Despite three decades of intense scrutiny and repeated attempts at ambitious reform, our laws against rape and sexual harassment still fail to protect women from sexual overreaching and abuse. What went wrong? In this original, provocative, and enlightening work, Stephen Schulhofer, a distinguished scholar in criminal law, shows the need to refocus our laws against rape and to create a new system of legal safeguards against interference with sexual autonomy.
Our laws provide comprehensive protection for property rights, labor, and other important interests, but sexual autonomy—the right to choose freely whether and when to be sexually intimate with another person—is devalued and ignored. With vivid examples, including stranger assaults, date rapes, and sexual encounters between job supervisors and subordinates, teachers and students, doctors and patients, lawyers and clients, Schulhofer shows that recent reforms of rape and sexual harassment law are overrated and inadequate. From the excessive degree of force necessary for an aggressive action to be defined as rape, to the gray areas in which coercion and exploitation can be used to elicit a false but legally valid “consent,” Schulhofer offers a clear analysis of the limits of current standards. His proposals for a radically different approach hold the promise of genuine respect and effective protection for the sexual autonomy of both women and men. It is an ambitious yet sensible vision, committed to allowing willing partners to seek consensual relationships, while fully protecting each person’s right to refuse sexual encounters that are not genuinely desired.
[Schulhofer] leaves no stone unturned in addressing the question of how to create a law which will take seriously sexual autonomy—the right to choose freely whether and when to be sexually intimate with another person. He argues that unlike laws that provide for comprehensive protection for property rights, labour and other important interests, laws on sexual autonomy have failed: from the excessive degree of force needed for an action to be defined as rape, to the grey areas in which coercion and exploitation can be used to elicit a false, legally valid ‘consent’ between, for example, professionals—such as doctors, lecturers, lawyers and therapists and their clients or students. Schulhofer calls for a radical reconstruction of such laws [and] does not shirk difficult questions… This is an insightful and scholarly book written in an accessible style rarely encountered in law. Even rarer is Schulhofer’s willingness to debate feminist views in a balanced and enlightened way.
In this extraordinary book, Stephen J. Schulhofer makes very clear that unwanted sex, ranging all the way up to rape, is not always viewed as criminal behavior. Schulhofer…offers us a new way of viewing the subject of rape. He also offers a proposal for change that makes overwhelming sense… [An] immensely readable, sometimes shocking book.
Powerfully argued and meticulously documented, fully supported by statistical, legal, and other theoretical grounding… Exceedingly well written. I couldn’t say that [Unwanted Sex is] a pleasure to read, since the subject matter is so outrageous and upsetting. This is not a topic for the faint hearted, and [Unwanted Sex is] full of powerful examples, all the more infuriating because they are real cases.
Schulhofer sets himself the task of examining and explaining why, in spite of so much recent legal reform, the laws against rape and sexual harassment fail to protect women… Schulhofer’s overriding moral precept is that respect for sexual autonomy requires a radically different view [of consent].
- 336 pages
- 5-11/16 x 8-15/16 inches
- Harvard University Press
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