A rape that occurred in Santa Barbara in 2009 helped start a conversation that has pushed California’s outdated rape-by-fraud law onto a national stage.
In that case, a woman who was asleep in her home seemingly consented to sex with a man she thought was her boyfriend, according to Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley.
When she discovered that was not the case, Dudley said, the woman resisted and the man who ran away could not legally be prosecuted for rape because a state law from the 1800s says a person who gets consent for sex by pretending to be someone else is only guilty if the victim is married and the person poses as a spouse.
The will of Dudley and Achadjian to change the archaic law was renewed earlier this month when California’s Second District Court of Appeal was forced to drop a similar case against a man who in 2009 allegedly raped an 18-year-old by disturbing her sleep and pretending to be her boyfriend.
On Monday, Achadjian and Assembly Speaker John Pérez, D-Los Angeles, introduced bipartisan legislation to close the loophole and expand the definition of rape to include cases in which a perpetrator deceives a victim into sexual activity by impersonating the person’s boyfriend or girlfriend.
“The incident that happened in L.A. … something good comes out of something bad,” Achadjian told Noozhawk on Tuesday. “When it happened in Santa Barbara, there was one too many.”
Dudley originally reached out to Achadjian after she became district attorney to change the law, which had prohibited her from prosecuting a man for felony rape.
Although the 2011 bill received unanimous support from the Assembly, Achadjian said, the bill was stopped in the Senate because of its policy to hold any legislation that could add to the state’s prison overcrowding problem.
Voter approval to revise California’s three-strikes law in Proposition 36 should solve that problem, he said, adding that the bill has support from numerous senators and assemblymen from both parties.
“Regardless of a woman being married, in a relationship or single, rape is rape,” Achadjian said. “Hopefully this will put an end to that. The message will be out to all criminals. I’m glad that it is getting the attention.“
Dudley said that although she was able to prosecute the suspect in the Santa Barbara rape for other offenses, she still regrets not being able to help the victim in that case — a single mom in her mid-30s who has been troubled ever since.
“It was rape. There was no question about it,” Dudley said. “It was probably my worst day as a district attorney.”
Dudley and Achadjian said they hope the bill soon will close the loophole and strengthen women’s rights.
“It should be anybody who impersonates anybody. It’s a loophole in the law, but it’s a gaping, bleeding, horrible wound for rape victims,” said Dudley, who noted that she has seen two or three cases like this in her 23-year career as a prosecutor. “It’s not often, and that’s part of my argument to the Senate. When it happens, it’s devastating.”