Capitol Alert

After Stanford case, California lawmakers push to redefine rape

Building on their response to a Stanford swimmer’s sexual assault conviction, California lawmakers on Monday announced legislation to broaden the state’s definition of rape.

Much of the uproar around the case of Brock Turner, found guilty of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, has focused on his sentencing after the student received a six-month jail term that was significantly lighter than what prosecutors sought. California legislators have pushed to remove the judge who issued that sentence.

Now those same legislators want to expand California’s definition of rape from the current standard, which requires sexual intercourse, to encompass penetration that occurs without consent. Turner was specifically convicted of sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object, not of rape.

“Sexual penetration without consent is rape. It is never invited, wanted or warranted. Rape is rape, period,” Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, said in a statement. “We found a loophole in California’s criminal code and need to fix the law to send a strong message that we do not accept rape in California.”

Fallout from the case continued to animate the Legislature on Monday. Just moments after lawmakers observed a moment of silence for the victims of the mass shooting in Orlando, the California Legislative Women’s Caucus gave voice to a population one member said was too often silenced: rape victims.

The Women’s Caucus read portions of the viral letter written by the victim of Turner’s assault at Stanford University during Monday’s Senate floor session. The letter was originally read during the trial and is addressed to the defendant. The victim has remained anonymous.

“There is no one who can speak more eloquently to the cost and devastation of rape than the victim herself. Victims are often silenced and far too often dismissed,” state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, chair of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus said. “But not today.”

One by one, female senators stood and read the words penned by the victim. Several Assembly members observed the reading to express solidarity with the Women’s Caucus’ effort.

“We need to have a discussion that is long overdue about the treatment of women in our society, about our treatment of each other … the need to look at each other with love and respect and dignity,” Jackson concluded.

Jeremy B. White of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed reporting.

Rachel Cohrs: 916-321-1046, @rachelcohrs

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