The lies of Congressman George Santos have inspired multiple new law reform proposals. However, lying to this extent can have a far-reaching impact even beyond politics. Many predators use elaborate deception in an effort to obtain sex. These falsehoods under the guise of romance prevent individuals from knowing the “true identity” of their sexual partners. In such circumstances, sexual consent cannot truly be given, as consent provided to a “false identity” is really no consent at all. Sexual relations through such means of coercion can have devastating impacts on a person’s emotional well-being – even to the extent of being a catalyst for suicide. The current law reform proposals surrounding Santos should be extended well beyond the boundaries of political campaigns and elections, to include situations such as rape by identity fraud.
Some may argue that lying should not constitute rape, and yet, this argument only helps to more easily enable romance scams and sexual predators. Consider for instance the case of Daniel Boro. According to multiple victims, Boro claimed falsely to be a “Dr. Stevens” and led his victims to believe they had fatal diseases that could be cured via intercourse with a donor – Boro himself. This deception led to the creation of a California law making it a felony to obtain sex via the use of such false information. Yet this law should be extended to other states, as choosing to remain complacent will only allow for further sexual predation and victimization.
The emotional damage that is caused by such sexual predators can be truly devastating for victims. Nelson Counne, for example, was convicted for three counts of grand larceny and is currently facing charges for swindling more than $1.8 million from women whom he is thought to have targeted sexually via a confounding web of lies. According to one of his victims, he had falsely claimed to be an art dealer, to be a Vietnam vet with a Purple Heart, and that he had cancer – ultimately coercing his victim to engage with him romantically while giving him $5,000.
This romance scam was so emotionally and financially distressing that his first victim believes Counne “should be jailed for all of his life,” saying that “he rapes women of their money, of their dignity.” According to prosecutors, Counne used false aliases such as Nelson Roth and Justin Roth in his plot to ensnare multiple women romantically. The problem here is that Counne should not only be charged with stealing. He should also be charged with sexual violations via identity fraud. Romantic consent was provided to false identities – Nelson and Justin Roth rather than to Counne himself.
I can also personally attest to the intense trauma caused by identity fraud rape. As a young college student, I was convinced that I would never engage in pre-marital sex. I wanted to save myself for my husband. But I ended up meeting a man who wanted otherwise, who would stop at no end to conjure up a tale to rob me of my virginity. After telling him that I wanted to wait to have sex until marriage, he began to take off my pants one day while I was asleep. He immediately stopped when I awoke as I proclaimed, “You are removing my pants!” And in response, he said, “You are lying!”
As I persisted throughout the relationship to maintain sexual abstinence, he began to tell me a complicated, long story about how it would be impossible and unsafe for us to marry. He said that he was not truly the identity displayed on his driver’s license and that he was hiding from anti-Semitic persons who wanted to kill him. Convinced that it would be unsafe to marry him publicly, I agreed to marry him privately instead through a prayer before God, and I had sex with him believing that he was the false alias he claimed.
After learning that he had claimed this false alias only to coerce me into sex, I reported his lies and his story about his driver’s license to the police, stating that I was raped. However—because the police did not recognize my circumstances as rape—my “rapist” was never brought to court or punished. Yet the emotional trauma that I experienced was enough to make me contemplate suicide for several years and to panic uncontrollably when triggered.
Consent given to a false identity is no consent at all. Multiple cultures and countries have already begun to recognize the need for broader definitions of rape that encompass certain aspects of deception. For instance, Israel has already convicted individuals of rape by deception, and in the Indian Bollywood film “Hate Story,” the protagonist proclaims that businessman Siddharth is a rapist after tricking her into sex and leading her to believe that he loved her, when in reality he was only having sex to purposefully hurt her.
The US should follow this lead and broaden its legislature to cover sexual deception via identity fraud in all states, and the US police should be more well-trained to recognize this form of rape. Refusing to enact such change helps to enable the continuance of such sexual predation and will only result in more victimization, the impacts of which could potentially be lessened through the creation of laws to protect sexual assault victims of identity fraud.