Sexual Consent as Voluntary Agreement: Tales of “Seduction” or Questions of Law?

New Criminal Law Review 16 (1):143-201 (2013)
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This article proposes a rigorous method to “map” the law on to the facts in the legal analysis of “sexual consent” using a series of mandatory questions of law designed to eliminate the legal errors often made by decision-makers who routinely rely on personal beliefs about and attitudes towards “normal sexual behavior” in screening and deciding cases. In Canada, sexual consent is affirmative consent, the communication by words or conduct of “voluntary agreement” to a specific sexual activity, with a specific person. As in many jurisdictions, however, the sexual assault laws are often not enforced. Reporting is lowest and non-enforcement highest in cases involving the most common type of assailants, those who are not strangers but instead persons the complainant knows, often quite well -- acquaintances, supervisors or co-workers, and family members. Reliance on popular narratives about “seduction” and “stranger-danger” leads complainants, police, prosecutors, lawyers, and trial judges, to truncate legal analysis of the facts and leap to erroneous conclusions about “consent.” Wrongful convictions and perverse acquittals, questionable plea bargains and ill-considered decisions not to charge, result. This proposal is designed to curtail the impact of pre-judgments, assumptions, and biases in legal reasoning about voluntariness and affirmative agreement and produce decisions that are legally sound, based on the application of the rule of law to the material facts. Law has long had better tools than the age-old and popular tales of “ravishment” and “seduction.” Those tools can and should be used.
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