'Rape by fraud?' College student case will help expose loophole in rape laws

Purdue student Abigail Finney says she thought she was having sex with her boyfriend until she realized it was someone else in an incident that highlighted a technicality in many sexual assault laws.
9:13 | 01/08/19

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Transcript for 'Rape by fraud?' College student case will help expose loophole in rape laws
I woke up to someone touching me. Reporter: Abby Phinney still has trouble talking about that night two years ago. Obviously I assumed that was my boyfriend, because I fell asleep with him. Reporter: Only it wasn't. Abby discovered the man in bed with her, the man she'd had sex with, was not her boyfriend. It was his friend, grant ward. You believe that you were raped? Yes. Reporter: But the man she says raped her was acquitted in court. His record cleared. Even after admitting he tricked Abby. Just because they're lying or being deceptive doesn't make it rape. Reporter: This case exposes a legal loophole in sexual assault laws across the country, sparking a national conversation about rape by fraud. The jury didn't get it wrong. The law needs to be changed. Reporter: By the time Abby arrived at Purdue university in the fall of 2016, she was ready. I had graduated high school, valedictorian of my class. There's always something to learn from every situation in life. I was just excited to start college. Reporter: Abby chose a computer science major and moved into the dorms the first street towers where she met her boyfriend. I've always been just a very adventurous person. And not afraid of things. Reporter: But surveys show 1 in 5 women experience sexual assault at some point during college, and studies reveal the highest risk period is in the first few months of their first and second semesters in school. Statistics Abby would come to learn firsthand. February 2017, you're at your boyfriend's, what happens? People are pretty much hanging out. Playing video games. Reporter: By 2:00 A.M., she fell asleep in bed with her boyfriend. His friends crashed on the futon below. Abby says she's a very heavy sleeper, but something woke her. At some point you wake up and someone is groping you? Touching you in a sexual way? Yes. You're assuming it's your boyfriend? Uh-huh. So then what happens? Reporter: The man was spooned behind her and Abby says the touching turned into sex. I needed to go to the bathroom at some point. So I left the bed. When I went to go get back into bed, then I saw that grant was in the bed instead of my boyfriend. Reporter: Grant was one of the guys in the room. Her boyfriend's friend. When you returned and see grant in the bed, does he say anything? I just remember him smiling at me. That's part of why I thought it was a joke. Reporter: Panicked and confused, Abby went to her dorm room where she found her boyfriend asleep. I told him that I wasn't really sure what happened. But that I had sex with someone that I thought was him. And it was his friend. Did he believe you? At first I think he was just kind of in shock. Because this was someone he really trusted. Reporter: Her boyfriend went to confront his friend. Abby stayed in her room trying to figure out what to do next. I ended up going to the hospital to get a rape kit done. Some people are watching are going to say, couldn't you tell by smell or the way your boyfriend might normally touch you that this was a different person? That maybe there was a way to know that this was not the Normal person that you would be with? Well, first of all, my boyfriend and I hadn't been together that long. But even if we had, I think people overestimate how aware they are when they're just waking up. Reporter: Within hours, police picked up Donald grant ward. The affidavit shows ward told police after Abby's boyfriend left the room, he climbed up into the bunk with her, quote, ward indicated he had sexual intercourse with victim number one, knowing she believed him to be her boyfriend. With that statement on record, many felt the case was open and shut. If you are having sex with someone and it turns out that that person is not the person you believed you were having sex with, you clearly did not consent to having sex with that person. So in my mind, nonconsensual sex is rape. Reporter: But the law in Indiana isn't so simple. The Hoosier state defines rape in only three circumstances. One, if the person is compelled by force or threat of force. Two, if the person is unconscious or unaware sex is happening. Or three, if the person so is mentally disabled that they cannot consent. I was so angry. Reporter: Sally Seacrest was the state state representative for the district covering Purdue university. The general public had no idea that our rape laws were so narrow that there were rapists being turned loose. Reporter: She found a woman, Joyce short, who's been fighting legal loopholes like these for years. Short runs a website, consentawareness.net. My absolute ultimate goal is to see the world understand that nonconsensual sex is sexual assault, and consent is freely given, knowledgeable, and informed agreement. 76% of the states and territories of the United States have no definition of consent in their laws. Reporter: She calls what happened to Abby rape by fraud, or rape by deception. Do you think that it happens a lot more often than we think? Oh, it happens all the time. Reporter: But only a few states have laws covering rape by deception. Abby found out during the trial, Indiana is not one of them. He ends up being found not guilty because it didn't fit within the law. Reporter: At the time, ward's defense lawyer told station WLFI, tricking someone into sex may be immoral, but it's not illegal. At least not in Indiana. She unzipped my boy's pants and knew what she was doing. She wasn't unaware of the sex. I was really disappointed. Because I felt like I gave a lot of myself for that trial. And I -- sorry. No, it's okay. It just felt like a waste. Reporter: After the trial, and ward's acquittal, his record was expunged. In a legal sense, it's as if the event on February 12th, 2017, never even happened. Abby says she's not free. She's the one paying the price. I suffer from PTSD and depression. Did you have to take time off from school? I did. Spring semester is when the trial happened. And afterwards I just had a really horrible like depressive episode, and I was just in bed for months. So really, the not guilty kind of caused trauma a second time? Yes. What would you think would be a reasonable punishment for grant? I think he should be on the sex offender registry, just because I want to protect people in the future from things like this happening to them. Do you think that the Indiana law failed you? Yeah. The fact that Indiana's law was not worded to cover Abby's rape does not negate the fact that she was raped. Reporter: She's trying to change that, writing legislation to make rape by deception a crime, pushing it even after she lost re-election. I absolutely think that if we don't change the law, this acquittal says we don't care if you were raped in the state of Indiana, our laws are not going to protect you. Reporter: But critics say changing the law is a slippery slope. So every time a guy lies and says, honey, I love you, you're going to prosecute him for rape? Just because they're lying or being deceptive doesn't make it rape. He should know better. He's a lawyer. And as a lawyer, he understands that the bar is very, very high for prosecuting any kind of fraud or deception. Not only do they have to have a reasonable basis for believing it, but they have to also have significant proof. Reporter: We could not reach ward directly for comment on this story and his attorney did not respond to multiple requests for an interview. However, his family released a statement saying, this case should not be used as an example of impersonation to support an agenda for changing the law. For now, Abby is back in school still with her boyfriend, now trying to rebuild her life. What would you tell young women or older women who are perhaps still wrestling with something that happened to them? Just know that it's not your fault. I'm sharing my story because -- I think people need to see rape victims as people. It's a lot easier to comment on Facebook about how horrible this girl is when she's just a nameless, faceless person versus like a real-life person. Out there telling their story. Our thanks to linsey.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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