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California Assembly votes to expand definition of rape by impersonation

August 19, 2013|By Melanie Mason

SACRAMENTO -- Seeking to close an archaic loophole in state law, the Assembly unanimously voted Monday to expand the state's definition of rape to include instances when a perpetrator pretends to be somebody else in order to have sexual intercourse, regardless of the victim’s marital status.

The loophole most recently sparked an uproar last January when a state appeals court overturned the rape conviction of a man who impersonated the boyfriend of a sleeping Los Angeles County woman and had sex with her.

A state law dating to the 1870s says that a perpetrator who has intercourse with a married woman by pretending to be her husband can be prosecuted for felony rape. But no such protection was extended to unmarried women.

The court, in its decision, urged the Legislature to amend the law to "correct the incongruity that exists when a man may commit rape ... when impersonating a husband, but not when impersonating a boyfriend." 

The bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by Assemblymembers K.H. "Katcho" Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo) and Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), expands the definition of rape to include any instance where a person fraudulently pretends to be somebody else in order to coerce the victim to have sex.

Achadjian has been working on the issue since 2011, inspired by a case in Santa Barbara County in which the accused perpetrator broke into the victim's home and began to have sex with her. The victim believed the perpetrator was her live-in boyfriend.

Prosecutors did not pursue felony rape charges, claiming they were hamstrung by the law, which would have applied if the victim was married.

“It is unconscionable that in 2013 a rape prosecution hinges on whether or not the victim is married," Achadjian said in a statement. "While today’s vote cannot undo what was done to the victims in the Santa Barbara and Los Angeles County cases, it is my hope that knowing that future victims will be protected will bring them a small amount of comfort.”

The bill now heads to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk.


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