Sexual Activity, Consent, Mistaken Belief, and Mens Rea

Philosophy in the Contemporary World 3 (1):19-22 (1996)
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Abstract

The gendered subcultures of our society may have different value systems. Consequently, sexual activity that involves members of these subcultures may be problematic, especially concerning the encoding and decoding of consent. This has serious consequences for labelling the activity as sex or sexual assault. Conceiving consent not as a mental act but as a behavioural act (that is, using a performative standard) would eliminate these problems. However, if we remove the mental element from one aspect, then to be consistent we must remove it from all; and, as a result, the “mistaken belief” defense would be eliminated and mens rea would become insignificant (in other words, if what the woman means is irrelevant, then what the man believes or intends should also be irrelevant). This consequence suggests major changes to our current conceptions of legal justice, which changes, if undesirable, prompt reconsideration of the initial proposal to use a performative standard for consent.

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