A kind reader recently brought my attention to an article regarding consent published in the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law by Rutgers Law Professor Vera Bergelson. That article is entitled The Meaning of Consent, 12 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 171 (2014).
Professor Bergelson first posits that there are two methodologies for understanding the nature of consent.
The first method, the attitudinal method, argues that “consent means one’s subjective state of mind, ‘attitudinal’ consent.” The Meaning of Consent at 172. As an example of this method, which focuses on the internal thoughts of the victim, the article points to a New York case, People v. Bink, 84 A.D.2d 607 (N.Y. App. Div. 1981). There, a prisoner reported that Bink was planning to sexually assault him the next morning. The putative victim declined the State’s offer of protection, and instead asked that guards watch and catch Bink “in the act.” The encounter occurred, observing guards did not intervene to stop the incident, and Bink was convicted of a sexual offense. His conviction was reversed, however, because, though the victim’s external conduct may not have disclosed it, the victim actually lacked the required attitudinal non-consent because he had “wanted to be assaulted.” K. Ferzan, Clarifying Consent: Peter Westen’s ‘The Logic of Consent’, 25 Law & Phil. 193, 214 (2006).
The second method, the performative method, asserts that consent requires “explicit permission by words or conduct to another’s act.” The Meaning of Consent at 174. As an example of this method, focusing on the perception of the accused as to the victim’s external behavior, Professor Bergelson points to a California case, People v. Burnham, 176 Cal. App. 3d 1134 (Ct. App. 1986). There, in private, a husband beat his wife to force her into having sex with strangers. Later, to those strangers, she feigned consent and appeared a willing participant in sexual conduct. The husband was convicted of spousal rape and the strangers were not charged.