Recognizing rape

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Lane, Julie Dawn

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During the second-wave feminist movement, anti-rape activists sought to heighten cultural awareness about the pervasiveness of rape and instigate legal reforms that would increase the number of prosecutions and convictions of rapists. Despite resulting legal reforms that expanded the definition of "rape" and that eliminated resistance requirements and marital exemptions, reform efforts have been a failure in terms of increased reporting and achieving heightened response from the criminal justice system. I attribute the ineffectiveness of rape law reforms partially to the way in which the concept of rape was framed during the anti-rape movement. In particular, I argue that broadening the concept, detaching it from its sexual features, and paralleling the phenomenon to other violations such as property and assault have the effect of obscuring the unique indignity of rape. This, in turn, has inhibited the full legal recognition of the victim and her injury. I explore possibilities for an alternative conceptualization of rape that instead acknowledges and accommodates the distinctive features of the phenomenon in terms of sexuality, embodied differences of gender and race, subjective states of submission, and the encompassing nature of the injury as a violation of the integrity of self in both bodily and psychological dimensions. In order to enhance the recognition of the victim and her injury, I suggest that: a) legal discourse should be opened up to better account for concrete circumstances and embodied differences (as opposed to the reliance on abstract rights and principles and the generalized subject); b) victims should be allowed to provide an uninterrupted narrative of their rape experience and its consequences; and, c) "consent" as the predominant guiding legal standard should be reevaluated and replaced with an assessment of how force was subjectively experienced.