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California Legislation Aims To Close A Big Sentencing Loophole In Sexual Assault Cases

"Why under the law is a sexual assault of an unconscious woman, less terrible than that of a conscious woman?”

Posted on June 22, 2016, at 5:24 p.m. ET

Handout . / Reuters

Amid ongoing national outrage over the recent Stanford University sexual assault case, California state legislators on Wednesday introduced a bill that aims to ensure anyone convicted of sexual assault will face time behind bars.

The legislators – Assemblymen Evan Low and Bill Dodd, as well as Senator Jerry Hill – worked with Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen in crafting the proposal to ensure sexual perpetrators are not sentenced to probation.

"Regardless of intoxication, a rapist has to go to jail," Assemblyman Low told BuzzFeed News. "[The legislation] makes it clear that rape is rape, plain and simple."

Under current California law, the use of force is what triggers a mandatory prison sentence in cases of sexual assault.

The lawmakers say people convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious person should also face mandatory prison time because the victim was unable to resist and therefore force was not required.

“A perpetrator at a college party who chooses to forcibly rape a conscious victim will go to prison,” Rosen said in a news conference Wednesday in Palo Alto. “However, a different perpetrator at the same party who chooses to watch and wait for a victim to pass out from intoxication before sexually assaulting her may get probation.”

Low also noted that the current law creates a "ridiculous incentive" to get victims intoxicated.

By serving lenient sentences to perpetrators, a sexual assault survivor is re-victimized, Dodd told BuzzFeed News.

"Does being intoxicated make rape any less important to punish?" he said.

The bill — which is now with the public safety committee — was introduced amid the national uproar over the sentencing of Brock Turner, the former Stanford student who was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman in 2015.

Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Turner to six months in county jail — though it’s likely he will only serve three months.

The judge has been widely criticized for the lenient sentence, with many people calling for him to be recalled.

“Much of the outrage over [the Stanford] case has revolved around the sentence,” Rosen said at a press conference. “The judge gave the wrong sentence, but he had the legal right to give it. Why under the law is a sexual assault of an unconscious woman, less terrible than that of a conscious woman?”

Had the proposed bill been in affect, Turner would have been sentenced to years behind bars, Senator Jerry Hill said in a statement.

“Let's give the next campus sexual assault victim no reason to fear that her attacker will end up walking around free after spending less time in jail than it takes to finish a single college semester,” Rosen said.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.