A Few Somewhat Disconnected Thoughts About Rape

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In an effort to be an ethical attorney I try, though sometimes fail, to honor the “innocent until proven guilty” presumption that people charged with crimes are entitled to in my writing and legal analysis.  High profile rape cases present special challenges because charges against privileged men are brought so rarely, I stupidly assume that both the evidence against the accused, and a commitment to prosecute the accused, must be really strong. And then charges are invariably dismissed.  I guess I just badly want to believe, against a growing mountain of evidence, that rape accusations can be treated responsibly by the criminal justice system.

If you search the word “rape” at the Social Science Research Network looking for scholarly work on the topic, the top result is this article, which argues that “a sharp rise in access to pornography” was responsible for a sharp reduction in the number of reported rapes between 1973 and 2004. Many of the other articles concern wrongful convictions, or the punishments of sex offenders. At the end of 2009 journalist  Amanda Hess provided an overview of that year’s high profile rape cases in The Sexist, her Washington City Paper column.  Her summaries make it clear that women who accused men of rape were consistently disbelieved (here is one other Hess example), their accusations were minimized or dismissed, and they were excoriated by the media. A similar tally of similar events in 2010 and this year would continue the same narrative.

Some excellent law review articles tackle the social construction of rape, such as  Jeannie Suk’s detailed account of State v. Rusk, in which she credits a Maryland case with changing the social norms around dating and sex, and Michelle Anderson’s “Negotiating Sex,” which proposes rape law reforms.  The media likes to cover rape stories from other countries, particularly in Africa (see e.g. this, this and this), and at least some of these accounts seem sympathetic to the claims made by women who say they are rape victims. Is anybody looking at whether women in the United States are justifiably afraid to report rapes they have suffered? I hope so.

–Ann Bartow

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