Massachusetts legislators considered a bill Wednesday that would close a loophole in rape laws to allow prosecutors to bring charges against people who gain a victim's consent to sex through deception.
Under current law, rape in Massachusetts can only be prosecuted if the act involves force and non-consent. The law does not protect victims who have been intentionally duped into having sex without force or violence.
"There is a myth that rape only happens in a dark alley by a stranger -- this is not true," said Rep. Peter Koutoujian.
Without the new legislation, police and prosecutors are virtually helpless when someone reports a rape that occurred because the victim was deceived or tricked into consenting. Legislators cited a case in western Massachusetts in which a woman consented to intercourse with her boyfriend's brother because he claimed to be the woman's boyfriend.
In another case of "fraud" rape, a lab technician posed as a medical doctor and sexually assaulted a woman. Legislators said they hope changing the law will prevent future rapes and bring those guilty of any form of rape to justice.
"The intent of the crime is the same, and so the punishment should be the same," Koutoujian said. "We not only have the judicial mandate to file this legislation, we have a moral obligation."
Rape by deception is just as damaging and illegal as rape by force, said Middlesex County District Attorney Gerry Leone.
"We have always known that 'No means no,' and the current law allows us to effectively prosecute those cases," Leone said. "What this bill makes clear is that you cannot deceive or defraud a victim into saying yes."
California and Tennessee already have "rape by fraud" legislation. If the law passes here, a common concern is that the legislation's vague language regarding deception will result in women who have been seduced by men posing as someone else or claiming to be unmarried filing rape charges.
Both Leone and Worcester County District Attorney Joe Early said the new legislation is not open to this misinterpretation. They said though the legislation pertains to a small percentage of cases, any accusation of rape is seriously investigated and considered by prosecutors before charges are filed.
The district attorneys said the law leaves room for future changes based on what society considers to be rape.
Mary Lauby, executive director of Jane Doe Inc. -- an organization which oversees the state coalition of rape crisis centers and domestic violence programs -- said rapists who deceive their victims operate by deliberately creating an environment of trust.
She said a person's intentions determine whether criminal charges apply to a case because the proposed law aims to stop sociopaths who repeatedly rape by deception - not people who are simply boasting to seduce someone.
"Our laws cannot start from a place only considering defendant rights," Lauby said. "It is only the victim who can say if rape is committed."
© 2008 The Daily Free Press via U-WIRE