive a criminal conviction for the incident, but not for groping Goodwin. He only got in legal trouble for illegally entering the woman’s locker room. Unfortunately, Goodwin is one of many women who have encountered the same frustrating roadblock to justice in Minnesota.

Now that the strange exception has come into the limelight, many don’t understand how grabbing a woman’s butt could have ever been within the confines of the law. In Minnesota, most people recognize that touching or groping the buttocks without permission is not acceptable behavior. Even allegations of butt-grabbing in the past have led to lawsuits and legal action. Minnesota’s former senator Al Franken recently made news for stepping down from his position amid multiple women claiming butt-touching and other sexual groping against him. Yet it took three decades for lawmakers to eliminate the exception.

The New Minnesota Sexual Conduct Law

Today, Sen. John Marty (the same person that co-sponsored the bill in 1988) is sponsoring the latest change to the bill – a change that will eliminate the exception for touching clothing immediately covering the buttocks area. Under Marty’s bill, touching the buttocks, the buttock area, and the clothing covering the buttocks without permission and with aggressive or sexual intent will be against the law in Minnesota. Inadvertent touching or pat-downs for security purposes will not be illegal – nor, as Marty pointed out – will a coach’s nonsexual pats. Although Marty did say that coaches should probably find a new way to encourage players. The Minnesota Senate unanimously approved the update on March 7, 2018.