After almost three years and two separate tries, the California State Assembly unanimously approved on Aug. 19 a bill aimed at changing the legal definition of rape to include attackers who coerce victims into sexual activity by impersonating their significant others.
Authored by Assembly members Katcho Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo) and Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), AB 65 ensures that such attackers can be prosecuted for felony rape. Current state law, which was put on the books in 1872, says a person who impersonates someone else for sex is guilty of rape only if the victim is married and the person is pretending to be his or her spouse.
The new bill now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown, who has 12 days to sign or veto it.
“It is unconscionable that in 2013 a rape prosecution hinges on whether or not the victim is married,” Achadjian said in a statement to the press. “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.”
AB 65 is the brainchild of Achadjian and Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley, who approached the assemblyman about changing the arcane law in 2010 after she was unable to prosecute a particular case as a rape case.
According to Dudley, the victim in the case, Santa Barbara resident Courtney Wettach, was asleep in her bedroom when a man entered the house; walked past Wettach’s boyfriend, who had fallen asleep on the couch; and came into the bedroom. Wettach reported that the man took off his pants and underwear, got into bed with her, and initiated sex.
Thinking she was having sex with her boyfriend, she said, she consented—until she heard her boyfriend snoring on the couch. She started to scream and resist; her boyfriend heard her cries for help and ran into the bedroom. The man escaped, but was later arrested by police.
Investigators linked him, through witness identification, to several cases in which he had broken into women’s homes and touched them while they slept. He was later convicted of sexual assault and battery and sent to prison, but Dudley was unable to prosecute him for rape in Wettach’s case.
“It decimated me,” Wettach told New Times of the DA’s inability to prosecute. “I cried. I cried for days, and I felt doubly victimized by the justice system.”
Outraged by what happened to her, Wettach wrote an angry letter to a local newspaper, calling out the legal system. Dudley saw the letter and contacted Wettach to tell her that she would fight the law.
“The prosecutor’s job is to follow the law, unless it’s unjust. Then it’s the prosecutor’s job, I believe, to change the law,” Dudley told New Times in an interview after the bill’s passage.
Wettach said she’s “thrilled” AB 65 is just one step away from becoming law.
“[Dudley] didn’t have to do that, but she did. She’s a really amazing human being. I think she went above and beyond for me—for women,” Wettach said. “Being married should have nothing to do with being a victim. This law should have been taken off the books long ago. I feel something good was done for humanity today.”