jcalefati@mercurynews.com

SACRAMENTO -- When Saratoga High School student Audrie Pott learned that her attackers had taken naked photos of her and shared them with friends via text message and online, she was forced to relive the brutal sexual attack over and over again.

Audrie's father, Lawrence Pott, described these and other details of his 15-year-old daughter's 2012 sexual assault Tuesday to state senators in Sacramento, where a panel unanimously endorsed legislation named in her honor.

"Audrie's Law" would broaden the definition of rape in California's criminal code for juveniles to include sexual assault of an unconscious or developmentally disabled person. Current law bars young people charged with sexual assault who brutalize those types of victims from being tried as adults.

The classmates who sexually assaulted Audrie were 16 at the time, and supporters of the legislation say a loophole in current law allowed them to skate by with virtually no punishment. The three youths received sentences of 30 to 45 days for the attack, and two of them served it on weekends.

"To think that Audrie had to relive the rape and that everyone in her school and the world knew and pictures were out there, it was as if she had been raped thousands of times and that it would never end," Lawrence Pott told the legislators.

"That's what technology has done for this kind of crime. It's made it worse than it ever was," he said, sitting beside his wife, Lisa, and Audrie's mother, Sheila.


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Audrie, whom her father said Tuesday was a virgin at the time she was digitally penetrated by her attackers, hanged herself several days later, drawing national attention to the growing problems of the sexual assault of unconscious victims and of cyber bullying.

Sen. Jim Beall, D- San Jose, said he sponsored the legislation because all sexual assault victims should be viewed and treated equally under the law. The bill, written by Santa Clara County prosecutors, would also require an enhanced sentence for offenders who share photos or messages about the crime to harass the victim.

"For many of us, the most shocking thing is there appeared to be no consequences," said Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, who chairs the Senate Public Safety Committee, which approved the legislation. "This bill ensures that this can never happen again."

While the bill has won bipartisan support -- including from Sen. Steve Knight, R-Antelope Valley, who announced at the hearing that he would like to sign on as a co-sponsor -- the path to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk is steep.

Because the loophole was enshrined in law through a ballot measure that set specific standards for trying juvenile offenders as adults, Beall's bill will require support from two-thirds of the Senate and the Assembly to advance.

Opponents of the bill, including groups like Human Rights Watch and the Oakland-based Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, said the bill will unfairly punish juvenile offenders who deserve a second chance.

Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Culver City, said she was hesitant to support the bill at first because juvenile brain development research shows young people are more likely to make decisions that are irrational and impulsive.

But she decided to vote for it because of amendments that require juvenile offenders to be housed in settings that are age appropriate, meaning young people who are convicted would not be jailed in prisons for adults.