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From the American Law Institute to college campuses, there is a renewed interest in the law of rape. Law school faculty, however, may be reluctant to teach this deeply debated topic. This article begins from the premise that controversial and contested questions can be best resolved when participants understand the conceptual architecture that surrounds and delineates the normative questions. This allows participants to talk to one another instead of past each other. Accordingly, in this article, we begin by diffusing two non-debates: the apparent conflict created when we use “consent” to mean two different things and the question of whether rape law ought to be formulated in terms of consent or force. From here, we turn to the conceptual apparatuses that surround the normative questions of freedom from force, knowledge, and capacity. Here, we suggest how better understanding these concepts can frame the underlying discussions as to what sorts of coercion undermine consent, what kinds of deception invalidate consent, and when the victim is too incapacitated to consent. Finally, we turn to different formulations of consent, demonstrating that one conception better captures the harm of rape but that other formulations may better protect victims. We show how clarifying these questions allows discussants to see why different formulations are valuable and to debate the best all-things-considered formulation. Although this article is framed as a question of how (to teach students) to think like lawyers about rape, its ambition is to set forth a framework that is useful to reformers as well.


rape, consent, sexual assault, pedagogy, coercion, affirmative consent

Publication Title

Criminal Law & Philosophy

Publication Citation

11 Crim. L. & Phil. 759 (2017)