Last year, a man from Anchorage, Alaska pleaded guilty to second-degree assault for tackling, strangling, and ejaculating on an unconscious woman on the side of a road. In September, he walked out of court facing no jail time.
Jason Schneider was able to get off easy because at the time, according to Alaska state law, his actions did not meet the legal definition of sexual assault. Although nine states classified ejaculating on someone as a “sexual act” or “sexual conduct” at the time Schneider assaulted his victim, Alaska was not one of them, according to analysis from BuzzFeed News and AEquitas, a nonprofit focused on gender-based violence. (BuzzFeed News spoke to Schneider’s victim and agreed to identify her only by her first name, Lauren.) Using Schneider’s case, the report depicts how excessively narrow definitions of sexual assault leave victims of crimes with limited options within the legal system.
In Alaska, for example, to classify as sexual assault, an incident “has to involve either ‘knowingly touching, directly or through clothing, the victim’s genitals, anus, or female breast,’ or knowingly causing the victim to touch either the defendant’s, or the victim’s own, genitals” according to BuzzFeed News. Because Lauren didn’t touch Schneider—Note: she was unconscious because he strangled her—Schneider masturbating over her and ejaculating on her face didn’t count as sexual assault. Rick Allen, the Anchorage district attorney during Lauren’s case, told BuzzFeed News of his surprise in discovering the law:
“I think I might have even grabbed my statute book and said, ‘Surely that’s a sex offense. I mean, that has to be a sex offense, right?’” said Allen. “And [then-assistant district attorney Andrew Grannik] says, ‘No, Rick, I’ve looked at it every which way and it’s not a sex offense.’ And I went through the statutes with him and he was right.”
Thankfully, in the wake of Schneider’s lenient sentencing, Alaska has been spurred to change its sexual assault laws. In May, Alaska’s House of Representatives passed a bill closing the so-called Schneider loophole, and Governor Mike Dunleavy’s office told BuzzFeed News that, “While a date has not yet been chosen, Gov. Dunleavy looks forward to signing this legislation in the near future.”
Should the bill become law, the expanded sexual assault definition would be a first step in the right direction, and one that more states should follow. Had the law been in place at the time of Schneider’s case, a state senator said in a statement, Schneider would be in prison today.