CA Lawmakers May Redefine Rape After Stanford Sex Assault Case

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By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on June 22, 2016 6:57 AM

California's definition or rape could change thanks to the recent case of Brock Turner, sometimes referred to in the media as "The Stanford Rape Case." But that is technically a misnomer, as Turner was not charged with or convicted of rape.

Rather, he was convicted of three counts of sexual assault and what he did was not rape under California law. That's one reason why lawmakers are talking about changing the definition of rape in this state, according to CBS News in Sacramento. Let's consider the issue.

The Stanford Sexual Assault

Last month, Brock Turner was sentenced to six months in jail and three years on probation for assaulting a woman passed out on the Stanford University campus. He was convicted of three counts of sexual assault (including with intent to commit rape). Turner penetrated the woman with a finger, without her consent, which in some states and under federal law can be rape but is not in California.

The FBI defines rape as "penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim." But California defines rape as and "an act of sexual intercourse" so what Turner did was not rape in this state, although it might have been elsewhere.

What's In a Word?

Now California lawmakers who feel Turner was not severely enough punished for his crime want to change the definition of rape. "I'm upset, I'm angry," said Assemblyman Mike Gatto, who says Turner should have had a much more severe sentence and that he is acting on behalf of victims.

But there is some question about whether Gatto's approach will make a difference. Does changing definitions really help victims, as the lawmaker claims? What is the appropriate approach to these sexually violent crimes -- after all, there was a time when calling rape by the term sexual assault seemed progressive and positive for victims. Now that is no longer the case and people say rape is the more effective word.

The term sexual assault refers to all kinds of unwanted sexual contact, from the mild to the severe. It is a term that, according to Vox, was introduced in the 1960s to replace rape, a word thought to carry too much cultural baggage. Unlike rape, the phrase sexual assault indicates no passion, just serious, unprovoked crime.

Under the Umbrella

Assemblyman Gatto, along with Assembly members Cristina Garcia and Susan Eggman, propose to expand the California definition of rape to include "more sexually offensive actions under the umbrella of rape," according to CBS News. Gatto says that prosecutors and judges can punish rape suspects more efficiently if the bill passes and that, most importantly, this will help to get justice for the victims.

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