Legal Theory 2 (2):89-112 (1996)

This article has two broad purposes. First, as a political philosopher who has been interested in the concepts of coercion and exploitation, I want to consider just what the analysis of the concept of consent can bring to the question, what sexually motivated behavior should be prohibited through the criminal law? Put simply, I shall argue that conceptual analysis will be of little help. Second, and with somewhat fewer professional credentials, I shall offer some thoughts about the substantive question itself. Among other things, I will argue that it is a mistake to think that sexual crimes are about violence rather than sex and that we need to understand just why the violation of sexual autonomy is a serious wrong. I shall also argue that the principle that “no means no” does not tell us when “yes means yes,” and that it is the latter question that poses the most interesting theoretical difficulties about coercion, misrepresentation, and competence. In addition, I shall make some brief remarks concerning two questions about consent and sexual relations that lie beyond the criminal law: What “consent compromising behaviors” should be regarded as indecent, although not criminal? When should someone consent to sexual relations within an enduring relationship?
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DOI 10.1017/s1352325200000410
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