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Anti Rape


Human Rights-
Sex Work-
Rape in Prison-
Dating Violence-
Child Abuse-
Legal Issues
by Wendy Murphy

Laws 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 stranger rape?

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. Why not?

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?

Links to research information and legal activism


Beginnning the Discussion
Controversial Debates
Human Rights
Prostitution and the Sex Trade
Rape in Prison
Dating Violence
Child Sexual Abuse


Teens 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
Victimization Survey.
Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, 1996.