Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose) proposed changes this week to the state's sex crime statues titled “Audrie’s Law,” in reference to Audrie Pott, the 15-year-old Saratoga girl who hanged herself after being sexually assaulted and bullied by classmates.
Pott's parents had lobbied for the bill, which would enact four main changes to California law. Sexual assaults involving any kind of penetration would become a felony in both juvenile and adult cases. Sharing photos of an assault online would become a felony, updating the law to make it more relevant to the digital age. Blacked-out victims would receive equal treatment under sexual assault laws. And judges would have the option of publicly disclosing the name of a minor charged with sexual assault and listing juveniles as sex offenders under Megan’s Law.
"This new piece of legislation is the first step in ensuring that our laws catch up with technology," Robert Allard, the Potts' attorney, told San Jose Inside. "When someone distributes an image of another against their consent which is pornographic in nature, it will hereinafter be treated as a crime. Also, the law will not cut a break to those rapists who prey on drugged or intoxicated victims. Unconscious or disabled victims will now have equal protection under the law."
Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen helped draft the bill after consulting with Audrie's parents, Sheila and Lawrence Pott.
“Victims of sexual assault and their families are no less devastated because the offender was a juvenile,” Rosen said. “Audrie’s legacy, through this proposed law, will protect victims’ rights by making the consequences of cyberbullying more severe. It also throws open previously closed court doors, so that the public may hold everyone accountable in the wake of these tragic cases.”
The bill specifically aims to exact stricter punishments on juveniles found guilty of sexual assault, who often end up with sentences that many believe are too lax given the severity of their crimes, Beall spokesman Rodney Foo said. Basically, Sen. Beall wants adolescents accused of rape tried as adults.
“Despite the devastation they have caused, these perpetrators are then free, able to continue their lives, education and careers in anonymity,” Foo said. “Their violent crimes are basically invisible to the community.”
Audrie Pott was a Saratoga High School sophomore when she took her own life in September 2012. A little more than a week earlier, she had passed out at a friend’s house after drinking Gatorade mixed with alcohol. She woke up naked, with obscene comments, arrows and circles scribbled in Sharpie all over her body. The next day, she discovered that some teens at the party had snapped pictures and shot video of her being assaulted and shared them via text message.
“My life is over,” Audrie wrote in a private Facebook message before her suicide, according to Beall's office. “I have a reputation for a night I don’t even remember, and the whole school knows.”
Police arrested three boys—two 15 and one 16 years old at the time of the party—last April. The younger boys were sentenced to 30 weekend days in jail and the oldest received 45 consecutive days. They remain anonymous because of laws protecting the identity of minors in court.
In January, Audrie’s parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the attackers. They said in a press conference that they hope the case gives independent authorities a chance to look into what happened.
“What happened to Audrie must not happen again,” Beall said.
Last year, Beall introduced another bill that sought to help victims of sexual abuse by giving them a bigger window to file a lawsuit against private companies that employed their abuser.