California Legislators Reform Sexual Assault Sentencing Law Just Before Brock Turner Gets Out Of Jail

Convicted Stanford rapist Brock Turner’s extremely light six-month jail sentence (which really turned into only three months) was a slap in the face to sexual assault survivors and activists. Since then, the judge who valued Turner’s freedom more than the survivor’s right to justice recused himself from all criminal cases and is only hearing civil cases at the moment. The state also took a corrective step on Monday, when California legislators passed a new sexual assault bill requiring prison time for offenders.

The state assembly passed the law with a unanimous vote, and Governor Jerry Brown still has to sign it before it’s officially law. If signed, it will close a current loophole in the system that allows people convicted of penetrating an unconscious person to get by with only probation. As the law currently stands, judges in the state are only forced to sentence a sexual assault perpetrator to prison if force was used, which obviously sends the message that raping unconscious people is more acceptable because the victim wasn’t fighting back.

California Assemblyman Evan Low, who introduced the bill in direct response to Turner’s case, said in a statement to Buzzfeed: “Rape is rape, and rapists like Brock Turner shouldn’t be let off with a slap on the wrist. Judge Persky’s ruling was unjustifiable and morally wrong, however, under current state law it was within his discretion.”

Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, whose office prosecuted Turner, supports the bill and thanked the state assembly for taking action on sexual assault sentences. In June, he said he hopes the bill “changes hearts and minds.” He told KTLA5 at the time: “Why under the law is the sexual assault of an unconscious woman less terrible than that of a conscious woman. Is it less degrading? Less traumatic?”

Critics argue that requiring prison over probation mimics mandatory minimums for drug offenses that contributed to the gross overcrowding of the American prison system. However, rape is a violent crime with victims who are physically and mentally harmed, unlike nonviolent drug crimes that don’t have direct victims.

Turner is scheduled to be released from jail Friday after just three months behind bars. It’s at least encouraging that some changes are taking place because his case pointed out severe shortcomings in the criminal justice system when it comes to rape.

“Sexually assaulting an unconscious or intoxicated victim is a terrible crime and our laws need to reflect that,” Assemblyman Bill Dodd said in a statement to Buzzfeed. “Letting felons convicted of such crimes get off with probation discourages other survivors from coming forward and sends the message that raping incapacitated victims is no big deal.”