As cultural consciousness of sexual assault expands beyond the tableau of the armed stranger at the end of a dark alley, so too might its legal definition. A New Jersey lawmaker is pushing to change the state's definition of rape to include fraudulent manipulation that results in sexual acts. Earlier this month, state assemblymember Trioy Singleton introduced a bill that would criminalize "sexual assault by fraud," defined as "an act of sexual penetration to which a person has given consent because the actor has misrepresented the purpose of the act or has represented he is someone he is not.”
According to the Star-Ledger, Singleton's bill was inspired by a woman who was coerced into paying her boyfriend, a serial scam artist, $5,000 under false pretenses:
Prosecutors had initially tried to charge [the man] with sexual assault by coercion, but a grand jury refused to indict him on that charge.
“I truly believe that we have to look at the issue of rape as more than sexual contact without consent,” Singleton said. “Fraud invalidates any semblance of consent just as forcible sexual contact does. This legislation is designed to provide our state's judiciary with another tool to assess situations where this occurs and potentially provide a legal remedy to those circumstances.”
As written, the bill doesn’t consider sexual assault by fraud any less serious than other types of sexual assault that are already on the books. It could be a first degree or second degree crime depending on “the circumstances surrounding the act,” punishable with 10 to 20 years in prison in the former and 5 to 10 years in prison in the latter.
Critics of the bill have claimed that the current definition of "sexual assault by fraud" is too broad, and could result in prosecution of, say, people who tell their partners that they love them when they don't. Singleton has said that he is open to refining the language of the bill in order to avoid such unintended consequences.
"[There] are many ways to sexually assault a person," Joyce M. Short, who recently wrote a book on "rape-by-fraud," told the Star-Ledger. "Violence is one of them. And there are no words that can come to relating the horrible violation of a person when that happens to them ... But we should not look asunder. We should not simply cast away the concept that people are defrauded of sex.”
Five states currently have mild sexual assault by fraud laws on the books, though in at least one the crime is considered a lesser offense than rape.
(h/t Raw Story)