A man sentenced to three years in prison for the rape of an 18-year-old woman has recently had his sentence overturned due to the existence of an archaic 1872 law that still exists on the books in the state of California. This law states that unless a person is impersonating a woman’s husband, and in this case the young woman was not married, then a rape could not have occurred. Because this man, Julio Morales, was instead impersonating the woman’s boyfriend, the definition of rape by impersonation does not apply. Morales has been set free.
The woman says that she fell asleep with her boyfriend and awoke to who she thought was her boyfriend initiating sex with her. She began to resist when a ray of light fell across his face in the darkened room and the victim realized that he was not in fact her boyfriend.
Prosecutors presented two arguments during the trial. One was the argument that initiating sexual intercourse with an unconscious person is rape, and the second was the impersonation argument. The appeals court had to overturn the conviction because they were unsure of which argument jurors considered in handing down the sentence.
I see this case as another example of the value, or lack thereof, placed on the safety of women in our society. This situation has been brought up at least two times previously; 30 years ago this outrageous law was brought to legislators’ attention, yet they chose not to do anything to change it. More recently in 2011, because of a similar case in Santa Barbara, prosecutors urged Assemblyman Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo) to act on changing the law yet the bill died in the state’s Senate Public Safety committee. The reason? Lawmakers were adhering to a policy not to enact any legislation that would add to the overcrowding of the state’s prisons. Where in any of this is justice and safety taken into consideration? This is not a case of a lesser of two evils; there is only one outcome. A criminal is allowed to go free without ever having to address the crime they have committed.
According to the Associated Press, California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal has handed down the ruling reluctantly and urged the Legislature to update the law. Achadjian has committed to again introducing such a bill.
There is also commentary in this about how women are viewed without the requisite male counterpart. Patty Bellasalma, president of the California National Organization for Women, has made a statement saying, “If unmarried women aren’t included, that means the intent of the law is not about protecting women, it’s about protecting something else.” From the continued existence of this law, I am left to assume that still, in 2013, women’s bodies are for the taking without the “protection” of an apparently state-approved relationship with a man.
What scares me the most is that this is just a part of the continued legacy of rape culture. It seems that as much as we are told “don’t get raped,” we are simultaneously being told there’s not much you can do to avoid it just by virtue of the fact that you are female. We have been told not to dress a certain way, not to go to certain places, not to act in certain ways, and now (still?) not to be single. This is a sad state of affairs that desperately needs to be adressed by our legislators and society.