California toughens rape laws after Stanford case uproar

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - California Governor Jerry Brown on Friday signed legislation to broaden the state's legal definition of rape and mandate prison if the victim was unconscious, following a furor over a Stanford University sexual assault case.

Lawmakers passed the two bills in response to a six-month sentence a Northern California judge this year gave Brock Turner, a former swimmer convicted in the sexual assault of an unconscious woman at the elite university, in a case that drew widespread condemnation.

The sentence, which was lighter than prison terms given at many U.S. sexual assault trials, generated harsh scrutiny after the online publication of a harrowing statement the victim gave in court describing the devastating effects of the assault.

The outcry over the sentence became a central part of a growing movement to combat sexual assault on U.S. college campuses.

The statement of the victim inspired U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to write an open letter praising her courage. On social media, people from several countries expressed support for the victim, including women in China who took photos of themselves holding signs against rape.

One bill signed by Brown, a Democrat, changed California law to say prosecutors and juries may consider any sexual assault to be rape, including penetration with a foreign object. State law had previously defined rape more narrowly, as non-consensual sexual intercourse.

In the Stanford case, Turner was convicted of assault with intent to commit rape, penetration of an intoxicated person and penetration of an unconscious person. Prosecutors did not move forward with rape charges because he was not believed to have penetrated the victim with his penis.


Brown also signed a separate bill to place rape of an unconscious or intoxicated person on a list of sexual crimes for which judges are forbidden to grant probation or parole.

The governor in a signing statement said he usually opposes expanding the number of crimes with mandatory minimum statement.

But the legislation "brings a measure of parity to sentencing for criminal acts that are substantially similar," Brown wrote.

Turner, 21, sexually assaulted the victim in the Stanford case outside of a fraternity party in 2015.

Stanford law professor Michele Dauber is leading an effort to recall Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky, who presided over the Turner case and handed down the six-month sentence.

Dauber on Friday urged Brown to go further.

She called on him to sign another bill passed this year that would require colleges and universities to release data on how many cases of sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking have been reported on campus.

"This information is crucial to keeping our children safe at school," Dauber said in a statement.

Turner was released from prison on Sept. 2 after serving half of his six-month jail sentence, under a policy in Santa Clara County that allows early release for good behavior while in custody.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Mary Milliken)