Unwanted Sex: The Culture of Intimidation and the Failure of Law

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9780674002036: Unwanted Sex: The Culture of Intimidation and the Failure of Law

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.

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Review:

Unwanted Sex masterfully draws together and rearticulates many of the main ideas in the debate over sexual autonomy. Schulhofer, a senior professor at the University of Chicago Law School, notes that "the right to sexual autonomy is simply missing from the list of essential rights that our society grants us as free and independent persons."

Throughout the 1990s, debates on sexual consent have commanded headlines, and Schulhofer's timely critique of existing law, attempts at reform, and the still-common cultural regard of male sexual aggression as natural (and in many cases even appropriate) is incisive and lucidly argued. Specific examples of sexually coercive situations fit into broader explorations of what does--or should--constitute coercion, consent, and autonomy and raise questions about our notions of sex and gender roles and the lines between seduction, deception, and fraud in sexual relations. Schulhofer's proposals for improved reform are thought-provoking and themselves help clarify the parlous state of existing laws and the challenges inherent in regulating sexual behavior. As he notes, "Respect for sexual autonomy requires safeguards against abuse and exploitation. But--equally important--it requires that the law protect our freedom to seek emotional intimacy and sexual fulfillment with willing partners." --Julia Riches

About the Author:

Stephen J. Schulhofer is Julius Kreeger Professor of Law and Criminology and Director of the Center for Studies in Criminal Justice at the University of Chicago Law School.

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