There are laws on the books for theft by false pretenses and larceny by false pretenses. They are defined legally as: obtaining title and possession of another’s property by misrepresenting a fact. As a woman myself, and someone who works with teenage girls regularly, I would like to see a new law enacted to enforce criminal liability for rape by false pretenses.
I was recently reminded of this concept by a girl who came to talk with us a few days ago. She disclosed sexual abuse by a man who initially she had liked and wanted a relationship with. (Not that it really mattered given that she was 15 and he was 20.) Anyway, essentially he led her to believe that he wanted to be with her and have a romantic relationship when he actually had no intention of doing so. He manipulated her emotionally so that he could abuse her sexually. This is unfortunately not an uncommon story. I myself have at least a handful of similar experiences from my adolescent and young adult life.
I can say from experience how traumatic these experiences are, especially when the majority of society does not hold the abuser responsible in these situations. Just as rape used to be mainly viewed as the fault of the victim not “protecting themselves” well enough or “asking for it”, being tricked into sex by lies is something that “I should have known better” than to fall for. And for a long time, I also felt like I was to blame. Not only was I taken advantage of, but I also felt stupid, even though all I did was trust someone who I thought was my friend/future partner.
Looking back, I genuinely don’t know how I was supposed to have assumed that these men were just pieces of shit. I really had no reason to suspect that until they fucked me over, quite literally. Over and over again I was forced to swallow a lesson that roughly went: don’t ever trust anyone, especially men. I learned that it was my job to close my heart to the world, rather than expect to be treated decently as a human being. And it absolutely breaks my heart to see young girls internalizing that same toxic message.
Just like most victims of abuse, I was extremely embarrassed to tell my story to other people. I feared that instead of sympathy, I would receive judgement and be labeled a fool. Even now I question myself about it. In college, I met a couple different guys on dating apps. We talked for weeks, they expressed their desire to find a romantic partner explicitly, although I feel the context of a “dating app” (not tinder) was false pretense enough in that regard. Yet after we went on a few dates and things crossed the sexual threshold, I was ghosted and gaslighted. If there was any response at all, it was something along the lines of feinted surprise and “I was never looking for anything serious.” I was once even fed a bold-faced lie by someone I had worked with and been friends with for an entire year. He knew I only wanted to be with someone who was also vegan. He promised to become vegan so that we could be together, and I believed him, because (silly me) I thought he was a decent person. Lo and behold, after we had sex once or twice, he was gone without so much as a “goodbye.” He even blocked me on Facebook.
Now let me quickly clarify, I’m not saying that you should be forced to be with someone after you’ve had sex. It would have been a totally different story if these men had just told me they didn’t think things were working out or they decided they were no longer interested in me. That’s fine, not every relationship works out. But when a sexual act flips the switch from kind, attentive, affectionate to silence and gaslighting, that’s obviously not the same thing and is emotionally damaging to the one left with whiplash, wondering what just happened.
I realize that these situations would be extremely hard to prosecute, but I would still like there to be some type of legal acknowledgment of the fact that this is not okay! This is manipulation, this is sexual and emotional abuse. I fully believe that if someone only agrees to sex because you have lied about your intentions, then it is rape. And while I do think the specific men I’m referring to knew what they were doing was cruel and wrong, I don’t think they would have considered it rape. Both young men and women need to be taught about this. They need to understand early on that this is not an acceptable sexual encounter. It certainly isn’t consensual if one party is being lied to.
I’m curious to know what others think about this matter. Do you think it’s rape? Do you think there is any way, legal or otherwise, to hold someone accountable for this type of behavior? Have you experienced anything similar in your life? Have you ever intentionally misled someone in order to receive sex? Did you think it was wrong? Why or why not? I would love to open up a respectful, honest dialogue on this topic. So please share your thoughts. I’m very interested in hearing any feedback you have to offer.