Sexual Violence: Beyond the Feminist--Evolutionary Debate

Sexual Violence: Beyond the Feminist--Evolutionary Debate

Sexual Violence: Beyond the Feminist--Evolutionary Debate

Sexual Violence: Beyond the Feminist--Evolutionary Debate

Synopsis

The debate between feminist and evolutionary scholars about sexual violence has resulted in polarized ideas about whether sex offenders' motives are sexual, nonsexual, or both. Spivak examines the history of this controversy, and then evaluates national victim survey and police data to test hypotheses about victim-targeting in rape incidents. The primary question is whether offenders preferentially select victims based on youth, or more indiscriminately based on convenience and proximity, examining the age distribution of victims and offenders across relationships and other measures of routine activity. Results reveal that offenders may be more sexually motivated than implied by some feminist assertions, since they appear to specifically target younger victims, but these facts are explainable within a criminological framework that does not require a direct evolutionary adaptation.

Excerpt

Charges of forcible rape are often made without justification by some
females for purposes of blackmail and by others, who have engaged
voluntarily in intercourse but have been discovered, in order to
protect their reputations. Physicians have testified again and again
that forcible rape is practically impossible unless the female has been
rendered practically unconscious by drugs or injury; many cases
reported as forcible rape have certainly involved nothing more than
passive resistance.

Edwin H. Sutherland
Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology
(Sutherland 1950: 545)

EDWIN SUTHERLAND IS ONE OF America’s most famous, and most cited, criminologists. His textbook (1939; 1978) predominated the field of criminology for several decades, and his ideas about differential association and social learning remain a staple of the discipline today. He is even credited with coining the term “white collar crime.” That such a prominent scholar would also make such grossly insensitive comments about rape victimization in a highly ranked scholarly journal reveals the extent to which ideas about sexual violence have evolved since the mid-twentieth century. Beginning in the 1970s, the chauvinism and obtuseness that characterize Sutherland’s attitude sixty years ago gave way to an explosion of radical new perspectives that staunchly refuted the idea that rape was “practically impossible” or even unusual in its occurrence (Gavey . . .

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