Sexual Assault and the Law

rape (in law)

rape, in law, the crime of sexual intercourse without the consent of the victim, often through force or threat of violence. The victim is deemed legally incapable of consenting if she or he is known to be mentally incompetent, intoxicated, drugged, or below the age of consent at the time of the rape. Such cases are known as statutory rape, and evidence of consent is not deemed relevant in court. Although the term rape has traditionally applied to the male use of force in sexual relations with females, applicable laws have been revised in many jurisdictions to include possibilities where a male is the victim.

Issues surrounding rape and the law have been fiercely debated for years in the United States, and recent efforts—particularly by feminist groups—have had marked success in expanding victims rights. One important reform, which has been in effect in most states in recent years, has been the removal of statutes requiring that rape victims physically resist the attack. Prior to this reform, victims of rape were required to display clear signs of injury in order to prove that they did not consent to sexual relations. Another reform has made marital rape a crime in many circumstances, with South Dakota becoming the first state to institute such law reforms in 1975. In the 1980s, "date rape," or acquaintance rape, became an important issue, particularly on college campuses. Victims of date rape contend that they were raped by an individual with whom they were acquainted. In many such cases, the establishment of guilt becomes difficult, particularly in cases where the victim displays no physical evidence of violence and there is only the testimony of the victim. In international law, rape was designated (2000) a war crime by the Yugoslav tribunal established by the United Nations at The Hague. Rape can cause profound psychological trauma in its victims.

See D. E. Russell, The Politics of Rape (1984); S. Tomaselli and R. Porter, ed., Rape (1986); Z. Adler, Rape on Trial (1987); S. Estrich, Real Rape (1987).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

A Layperson's Guide to Criminal Law
Raneta Lawson Mack.
Greenwood Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Sexual Assault and Related Offenses"
A Most Detestable Crime: New Philosophical Essays on Rape
Keith Burgess-Jackson.
Oxford University Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Part IV "Evaluating Rape Law"
Rape in the Criminal Justice System
Bryden, David P.; Lengnick, Sonja.
Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol. 87, No. 4, Summer 1997
The Trauma of Sexual Assault: Treatment, Prevention, and Practice
Jenny Petrak; Barbara Hedge.
Wiley, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 11 "Legal and Forensic Issues"
Rape and Society: Readings on the Problem of Sexual Assault
Patricia Searles; Ronald J. Berger.
Westview Press, 1995
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 19 "Discrediting Victims' Allegations of Sexual Assault: Prosecutorial Accounts of Case Rejections"
The Impact of Law Reform on the Processing of Sexual Assault Cases
Gunn, Rita; Linden, Rick.
The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, Vol. 34, No. 2, May 1997
Feminism and the Power of Law
Carol Smart.
Routledge, 1989
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Two "Rape: Law and the Disqualification of Women's Sexuality"
To Catch a Sex Thief: The Burden of Performance in Rape and Sexual Assault Trials
Rayburn, Corey.
Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, Vol. 15, No. 2, Summer 2006
Criminalizing Marital Rape: A Comparison of Judicial and Legislative Approaches
Fus, Theresa.
Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, Vol. 39, No. 2, March 2006
Representing Rape: Language and Sexual Consent
Susan Ehrlich.
Routledge, 2001
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 1 "The Institutional Coerciveness of Legal Discourse"
Sexual Violence and the Law in Japan
Catherine Burns.
RoutledgeCurzon, 2005
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