against rape were enacted, initially, to protect the “value” of women
as men’s property. This view has changed somewhat as the law has developed
more to protect the bodily integrity and personal autonomy of women as
individuals. Still, the enforcement of rape laws is inconsistent and the
vast majority of rapes are never reported. Why do you think this is so
and how is the problem related to the fact that rape was once a crime
against men's property?
In almost every jurisdiction, the prosecution must prove that a rape was
“forced” to establish that a crime occurred. Why isn’t it enough to show
that penetration occurred “without consent”?
Until the early 1970s, many states had exceptions to their rape statutes
forbidding criminal prosecution of men who raped their wives. Even today,
most states laws treat “wife rape” as a less serious crime than other
types of rape. Why do you think this is so? Could an argument be made
that “wife rape” is an even more serious form of sexual violence than
Is the credibility of a rape victim more suspicious than the credibility
of another type of crime victim? Why?
False allegations of rape are no more common than false allegations of
other types of crime, yet people talk about “false allegations” as if
they are common. Why?
Women are no more likely to suffer mental health illnesses than men, yet
people often ask about the psychological well-being of rape victims when
assessing their credibility. They don’t do this with robbery victims.
Rape shield laws guarantee that nothing about a victim’s sexual history
may be considered by a jury on the question of consent, yet this information
often gets admitted at trial. Why? The same is true of a woman’s clothing.
The law claims to protect a woman’s right to wear whatever she wants without
bearing legal blame if she is raped while wearing a short skirt. How does
the admissibility of a victim’s prior sexual history or manner of dress
undermine women’s freedom? How does it affect the “right to say no”?
It is extremely uncommon for there to be witnesses to the crime of rape
or for there to be scientific “proof” that a crime occurred because in
the vast majority of cases, the accused admits a sexual act occurred and
only disputes whether there was consent. But resources (including millions
of federal dollars) aimed at improving the criminal justice system’s handling
of rape cases are disproportionately earmarked for better DNA testing
in rape cases. How will too much spending on DNA testing hurt the majority
of rape victims? What would be a fairer allocation of resources?
It has been thirty years since the women’s movement and law reform yet
the reporting, prosecution and punishment rates for rape remain drastically
low. Why did reform efforts fail? Is there a way for women as a class
to inject a greater voice for themselves in the political/legal process?
What might a new approach to reform look like? What are the barriers?
How can they be overcome?
INFORMATION ON RAPEIS.ORG:
to research information and legal activism
OTHER DISCUSSION TOPICS:
and the Sex Trade
16 to 19 are three
and one-half times more
likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape
or sexual assault.
Source: National Crime
Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, 1996.