Brock Turner Sentencing Prompts California Legislators to Expand Rape Definition

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Brock Turner Sentencing Prompts California Legislators to Expand Rape Definition

Nicole Knight

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky sparked national outrage by sentencing Turner to six months in county jail—ignoring prosecutors' request for a six-year sentence.

It’s no coincidence that California is poised to expand the legal definition of rape on the day that Brock Turner, convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, is released from jail.

Bipartisan legislation now headed to the governor broadens the legal definition of rape to include all forms of nonconsensual sexual assault, including sexual penetration by any foreign object—one of the charges of which Turner was convicted. That charge is not considered rape under current law.

The bill last month cleared both Democratic-majority chambers of the California legislature in unanimous votes. The governor has until the end of September to sign or veto the legislation.

Turner was found guilty in March of three felony charges: assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated/unconscious person, penetration of an intoxicated person, and penetration of an unconscious person, as ABC News reported.

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Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky sparked national outrage by sentencing the former Stanford University swimmer to six months in county jail—ignoring prosecutors’ request for a six-year sentence. Persky had also delayed sentencing a domestic violence offender so he could play football, as BuzzFeed News reported.

Turner left jail Friday after serving half his sentence.

Assemblymembers Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) and Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) introduced the bill after Turner’s sentencing for sexual assault, saying in a statement, “Rape is rape, period.”

The legislation, AB 701, would make the state rape definition identical to the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ definition, which is “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.”

Eggman said the legislation updates an “archaic definition reflect[ing] a culture that blames women.”

“Forcing someone into sexual activity is rape, and the law should say that,” she said in a statement.

A rape conviction typically carries a sentence of up to eight years behind bars if the victim is not a minor; meanwhile, a sexual assault conviction generally carries a sentence of up to four years.

Separately, rape survivors, lawmakers, and members of law enforcement are holding a press conference next week asking the governor to sign the “Justice for Victims Act,” a bill to end the statute of limitations for rape and related crimes. The bipartisan measure was prompted by multiple charges of rape leveled against Bill Cosby, many of which took place decades ago.

State law generally limits prosecution of a felony sexual offense to ten years after the offense is committed, unless DNA evidence is uncovered.