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Potential change to rape law getting support

Measure would increase penalty for type of rape

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 10 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

A proposal to change Utah's legal definition of a particular sex crime is receiving support from law enforcers, lawmakers and support groups alike.

Rep. Ron Bigelow, R-West Valley, is doing research with his staff on drawing up a bill that would change the definition of object rape.

"Law enforcement has brought to my attention some inconsistencies in the laws regarding sexual crimes. We're having our legal staff work with prosecutors and law enforcers to see if we can make some proposals to correct these inconsistencies," he said. "With everything that I have been given, the information so far ... I will open a bill for filing and I'm confident we can get it passed."

Specifically, Bigelow is looking at changing the definition of object rape that excludes "a part of the human body." Currently, a "foreign object, substance, instrument or device" used for penetration is the legal definition of object rape.

Generally, in cases where the sexual assault does not involve genitalia but other body parts capable of penetration, and does not include aggravating circumstances, the most that can be charged is forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony. Object rape is a first-degree felony.

"It needs to be revisited so the punishment fits the crime. Clearly the penalty should be increased," he said. "I do think there is a need for sexual crimes to be punished in proportion to the seriousness of the crime."

Unless his staff comes up with a legal reason why a change can't happen, Bigelow said there is a "high probability" he'd be filing a bill next session.

The issue was brought to Bigelow's attention by Salt Lake City police officer Chad Lambourne.

Lambourne was angered by a case he had about a year ago in which a woman at a local business was assaulted. The 20-year-old female was new at a job and a little naive, he said.

"One of her bosses said, 'You need one-on-one training,' took her to a break room and turns out the lights," Lambourne said.

The man forcibly put his hand down the woman's pants and sexually assaulted her. The most Lambourne could arrest the man for was forcible sexual abuse.

"That bothered me. You stick anything else in a woman or a man, it's a first-degree felony," he said. "It doesn't make any sense."

Heather Stringfellow, executive director of the Rape Recovery Center, would also support a change in the code.

"I'm not quite sure why that exception is made in the object rape law," she said of the provision on body parts. "In the continuum of sex offenses, rape with a digit certainly seems as if it qualifies for object rape," she said.

Stringfellow said such a crime should be prosecuted as a first-degree felony.


E-mail: preavy@desnews.com

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