Unmarried Individuals Are Not Lawfully Protected From Rape

A Los Angeles-based state appeals court overturned a rape conviction because a woman who was raped in her sleep by a man impersonating her boyfriend is unmarried. The victim, who at first thought the man was her boyfriend, tried to stop him once she regained consciousness enough to realize he was an imposter. However, because the woman and her boyfriend are not a married couple, her rapist will walk away without penalty: The court said that its decision is based on a California law stating that tricking a victim into sex by impersonation only counts as rape if the victims are unmarried individuals. The three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeals wrote:

A man enters the dark bedroom of an unmarried woman after seeing her boyfriend leave late at night, and has sexual intercourse with the woman while pretending to be the boyfriend. Has the man committed rape? Because of historical anomalies in the law and the statutory definition of rape, the answer is no, even though, if the woman had been married and the man had impersonated her husband, the answer would be yes.

This ruling means that in California, rapists who attack unmarried individuals by impersonating their significant other are protected under state law. This horrifying concept is made even more infuriating when you consider how this affects gay men and women in the state, who are not allowed to marry.

The justices explained that prosecutors in this particular case employed two legal theories, the first being that the man tricked the woman into having sex with him (which only applies to married women), and the other arguing that under state law, sex with an unconscious person is always defined as rape. The court recommends the prosecutors utilize the latter theory if the case is retried.

Regardless of how the case is tried later, the fact that this man committed rape and is free to do so again because of a legal loophole is unacceptable. This disturbing series of events exemplifies yet again the serious lack of protection and justice this country provides to rape victims.


Rachel Kassenbrock is a writer who works at the Feminist Majority Foundation and blogs for Ms. Follow her on Twitter at @rkassenbrock.