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New NJ bill seeks to make 'sexual assault by fraud' a criminal offense

New NJ bill seeks to make 'sexual assault by fraud' a criminal offense

A new bill would make “sexual assault by fraud,” or sexual relations resulting from intentional deception, a criminal offense in New Jersey.

As many people in New Jersey know, allegations of rape, sexual assault and other sex crimes can become complicated when the alleged victim and attacker have an existing relationship. Misunderstandings between anyone from spouses to friends can result in sexual relations that each party views differently, which can lead to serious consequences. The ambiguity inherent to these incidents could become more severe under a recently introduced New Jersey bill, which would create the new crime of "sexual assault by fraud."

Issue of consent

The bill defines "sexual assault by fraud" as sex that occurs because one party has misled the other. Supporters of the bill reason that consent a person gives based on intentional deceit is not considered true consent in other areas of law, such as business. Thus, sexual consent based on false pretenses is not legitimate consent. Under the bill, dishonesty about one person's background or the reason for the sexual act could constitute fraud.

The bill, which was introduced earlier this month, would take sexual assault by fraud as seriously as other forms of sexual assault. CBS News notes that the bill is only intended to target major or ongoing lies told with the specific intention of deceiving someone into consenting to sex. However, critics worry the bill is too broad and could put many New Jersey residents at risk of criminal charges and punishments that may be overly harsh, given the nature of the offense.

Outlook for bill

New Jersey is not the first state to consider the issue of deceit resulting in sexual relations that a person might not consent to under other circumstances. The following facts suggest how the bill may fare in New Jersey:

  • Five other states have already labeled sexual assault by fraud as a crime.
  • Many states specify what kind of deceit constitutes fraud; for instance, convincing a person to have sex for medical reasons or impersonating the person's spouse are two acts that are typically considered sexual assault by fraud.
  • In one state, this offense is viewed as less serious than rape.

If the bill becomes law, alleged offenders could be charged with a first- or second-degree crime, depending on the circumstances. Under current state law, a second-degree offense can be punished with anywhere from 5 to 10 years of imprisonment. A first-degree offense can result in imprisonment lasting between 10 and 20 years.

Protecting personal rights

New Jersey Advance Media reports that some experts think the bill is unlikely to pass, since the general concept of sexual assault by fraud has not gained traction in criminal law in the U.S. Still, the bill draws attention to the important issue of ambiguity in sex crimes and the serious consequences that misunderstandings between two parties can have.

Anyone who has been accused of a sexual offense in New Jersey, regardless of the circumstances, should consult with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

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