AB 1171, a bill co-authored by Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) and Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley) and Senator Dave Cortese (D-Silicon Valley) to end California’s archaic spousal rape exception, has passed that State Assembly by 65-0 after clearing the Assembly Public Safety Committee and the Assembly Appropriations Committee. The bill is now headed to the California State Senate.
AB 1171 will eliminate the “spousal rape exception” in the California Penal Code (Section 262) and thereby expand the definition of rape to include the rape of a spouse to ensure that “spousal rape” is treated and punished as seriously as rape of a non-spouse.
“Rape is rape, regardless of the relationship between the rapist and a victim,” says co-author Senator Cortese. “The idea that marital rape should be punished less severely is absurd and this legal loophole can’t continue to be ignored.”
He added, “I urge my colleagues in the Senate to swiftly put an end to this archaic distinction once and for all. This bill is not only about leveling the law, it is about preventing this type of sexual abuse from occurring and promoting safety and respect for all.”
Although marital rape is illegal in all 50 states, California is one of eleven states that distinguishes “spousal rape” from “rape.”
While the term “spousal rape” is not often discussed in our day-to-day vernacular, the act is nonetheless common. In fact, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), between 10-14% of married women have been or may experience rape by their spouse. Additionally, 18% of these victims state their children have witnessed the rape.
Until 1975, every state in our Country exempted marital rape from their ordinary rape law. It remains clear that vestiges of this antiquated “marital- rape” exemption still permeate California law even to this day.
While the legal description of what constitutes spousal and non-spousal rape are now the same, the penalties for spousal rape in our state are less severe.
For instance, a person convicted of non-spousal rape is required to register as a sex offender, while a person convicted of spousal rape only must register as a sex offender if the act involved the use of force or violence that led to a prison sentence.
These disparities also extend to plea bargains. A defendant accused in the non-spousal rape of an unconscious person cannot plea bargain. But, if a defendant is married to the unconscious victim of the rape, they are currently able to plea bargain.
“California women have been trying to end the spousal rape exception for nearly 50 years. Now is the time to pass this bill,” said Dauber, Professor of Law at Stanford Law School and Chair of Enough is Enough Voter Project.
“This is a victory for survivors, but the fight is far from over as this bill moves forward. We are urging everyone to keep up the pressure and raise your voice to declare that Rape is Rape regardless of marital status,” said Kolieka Seigle, President of California National Organization for Women.
Senator Dave Cortese represents State Senate District 15 which encompasses most of Santa Clara County, including the cities of Campbell, Los Gatos, Cupertino, Saratoga, Monte Sereno, and much of San Jose, stretching from the Santa Cruz Mountains to the west and Mountain Hamilton Range to the east.