State Senate working to fix outdated rape law

February 27, 2013 12:51:56 AM PST
State lawmakers were in the process Tuesday of amending a rape law that dates back 140 years.

People might be surprised that the law was ever put on the books in the first place but stunned to know that it's still there.

This law isn't about forcible rape which is covered under a different set of laws. The recent uproar is about tricking women into sex and how some married and unmarried victims are treated differently.

The Senate Public Safety Committee moved swiftly to bring one of California's rape laws into the 21st Century.

Flash back to the 1872 when California's Capitol was still under construction and Los Angeles was a mere village with just 5,000 residents.

Lawmakers passed a law that made it a crime to impersonate a married woman's husband in order to get her to consent to sex. By that narrow definition, it's only rape if the victim is married.

Today, Los Angeles County is now home to 10 million people and that distinction still exists.

"A large number of women in California are currently vulnerable to this loophole in the law. It is unacceptable that in 2013 current state law does not provide protection for unmarried women in certain rape cases," said Katie Donahue of the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Southern California prosecutors say Julio Morales broke into a sleeping woman's dark bedroom in 2009 after her boyfriend left and started to have sex with her. She didn't know her boyfriend had gone home and thought Morales was her boyfriend.

An appellate court recently overturned Morales' rape conviction because of the arcane law and since the victim wasn't married, he can't be guilty of impersonating her husband.

No law covers impersonation of a boyfriend.

"So what this bill does is it substitutes and defines the new term 'sexual partner' in place of the outdated word spouse in the rape statute," said State Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa.

Some groups though are concerned with the wording and would like to see the bill amended as it makes its way through the Legislative process.

"We have concerns about the definition in the bill. By limiting the statutes reached to someone who impersonates a person's sexual partner, the bill necessarily excludes certain victims," said Cory Salzillo of the California District Attorneys Association.

The Legislature actually tried to change this law once before when a similar case happened in Santa Barbara. But it failed because lawmakers didn't want to add to the prison overcrowding problem.

The bill cleared its first hurdle and now heads to different committee. If it later becomes law, it would not be retroactive for the Morales case.


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