Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
Hostname: page-component-5d6d958fb5-ls6xp Total loading time: 0.268 Render date: 2022-11-27T10:08:30.835Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "displayNetworkTab": true, "displayNetworkMapGraph": false, "useSa": true } hasContentIssue true

Conceptualizing Consent: How Prosecutors Identify Sexual Victimization in Statutory Rape Cases

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2020

Abstract

In the wake of rape law reforms, lack of sexual consent emerged as a key element that defined sexual contact as criminal. Its presence modified the requirement of force or threat of violence, and it gained traction in campaigns to eradicate sexual assault. Little is known, however, about how prosecutors assess consent. In this article, I use the case of statutory rape to better understand the legal construction of sexual consent. By focusing on an age-based class of individuals who are sexually mature but still under the age of consent, I show how legal actors identify sexual victimization among youth. Drawing on interviews with forty-three prosecutors, I analyze prosecutorial decision making during the investigation, charging, and trial phases. I find that sexual consent is not simply a dichotomous legal category but rather a sociological process. Prosecutors define sexual victimization based on informal ideas about normative adolescent sexuality, reproducing social hierarchies based on age, gender, and sexual identity.

Type
Articles
Copyright
© 2020 American Bar Foundation 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

References

REFERENCES

Abrams, Laura S.Guardians of Virtue: The Social Reformers and the ‘Girl Problem,’ 1890–1920.Social Service Review 74, no. 3 (2000): 436–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
American Bar Association (ABA). A Current Glance at Women in the Law. Chicago: ABA Commission on Women in the Profession. 2018. https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/women/a-current-glance-at-women-in-the-law-jan-2018.authcheckdam.pdf.Google Scholar
Anderson, Michelle J.Campus Sexual Assault Adjudication and Resistance to Reform.Yale Law Journal 125, no. 7 (2016): 18202181.Google Scholar
Armstrong, Elizabeth A., Hamilton, Laura T., Armstrong, Elizabeth M., and Lotus Seeley, J.. “‘Good Girls’: Gender, Social Class, and Slut Discourse on Campus.Social Psychology Quarterly 77, no. 2 (2014): 100–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Armstrong, Elizabeth A., Gleckman-Krut, Miriam, and Johnson, Lanora. “Silence, Power, and Inequality: An Intersectional Approach to Sexual Violence.Annual Review of Sociology, 44 (2018): 99122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Baker, Thurbert E. “Open Letter from Attorney General Baker on Genarlow Wilson Case.” June 15, 2007. https://law.georgia.gov/press-releases/2007-06-15/open-letter-attorney-general-baker-genarlow-wilson-case.Google Scholar
Bay-Cheng, Laina, and Fava, Nicole. “What Puts ‘At-Risk Girls’ at Risk? Sexual Vulnerability and Social Inequality in the Lives of Girls in the Child Welfare System.Sexuality Research & Social Policy: Journal of NSRC 11, no. 2 (2014): 116–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bernstein, Elizabeth. “Militarized Humanitarianism Meets Carceral Feminism: The Politics of Sex, Rights, and Freedom in Contemporary Antitrafficking Campaigns.Signs 36, no. 1 (2010): 4571.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bernstein, Elizabeth, and Schaffner, Laurie, eds. Regulating Sex: The Politics of Intimacy and Identity. New York: Routledge Press, 2004.Google Scholar
Best, Joel. Threatened Children: Rhetoric and Concern about Child-Victims. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.Google Scholar
Bevacqua, Maria. Rape on the Public Agenda: Feminism and the Politics of Sexual Assault. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2000.Google Scholar
Bowler, Anne E., Lilly, Terry G., and Leon, Chrysanthi S.. “Reform or Remand?: Race, Nativity, and the Immigrant Family in the History of Prostitution.” In Special Issue: Problematizing Prostitution: Critical Research and Scholarship, edited by Sarat, Austin, 6391. Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2016.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brownmiller, Susan. Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape. New York: Ballantine Books, 1975.Google Scholar
Calavita, Kitty. “Blue Jeans, Rape, and the De-Constitutive Power of Law.” Law & Society Review 35, no. 1 (2001): 89116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Canaday, Margot. The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011.Google Scholar
Chaffin, Mark, Chenoweth, Stephanie, and Letourneau, Elizabeth J.. “Same-Sex and Race-Based Disparities in Statutory Rape Arrests.Journal of Interpersonal Violence 31, no. 1 (2016): 2648.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Chapkis, Wendy. “Trafficking, Migration, and the Law Protecting Innocents, Punishing Immigrants.Gender & Society 17, no. 6 (2003): 923–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Charmaz, Kathy. Constructing Grounded Theory. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd., 2014.Google Scholar
Cocca, Carolyn E. Jailbait: The Politics of Statutory Rape Laws in the United States. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2004.Google Scholar
Connell, R. W., and Messerschmidt, James W.. “Hegemonic Masculinity Rethinking the Concept.Gender & Society 19, no. 6 (2005): 829–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Corrigan, Rose. “Making Meaning of Megan’s Law.Law & Social Inquiry 31, no. 2 (2006): 267312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Corrigan, Rose Up against a Wall: Rape Reform and the Failure of Success. New York: New York University Press, 2014.Google Scholar
Coupet, Sacha M., and Marrus, Ellen, eds. Children, Sexuality, and the Law. New York: New York University Press, 2015.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Crenshaw, Kimberle. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.University of Chicago Legal Forum 1989, no. 1 (1989): 139–67.Google Scholar
Dagbovie-Mullins, Sika A.Pigtails, Ponytails, and Getting Tail: The Infantilization and Hyper-Sexualization of African American Females in Popular Culture.Journal of Popular Culture 46, no. 4 (2013): 745–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Donovan, Brian, and Barnes-Brus, Tori. “Narratives of Sexual Consent and Coercion: Forced Prostitution Trials in Progressive-Era New York City.Law & Social Inquiry 36, no. 3 (2011): 597619.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Donovan, Patricia. “Can Statutory Rape Laws Be Effective in Preventing Adolescent Pregnancy?Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 29, no. 1 (1996): 3040.Google Scholar
Drobac, Jennifer Ann. Sexual Exploitation of Teenagers: Adolescent Development, Discrimination, and Consent Law. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
du Toit, Louise. “The Contradictions of Consent in Rape Law.South African Review of Sociology 39, no. 1 (2008): 140–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dworkin, Andrea. Pornography: Men Possessing Women. New York: Perigee Trade, 1981.Google Scholar
Egan, R. Danielle. Becoming Sexual: A Critical Appraisal of the Sexualization of Girls. Cambridge, MA: Polity Press, 2013.Google Scholar
Egan, R. Danielle, and Hawkes, Gail Louise. “Sexuality, Youth and the Perils of Endangered Innocence: How History Can Help Us Get Past the Panic.” Gender & Education 24, no. 3 (2012): 269–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ehrlich, Susan. Representing Rape: Language and Sexual Consent. New York: Routledge Press, 2001.Google Scholar
Epstein, Rebecca, Blake, Jamilia J., and González, Thalia. “Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood.” Washington DC: Center on Poverty and Inequality at the Georgetown University Law Center, 2017. http://www.law.georgetown.edu/academics/centers-institutes/poverty-inequality/upload/girlhood-interrupted.pdf.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fandos, Nicholas. “A Study Documents the Paucity of Black Elected Prosecutors: Zero in Most States.” N.Y. Times, July 7, 2015.Google Scholar
Farvid, Panteá, Braun, Virginia, and Rowney, Casey. “‘No Girl Wants to Be Called a Slut!’: Women, Heterosexual Casual Sex and the Sexual Double Standard.Journal of Gender Studies 26, no. 5 (2017): 544–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fields, Jessica. “‘Children Having Children’: Race, Innocence, and Sexuality Education.Social Problems 52, no. 4 (2005): 549–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fine, Michelle. “Sexuality, Schooling, and Adolescent Females: The Missing Discourse of Desire.Harvard Educational Review 58, no. 1 (1988): 2953.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fine, Michelle, and McClelland, Sara. “Sexuality Education and Desire: Still Missing after All These Years.Harvard Educational Review 76, no. 3 (2006): 297338.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fineman, Martha Albertson. The Autonomy Myth: A Theory Of Dependency. New York: The New Press, 2005.Google Scholar
Fineman, Martha Albertson.The Vulnerable Subject: Anchoring Equality in the Human Condition.Yale Journal of Law & Feminism 20, no. 1 (2008): 123.Google Scholar
Fischel, Joseph J. Sex and Harm in the Age of Consent. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2016.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Frakes, Michael, and Harding, Matthew C.. “The Effect of Statutory Rape Laws on Teen Birth Rates.Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 13-89 (2015): 169.Google Scholar
Frank, David John, Camp, Bayliss J., and Boutcher, Steven A.. “Worldwide Trends in the Criminal Regulation of Sex, 1945 to 2005.American Sociological Review 75, no. 6 (2010): 867–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fraser, Nancy. “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy.Social Text 25/26 (1990): 5680.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Freedman, Estelle B. Redefining Rape: Sexual Violence in the Era of Suffrage and Segregation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013.Google Scholar
Frías, Sonia M., and Erviti, Joaquina. “Gendered Experiences of Sexual Abuse of Teenagers and Children in Mexico.Child Abuse & Neglect 38, no. 4 (2014): 776–87.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Frohmann, Lisa. “Convictability and Discordant Locales: Reproducing Race, Class, and Gender Ideologies in Prosecutorial Decisionmaking.Law & Society Review 31, no. 3 (1997): 531–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gubrium, Jaber F., and Holstein, James A.. The New Language of Qualitative Method. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.Google Scholar
Guttmacher Institute. “Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health in the United States.” 2017. https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/american-teens-sexual-and-reproductive-health.Google Scholar
Haag, Pamela. Consent: Sexual Rights and the Transformation of American Liberalism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999.Google Scholar
Halley, Janet. “Currents: Feminist Key Concepts and Controversies.Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society 42, no. 1 (2016): 257–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Halperin, David M., and Hoppe, Trevor, eds. The War on Sex. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hamilton, Marci A. Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.Google Scholar
Haynes, April R. Riotous Flesh: Women, Physiology, and the Solitary Vice in Nineteenth-Century America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hlavka, Heather R.Legal Subjectivity among Youth Victims of Sexual Abuse.Law & Social Inquiry 39, no. 1 (2014): 3161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hlavka, Heather R.Speaking of Stigma and the Silence of Shame.Men & Masculinities 20, no. 4 (2017): 482505.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hodes, Martha, ed. Sex, Love, Race: Crossing Boundaries in North American History. New York: New York University Press, 1999.Google Scholar
Impett, Emily A., Schooler, Deborah, and Tolman, Deborah L.. “To Be Seen and Not Heard: Femininity Ideology and Adolescent Girls’ Sexual Health.Archives of Sexual Behavior 35, no. 2 (2006): 129–42.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Jenkins, Philip. Moral Panic: Changing Concepts of the Child Molester in Modern America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004.Google Scholar
Johnson, Eric. “The Untold Truth about Genarlow Wilson.” Athens Banner-Herald, June 24, 2007. http://onlineathens.com/stories/062407/opinion_20070624035.shtml#.WckYBK2ZPSA.Google Scholar
Konradi, Amanda. “Too Little, Too Late: Prosecutors’ Pre-Court Preparation of Rape Survivors.Law & Social Inquiry 22, no. 1 (1997): 154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kornbluh, Felicia. “Queer Legal History: A Field Grows Up and Comes Out.Law & Social Inquiry 36, no. 2 (2011): 537–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lancaster, Roger N. Sex Panic and the Punitive State. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Levine, Judith, and Elders, Joycelyn M.. Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex. New York: Da Capo Press, 2003.Google Scholar
Levine, Kay L.The Intimacy Discount: Prosecutorial Discretion, Privacy, and Equality in the Statutory Rape Caseload.Emory Law Journal 55, no. 4 (2006a): 691758.Google Scholar
Levine, Kay L.No Penis, No Problem.Fordham Urban Law Journal 33 (2006b): 357405.Google Scholar
Lutnick, Alexandra. Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking: Beyond Victims and Villains. New York: Columbia University Press, 2015.Google Scholar
MacKinnon, Catharine A.Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State: An Agenda for Theory.Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society 7, no. 3 (1983): 635–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
MacKinnon, Catharine A. Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988.Google Scholar
Martin, Karin. Puberty, Sexuality and the Self: Girls and Boys at Adolescence. New York: Routledge Press, 1996.Google Scholar
Matoesian, Gregory M. Reproducing Rape: Domination through Talk in the Courtroom. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.Google Scholar
McClelland, Sara I., and Fine, Michelle. “Over-Sexed and under Surveillance: Adolescent Sexualities, Cultural Anxieties, and Thick Desire.” In Interrogating the Politics of Pleasure in Sexuality Education: Pleasure Bound, 1234. New York: Routledge Press, 2014.Google Scholar
Meiners, Erica R. For the Children?: Protecting Innocence in a Carceral State. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2016.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mogul, Joey L., Ritchie, Andrea J., and Whitlock, Kay. Queer. Boston, MA; Enfield: Beacon Press, 2012.Google Scholar
Musto, Jennifer. Control and Protect: Collaboration, Carceral Protection, and Domestic Sex Trafficking in the United States. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2016.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nussbaum, Martha C. Sex and Social Justice. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2000.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Odem, Mary E. Delinquent Daughters: Protecting and Policing Adolescent Female Sexuality in the United States, 1885-1920. 2nd ed. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1995.Google Scholar
Orenstein, Peggy. Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Terrain. New York: Harper Books, 2017.Google Scholar
Pascoe, C. J. Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School. 2nd ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011.Google Scholar
Pateman, Carole. The Sexual Contract. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1988.Google Scholar
Planty, Michael, Langton, Lynn, Krebs, Christopher, Berzofsky, Marcus, and Smiley-McDonald, Hope. “Female Victims of Sexual Violence, 1994-2010.” U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. NCJ 240655. 2013.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Powell, Anastasia. Sex, Power, and Consent: Youth Culture and the Unwritten Rules. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rikabi, Haddy. “Wanted for Being a Pregnant Teen: A Draconian Approach to Reducing Teen Pregnancy and Prosecuting Statutory Rape.Indiana Journal of Law & Social Equality 4, no. 2 (2016): 283303.Google Scholar
Rosenbury, Laura A., and Rothman, Jennifer E.. “Sex In and Out of Intimacy.Emory Law Journal 59 (2010): 809–70.Google Scholar
Rubin, Gayle S.Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sex.” In Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, edited by Vance, Carole S., 267319. New York: Routledge Press, 1984.Google Scholar
Saguy, Abigail C., and Stuart, Forrest. “Culture and Law: Beyond a Paradigm of Cause and Effect.The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 619, no. 1 (2008): 149–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schalet, Amy. “Subjectivity, Intimacy, and the Empowerment Paradigm of Adolescent Sexuality: The Unexplored Room.Feminist Studies 35, no. 1 (2009): 133–60.Google Scholar
Schwartzman, Lisa H. Challenging Liberalism: Feminism as Political Critique. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2007.Google Scholar
Shute, Rosalyn, Owens, Larry, and Slee, Phillip. “Everyday Victimization of Adolescent Girls by Boys: Sexual Harassment, Bullying, or Aggression?Sex Roles 58, no. 7–8 (2008): 477–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Small, Jamie L.Trafficking in Truth: Media, Sexuality, and Human Rights Evidence.Feminist Studies 38, no. 2 (2012): 415–43.Google Scholar
Small, Jamie L.Classing Sex Offenders: How Prosecutors and Defense Attorneys Differentiate Men Accused of Sexual Assault.Law & Society Review 49, no. 1 (2015): 109–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Smyth, Michael A.Queers and Provocateurs: Hegemony, Ideology, and the ‘Homosexual Advance’ Defense.Law & Society Review 40, no. 4 (2006): 903–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Soderlund, Gretchen. “Running from the Rescuers: New U.S. Crusades against Sex Trafficking and the Rhetoric of Abolition.NWSA Journal 17, no. 3 (2005): 6487.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sokoloff, Natalie J., and Dupont, Ida. “Domestic Violence at the Intersections of Race, Class, and Gender: Challenges and Contributions to Understanding Violence against Marginalized Women in Diverse Communities.Violence against Women 11, no. 1 (2005): 3864.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Spohn, Cassia, and Horney, Julie. Rape Law Reform: A Grassroots Revolution and Its Impact. New York: Springer Press, 1992.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Strauss, Anselm, and Corbin, Juliet. Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory, 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Press, 1998.Google Scholar
Tanenbaum, Leora. Slut! Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation. New York: Harper Perennial, 2000.Google Scholar
Temkin, Jennifer. Rape and the Legal Process. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2003.Google Scholar
Tolman, Deborah L. Dilemmas of Desire: Teenage Girls Talk about Sexuality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005.Google Scholar
Tuerkheimer, Deborah. “Affirmative Consent.Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law 13, no. 2 (2016): 441–68.Google Scholar
Walker, Jayne, Archer, John, and Davies, Michelle. “Effects of Rape on Men: A Descriptive Analysis.Archives of Sexual Behavior 34, no. 1 (2005): 6980.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Young, Iris Marion.Throwing Like a Girl: A Phenomenology of Feminine Body Comportment Motility Spatiality.Human Studies 3, no. 2 (1980): 137–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

CASES CITED

Michael M. v. Superior Court of Sonoma County, 450 U.S. 464 (1981).Google Scholar
Wilson v. State, 282 Ga. 520 (2007).Google Scholar
3
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Conceptualizing Consent: How Prosecutors Identify Sexual Victimization in Statutory Rape Cases
Available formats
×

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Conceptualizing Consent: How Prosecutors Identify Sexual Victimization in Statutory Rape Cases
Available formats
×

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Conceptualizing Consent: How Prosecutors Identify Sexual Victimization in Statutory Rape Cases
Available formats
×
×

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *