'Too Young to Sell Me Sex!?' Mens Rea, Mistake of Fact, Reckless Exploitation, and the Underage Sex Worker
Criminal Law Quarterly Volume 58, Issue 3/4, 355-378, May 2012
26 Pages Posted: 26 Mar 2011 Last revised: 3 Nov 2013
Date Written: February 18, 2011
In 1987, apprehension that “unreasonable mistakes of fact” might negative mens rea in sexual assault cases led the Canadian Parliament to enact “reasonable steps” requirements for mistakes of fact with respect to the age of complainants. The role and operation of the “reasonable steps” provisions in ss. 150.1(4) and (5) and, to a lesser extent, s. 273.2 of the Criminal Code, must be reassessed. Mistakes of fact are now largely addressed at common law by jurisprudence that has re-invigorated judicial awareness of the evidentiary requirements for the availability of defences at common law and explicitly defines “honest belief” as a belief that is neither reckless nor willfully blind. As a consequence of these common law developments, the defence of mistake of fact with respect to age is rarely available as a matter of law. Properly used, these common law analytic tools afford minors and under-age sex-workers better legal protection from sexual exploitation than has often been achieved in practice over the last 25 years with the “reasonable steps” requirement under ss. 150.1(4) and (5).
Socio-economic inequalities ensure that aboriginal children and youth are disproportionately affected by the non-enforcement, under-enforcement, and selective enforcement of laws enacted to protect minors against sexual assault and participation in sex work. Continued reliance by prosecutors and judges on out-moded jurisprudence in the screening, prosecution, and disposition of these cases in the criminal justice system reinforces existing patterns of inequality and disadvantage and violates basic principles of human rights. [Available on HeinOnLine as published in May 2012.]
Keywords: sexual assault, sex worker, prostitution, mens rea, statutory rape, reasonable steps, reckless exploitation, inequality, criminal culpability, mistake of fact, statutory bar, prosecutorial discretion, aboriginal, human rights
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