Senate committee votes to change archaic rape law


Tuesday's action does not address 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 California Senate Public Safety Committee moved swiftly to bring one of California's rape laws into the 21st century.

In 1872, 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.

Fast forward to today: Los Angeles County is now home to 10 million people. And that legal distinction still exists.

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

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. The woman didn't know her boyfriend gone home and thought Morales was her boyfriend.

An appellate court recently overturned Morales's rape conviction because of that arcane law. 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"So what this bill does is it substitutes and defines the new term 'sexual partner' in place of the outdated word 'spouse' in the rape statute," said state Senator Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa).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," said Cory Salzillo, legislative director of the California District Attorneys Association. "By limiting the statute's reach to someone who impersonates a person's sexual partner, the bill necessarily excludes certain victims."

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 another committee. If it later becomes law, it would not be retroactive to the Morales case.

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