A piece of California legislation, unanimously approved by the state assembly and just waiting for the governor's pen, would relax the definition of rape to include any non-consensual sexual contact.
The bill's sponsors call it an effort to "redefine rape" and "overturn rape culture." But by the letter of the proposed law, the best definition for the crime would be no definition at all: "all forms of non-consensual sexual assault may be considered rape for purposes of the gravity of the offense and the support of survivors." And according to the Los Angeles Times, "The law would allow a judge to consider the definition of rape in the sentencing phase of a case."
A press release trumpeting its approval cites statistics from federal agencies recently critiqued by the Government Accountability Office for their misleadingly inconsistent data collection. A CDC survey was California's source for the statistic that "46 percent of bisexual women have been raped, compared to 17 percent of heterosexual women and 40 percent of gay men and 47 percent of bisexual men have experienced sexual violence other than rape, compared to 21 percent of heterosexual men." In one side-by-side comparison of federal agencies' data collection on sexual violence, GAO's study showed the CDC's data on sexual assault overshot the FBI's by more than 1.8 million rapes per year.
The bill claims to target a loophole in the trial of Stanford student Brock Turner, whose six-month prison sentence for the sexual assault of a non-student spurred outrage—much of it directed at the judge—earlier this summer. But only slightly updated wording would take care of the technicality that spared him the strict sentence his crime warranted. Instead, the assembly went with definitional overhaul, and the state's judges even greater authority in cases like Turner's. Was reason clouded by public outrage? No California assemblyperson appears to have worried whether vaguely redefining a crime might diminish the rule of law and thereby endanger public safety.