Aug 4, 2011 9:49 PM by Ariel Wesler

DA urges lawmakers to close rape law loophole

The Santa Barbara County District Attorney is fighting to close a loophole in state law that allows some rapists to get away.

The legislation would make it rape for a man to have sex with a woman by impersonating her boyfriend. The current law only makes it a crime if the woman is married and someone impersonates her husband for the purpose of having sex. The bill passed the State Assembly, but ran into trouble in the Senate.

About a year ago, a man broke into a woman's house in Santa Barbara, climbed into bed, and started to have sex with her. The woman was asleep and assumed it was her live-in boyfriend. When she realized it was a stranger, she reported the rape, but in the eyes of the law, it wasn't rape because she wasn't married.

District Attorney Joyce Dudley spoke before the state senate's Public Safety Committee in June--urging lawmakers to close a loophole in the state's rape law.

"It was one of the worst moments I've ever had as a prosecutor when I sat opposite this woman who was crying and she was in utter disbelief. How could it be that I was raped and you're telling me I wasn't raped?" the victim told Dudley. "I don't want any victim in the state of California to ever go through that moment again," Dudley said.

But she was denied. The bill, sponsored by San Luis Obispo Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, had passed the Assembly but was knocked down in the Senate until the state can reduce its prison population.

"The Senate will not pass any legislation that either expands a present crime or brings on a new felony for fear it will increase the prison population," Dudley said.

She has seen three rape by impersonation cases in her 20 years with the DA's office. She says they tend to be more common in places with colleges and universities.

"Often times roommates will let other friends stay over in the living room and there can be some confusion," Dudley said.

"It's frustrating for those of us that work with survivors," said Shannon Rose Chavez, who's the executive director at the North County Rape Crisis Center in Lompoc. She says many of these incidents go unreported. Rose Chavez supports the legislation--hoping it will raise awareness and give all victims a voice.

"If it's one case a year or one case a month, that's a person that it's affecting and they need to have some recourse," she said.

Dudley says she made the argument that rape-by-impersonation is rare and would not have a big impact on the state prison population. Still, the senators would not waiver. The DA says she's not giving up and plans to take up the fight again next year.

There are a lot of resources out there for people who may have been victims of sexual crimes. For more information, click here.


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