California Legislatures Moves Closer Toward New Law to Eliminate Spousal Rape Exceptions

California State Capitol

California State CapitolBy Nina Hall and Christopher Datu

SACRAMENTO, CA – California is among one of the nine states that places distinctions between “spousal rape” and “rape.”

And, as it exists currently in California law, there is a “spousal rape exception” in the penal code. PC section 261 states that rape is defined as nonconsensual, “…sexual intercourse accomplished with a person not the spouse of the perpetrator.”

The current law is outdated, charges Stanford University law professor and sociologist Michele Dauber, adding the law is “…based on the idea that men have a property right of sexual access to the bodies of their wives.”

Under the current system in California, while the maximum penalties for both “spousal rape” and “rape” remain the same, people who are convicted of spousal rape may be released on probation rather than facing prison or jail sentences.

Additionally, those convicted of spousal rape are only required to register as a sex offender under certain circumstances, such as if the spouse received a prison sentence.

But this soon may all change if the State Legislature has its way.

AB 1171, if passed, would end the “spousal rape exception” in California, and would hold those convicted of spousal rape to the same standards as those convicted of rape.

Supporters issued a statement Friday, noting, “While we rarely use the term ‘spousal rape’ when discussing crime of rape — the act is common. In fact, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), between 10-14 percent of married woman have been or may experience rape by their spouse. Additionally, 18 percent of these victims state their children have witnessed the rape.”

This change in policy is coming after decades of persistence.

Dauber noted, “Today’s vote is the first step toward correcting the false idea that married women are the sexual property of their husbands. California women have been trying to end the spousal rape exception for nearly 50 years. Now is the time to pass this bill.”

The authors of AB 1171, Assemblymembers Cristina Garcia and Evan Low, were “pleased that after reviewing the merits of the spousal rape bill that the chair decided to hear the bill.”

The bill received a unanimous passing vote from the Assembly Public Safety Committee this past week, and is set to be heard before the entire Assembly this week.

Kolieka Speigel, a member of the California National Organization for Women, said, “This is a victory for survivors, but the fight is far from over as this bill moves forward. We urge everyone to keep up the pressure and raise your voice to declare that Rape is Rape regardless of marital status.”

The bill received support from numerous groups like the California National Organization for Women, Feminist Majority, Enough Is Enough Voter Project, and several California District Attorneys, who all seek to amend the outdated spousal rape distinction.

San Francisco’s District Attorney Chesa Boudin stated, “Sexual assault happens inside a marriage as a form of domestic violence and must be taken as seriously as any other kind of sexual assault.”

For Boudin and many others, AB 1171 is a way to properly “ensure that people who rape a spouse are held accountable in the same way that would apply to anyone else who commits rape.”

Nina Hall is a sophomore from Colorado at Santa Clara University studying English and Sociology.

Christopher Datu is a 4th year Political Science major at UC Davis. He is originally from Corona, California.

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