Cheating on One's Lover = Future Felony in Massachusetts?

That's what would happen under a proposed statute that's being promoted by Massachusetts state representative Peter Koutoujian, and is being supported by District Attorneys Joseph D. Early Jr. and Gerard Leone.

I suspect that this isn't the goal of the drafters, but that's what the language would call for, when (as I'm pretty sure happens quite often) the cheater has sex afterwards with the regular lover without disclosing the cheating. Here's what the proposed law says:

Whoever has sexual intercourse or unnatural sexual intercourse with a person having obtained that person's consent by the use of fraud, concealment or artifice, and who thereby intentionally deceived such person so that a reasonable person would not have consented but for the deception, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for life or any term of years. As used in this statute, 'fraud' or 'artifice' shall not be construed to mean a promise of future consideration.

The law was apparently proposed in response to some recent fraudulent-sex incidents, one in which a man had sex with his brother's near-sleeping girlfriend pretending to be his brother, and one in which a medical technician conducted an unnecessary pelvic exam (with his fingers, I think) after having pretended to the woman that it was necessary and that he was trained and licensed to perform such exams. But it goes much further than that: Any time someone has consensual sex (1) having gotten the consent through (a) lying or (b) concealment, and (2) a jury (or perhaps a judge) concludes that "a reasonable person would not have consented but for the deception," that's a felony, labeled as a form of rape. Promises ("I'll marry you") are excluded, but other statements — or silences — are not.

So let's see how it plays out in the cheating situation. Alan and Beth are lovers. Beth has sex with Carl. She doesn't tell Alan (or, if Alan confronts her about his suspicions, denies it — that doesn't matter for purposes of the law), but then has sex with Alan again. That, under the law, is rape, so long as the jury or judge concludes that a reasonable person wouldn't have consented to have sex again with his lover had he known that she had cheated on him. Naturally, the same would apply with married couples, but this isn't even just a revival of criminal punishment for adultery — there's no requirement of marriage. (Note of course this would apply regardless of the sex, or sexual orientation, of the partners.)

The same could of course arise in lots of other contexts. A woman conceals from a prospective lover the fact that she'd been a prostitute, or even had had a lot of sexual partners. When they have sex, under the proposed law the man will have been raped as a result — depending, of course, on whether the jury or judge decides that a reasonable person would care about a lover's past prostitution, or even a lover's past promiscuity. (Let's assume that she doesn't have any sexually transmitted disease; there are some narrow laws that mandate revealing STD's to prospective lovers, but those are indeed limited to revealing STD's and preventing the spread of disease. They certainly don't cover all things that a reasonable lover might consider in deciding whether to have sex.)

Likewise if a man (or a woman) gets sex by falsely saying "I love you" (as opposed to "I will always love you" or "I will marry you," which is excluded), again if a jury finds that a reasonable person would have considered this. Same if someone gets sex by lying about his or her wealth or his or her age.

And of course all this would require the case-by-case, jury-by-jury development of the Law of Reasonable Sexual Criteria, as Massachusetts courts have to decide whether a reasonable person would treat a sexual partner's poverty, age, promiscuity, infidelity, and other attributes as sexual deal-killers. (Would it matter, by the way, how appealing the other person otherwise is? Would the jury have to decide whether the "victim" would have had sex with the "rapist" in any event, because the victim was so infatuated, or because the rapist was so hot? "True, Angelina Jolie didn't tell the victim that she was still in a sexual relationship with Billy Bob Thornton, but a reasonable man would have had sex with Angelina Jolie no matter what he knew about her"?)

Just awful. I do think some kinds of sexual frauds could properly be criminalized, for instance if the defendant impersonated some other specific person whom the victim knew, or if the defendant lied about having a serious sexually transmitted disease (or even concealed such a disease), or if the defendant lied about whether certain sexual contact was necessary for medical purposes. But these would be narrow and precisely drafted laws, which would cover a small range of clearly highly reprehensible and unusual conduct, and would not cover behavior that is either proper protection of privacy (e.g., not revealing one's sexual history) or that is an extremely common human failing (e.g., cheating).

UPDATE: Commenter Arkady hints at another hypothetical: Woman fakes orgasms, or more broadly tells the man that he's a great lover. Man says that he wouldn't have continued having sex with her if he'd known that she wasn't having orgasms -- or that he wouldn't have continued having sex with her if he'd known that she was willing to fake something like that, or to lie about his prowess. A prosecutor claims that a reasonable person would indeed have reacted the way this man says he would have reacted. The jury, or the judge deciding on a motion to dismiss, is supported to decide whether a reasonable person (not the average person, mind you, but a reasonable person) would have reacted this way. How on earth is a jury or a judge to make that legal decision?

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Getting Money or Sex by False Statements:
  2. Cheating on One's Lover = Future Felony in Massachusetts?
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Getting Money or Sex by False Statements:

The "rape by fraud" issue noted below does raise some interesting conceptual questions, for instance "Why do we make it a crime to take property when consent is gotten through fraud, but not to get sex when consent is gotten through fraud"? But while I think the "why" is interesting and important, the bottom line strikes me as clear: There is likely to be much more injustice and suffering if the criminal law were to police a vast range of lies and concealments in sexual relationships than if the criminal law stayed out of this.

Moreover, I should note that when people get property by lies that yield a marriage, that may well not be criminal or even civilly actionable. Consider, for instance, Askew v. Askew, 22 Cal. App. 4th 942 (1994), where a court rejected a man's claim that his wife had defrauded him by marrying him without ever having loved him or been attracted to him:

Ronald testified there were “numerous discussions” with Bonnette about “passion, desire or physical attraction” before their marriage. Bonnette said (in Ronald's words) “that she loved me. That she had this lust, this passion, this desire. That I could trust her. That I could believe in her.” Later he testified that Bonnette “described the passion as being this-this-this-this-love. This-this sexual desire. This-this strong commitment. This great endorsement for me as a person.” She also said, “I am honest with you. I will always be honest with you. You can trust me. You can believe in me. I will not lie to you.” Many times Ronald asked her to tell him “if there's anything I should know about our marriage, or anything about our relationship, be honest with me. Tell me. Tell me before the marriage.” Bonnette said there was “nothing” Ronald “need[ed] to know.”

Ronald then testified he relied on these statements in transferring the five properties “into [his and] her name [jointly].” But he would not have transferred the properties if he had “known the truth” (referring to the revelations from the 1991 counseling session) that he knew “now” — i.e., that she really had no desire for him “physically” or “sexually,” that she had no “passion” for him prior to the marriage, or “during” the marriage....

Bonnette was called as part of Ronald's case-in-chief. She admitted that she did not have sexual desire for Ronald prior to or during the marriage, even though she “may,” at one point “early on in the relationship,” have told Ronald that the two of them had a “very satisfying” sexual relationship. Ronald also called a friend of the Askews who testified that in about 1989 while at dinner at a local restaurant Bonnette told her that she did not love Ronald when they first got married.

Had this been a normal commercial relationship and the misrepresentations had been about ordinary commercial matters, the conduct likely would have constituted actionable fraud (and perhaps even criminal fraud). But the court read the state statutes abolishing the breach of promise of marriage and similar causes of action broadly:

At this point the policy behind the anti-heart-balm statutes bears some elaboration. Plainly, these statutes not only preclude certain “old fashioned” causes of action, but also embody a basic reluctance on the part of both the Legislature and the judiciary to allow recovery for promises of love. This reluctance stems, no doubt, from the sheer unseemliness of litigating tender matters of romantic or sexual emotion in courts of law. Using the courts to distinguish “between a false statement of one's feelings and a change in those feelings” presents, in Judge Posner's phrase, “exquisitely difficult” problems of proof....

Words of love, passion and sexual desire are simply unsuited to the cumbersome strictures of common law fraud and deceit. The idea that a judge, or jury of 12 solid citizens, can arbitrate whether an individual's romantic declarations at a certain time are true or false, or made with intent to deceive, seems almost ridiculously wooden, particularly where the statements were made prior to marriage and the marriage lasted more than 13 years. “The judiciary should not attempt to regulate all aspects of the human condition. Relationships may take varied forms and beget complications and entanglements which defy reason.” Love has been known to last a lifetime, but it has also been known to be notoriously evanescent. These are matters better left to advice columnists than to judges and juries....

Seems quite right to me — and imagine what would happen if people could sue not just over "I love you" marriage fraud, but also "She told me I was only her second lover" marriage fraud, or similar forms of fraud as to nonmarital sexual relationships. Or (to return to the preceding post) imagine such behavior could be made into a crime, either on the theory that the lie led to a transfer of property in the marriage or the love affair, or that it led to the sex in the first place.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Getting Money or Sex by False Statements:
  2. Cheating on One's Lover = Future Felony in Massachusetts?
Comments