A number of California legislators are teaming up to end an outdated distinction between spousal rape and other forms of sexual assault.
Assemblymember Evan Low, D-Campbell, Assemblymember Cristina Garcia, D-Downey, and Senator Dave Cortese, D-San Jose, have brought forward Assembly Bill 812 and Senate Bill 530 to update the state’s penal code that classifies spousal rape separate from other rape cases.
Currently, California is one of only 11 states where a rapist faces less charges if they happen to be married to the victim.
Stanford law professor Michele Dauber is the chair of the Enough is Enough Project and has been using her voice to bring awareness to California’s outdated laws that distinguish spousal rape from non-spousal rape.
“Spousal rape exceptions are a historic relic,” she said. “They come from 17th century English common law, under which men had the right to sexual access to the bodies of their wives.”
Dauber, who successfully led the recall against the judge who gave Brock Turner a six-month sentence for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman at a Stanford fraternity party, explains there have been more than a dozen efforts to change California’s rape laws dating back to the 1970s.
“In the 1990s, then-Assemblymember Hilda Solis brought forward a bill that would have attempted to make this equal. She was able to make some improvements, but still not gain full equality of treatment,” Dauber said.
She hopes the bills introduced in the legislature this year will help finish the work that now Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis started 30 years ago.
Solis and Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis are among several elected officials who have stood up to say rape is rape and it’s high time that is reflected in state law.
“It is actually a slap in the face to all sexual assault survivors and all women that certain kinds of rape are not taken seriously depending on the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator,” Dauber added.
Assemblymember Cristina Garcia, who co-authored the legislation, says the bill would update the state’s penal code to ensure that all rape is treated equally under the law.
“When spousal rape is not treated as seriously as other forms of rapes, it invalidates the victim’s traumatic experiences and continues to promote rape culture,” Garcia said.
As of now, there is no formal opposition against the bill. Still, Dauber says she’s committed to doing everything possible to end California’s spousal rape exception until the legislation is passed.
“There is no better time than right now to right a historic wrong and this is in fact an archaic law that should be immediately repealed,” Dauber said.
Senate Bill 350 will be heard in the Senate’s Public Safety Committee on Tuesday, April 20.