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Criminology Rape and Sexual Assault
by
Janet Lauritsen

Introduction

Scholarly attention to the subject of rape and sexual assault involves a wide array of issues, including analyses and debates about: the nature and scope of the phenomenon; incidence and prevalence estimates; the history of laws about rape; the sources of public perceptions and myths about rape; victims’ experiences and risk for rape and sexual assault; the physical and psychological consequences of the event; effective treatments and responses to rape and sexual assault; the availability of other victim services; offenders’ motivations and the etiology of offending; appropriate punishments for those who commit rape or sexual assault; historical variations in rates of rape; differences across places or groups in rates; necessary legal reforms and their likelihood of success; and political activism to reduce rape and sexual assault. Given this wide range of important issues, it is obvious that scholarly research on rape and sexual assault is not limited to the field of criminology. It has been studied using various disciplinary perspectives, such as anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science, history, law, and philosophy, and most importantly, feminism. As an interdisciplinary science, there is no clear line dividing criminological from noncriminological research on this topic. However, a tendency exists for criminological research to focus on the measurement of rape and sexual assault victimization, risk assessment for victims, variation in rates across groups and places, and legal reforms and their effects on the handling of such cases by the criminal justice system.

General Overviews

Comprehensive criminological overviews of the topic of rape and sexual assault are rare as most general texts focus on a particular aspect of the issue, such as legal reforms, marital rape, or offender treatments. However, general overviews of violence against women typically pay close attention to research on rape and sexual assault. In response to the US Violence Against Women Act of 1994, Crowell and Burgess 1996 provides an assessment of the state of the literature on violence against women and offers a discussion of research needs to better inform policies designed to reduce rape and sexual assault and the harms resulting from such incidents. Kruttschnitt, et al. 2004 provides an update of Crowell and Burgess 1996, documenting the progress and ongoing challenges in research on violence against women. The later report includes a discussion of the importance of integrating research on violence against women with the broader literature on violence, as well as a listing of existing data sources on violence against women.

  • Crowell, Nancy A., and Ann W. Burgess, eds. 1996. Understanding violence against women. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

    DOI: 10.1037/10204-000Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Comprehensive report of the US National Academy of Sciences covering research on rape and sexual assault, and intimate partner violence. Contains extensive references and a discussion of the extent of phenomena, its causes and consequences, and potential interventions for reducing offending and harm to victims.

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  • Kruttschnitt, Candace, Brenda L. McLaughlin, and Carol V. Petrie, eds. 2004. Advancing the federal research agenda on violence against women. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

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    Follow-up report of the US National Academy of Sciences, including new research findings. Topics include available data sources, the social and ecological risks for violence against women, deterrence, treatment and prevention, and recommendations for research.

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Bibliographies

Beginning in the late 1960s, publications on the topic of rape and sexual assault began to appear, primarily in books and law journals. To document this new area of research, several comprehensive bibliographies were prepared, and these documents reveal the content of early criminological research. Chappell, et al. 1974 notes that much of the pre-1969 literature was focused on legal issues associated with defending against a rape charge, while the post-1969 literature began to focus on the overwhelmingly negative experiences of victims with the criminal justice system. Later bibliographies, Field and Barnett 1977 and Pawloski 1983, show that the growing criminological literature emphasized the need for various legal reforms and for changes in the handling of sexual violence cases by the criminal justice system. Since then, criminological rape research has grown to include a greater focus on rape victimization, and its risks and correlates for the purpose of preventing sexual violence, as well as on the study of unique populations such as college students, youth, and prisoners.

  • Chappell, Duncan, Gilbert Geis, and Faith Fogarty. 1974. Forcible rape: Bibliography. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 65:248–263.

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    The first in a series of bibliographies about the crime of “forcible rape” demonstrating that existing literature emphasized legal debates and defendants’ rights. Useful for historical purposes and early literature reviews.

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  • Field, Hubert, and Nona Barnett. 1977. Forcible rape: An updated bibliography. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 68:146–159.

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    The second in a series of bibliographies showing the shifting emphasis toward victims in the criminological literature. Useful for historical purposes and early literature reviews.

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  • Pawloski, Barbara. 1983. Forcible rape: An updated bibliography. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 74:601–625.

    DOI: 10.2307/1143089Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The third and last bibliography on forcible rape published by the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, indicating an even greater shift toward the study of victims and sociological explanations of rape. Useful for historical purposes and early literature reviews.

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Foundational Studies

Some of the earliest criminological research on “forcible rape” was conducted by Amir. Like earlier studies of homicide, the approach in Amir 1967 and Amir 1971 was to describe the victim, offender, and situational characteristics of rape cases that came to the attention of the Philadelphia police department from 1958 to 1960. These first statistical analyses were known for their theoretical orientation (the subculture of violence), and for many of their more controversial findings, such as the classification of some of the events as “victim-precipitated,” and their conclusions about the disproportionate involvement of black offenders and victims. However, the rise in attention to the study of rape and sexual assault, and expansion of the topic across a range of disciplines are typically attributed to the publication of Against Our Will (Brownmiller 1975). This extensive and historical account of rape is best known for the author’s thesis that rape is an act of violence, used by all men to intimidate all women as a way of maintaining male power. A similar argument had been made earlier in Griffin 1971, though its statement that women’s lives are influenced by the fear and threat of rape did not garner the same amount of public attention. Although some of the arguments in Brownmiller’s best-selling book were criticized (such as its treatment of race), many of the findings influenced subsequent criminological research on rape and sexual assault. Other important early writings came from psychology, particularly, Burgess and Holmstrom 1974, which documents the serious consequences of rape victimization, and from feminist activists such as the New York Radical Feminists, with Connell and Wilson 1974 providing a critique of current laws and practice, and helping to set the agenda for future legal reforms.

  • Amir, Menachem. 1967. Victim precipitated forcible rape. The Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science 58:493.

    DOI: 10.2307/1141908Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Assessment of Philadelphia rape cases reported to the police, in which the author concludes that a portion of incidents involve victim precipitation, defined as victim behavior that contributes to rape in part because some behaviors are interpreted by assailants as invitations to sexual activity.

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  • Amir, Menachem. 1971. Patterns of forcible rape. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    Full analysis of Philadelphia rape cases reported to the police, including an early typology of rape, and descriptions of victim and offender characteristics and situational factors such as the location and timing of incidents, and the role of alcohol use.

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  • Brownmiller, Susan. 1975. Against our will: Men, women and rape. New York: Simon & Schuster.

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    An early and extensive feminist analysis of rape, examining the nature of the incident, the laws supporting its existence, the offenders, the victims’ experiences, and societal responses over time and across societies.

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  • Burgess, Ann W., and Lynda L. Holmstrom. 1974. Rape trauma syndrome. American Journal of Psychiatry 131:981–986.

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    One of the first studies on the nature of the aftermath of rape for the victim. Based on an analysis of emergency room patients, the authors report two broad reactions (compounded reaction and silent reaction) and urge crisis intervention counseling as a screening for rape victimization for female patients who may not mention such an attack.

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  • Connell, Noreen, and Cassandra Wilson, eds. 1974. Rape: The first sourcebook for women. New York: New American Library.

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    Compiled by the New York Radical Feminists, this book documents the early activities of the feminist movement designed to raise consciousness about rape, help rape victims, and organize for social change. Also includes a model rape law that formed the basis of many subsequent legal reforms.

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  • Griffin, Susan. 1971. Rape: The all American crime. Ramparts 10:26–35.

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    Early essay on how the threat of rape influences women’s lives, including limiting their participation in public life because of the fear of living alone, interacting with strangers, or going out at night.

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Definitions

Unlike other types of crime, studies of rape and sexual assault tend to vary more in their subject matter because definitions of “rape” and “sexual assault” have varied over time and place, are closely linked with the methodological and theoretical perspectives of the researcher, and are often limited by official legal definitions. The oldest source of national data on crime in the United States, the Uniform Crime Reporting Handbook (Federal Bureau of Investigation 2004), defines forcible rape as “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will,” thus limiting its definition to incidents involving “penetration of the sexual organ of the female (vagina) by the sexual organ of the male (penis)” (pp. 19–20). Sexual assaults of another nature, such as forcible sodomy, sexual assault with an object, incest, and attacks on males, are not considered by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports to be “forcible rapes” but may instead be defined as another type of crime (such as an “aggravated assault” or “other sex offense”), depending on other characteristics of the incident. Researchers have long attacked this narrow legal definition, in part, because it shifts the burden to the victim to provide evidence of forceful resistance and lack of consent to establish the crime of forcible rape. In contrast to this definition, Antioch College Community 1995 became famous for its development of a sexual offense policy designed to assure consent in sexual activities by assuming lack of consent unless each participant obtains verbal agreement for all specific sexual acts. Legal definitions of rape and sexual assault have varied over time and across states, and some states make no distinctions between the two terms, or use other similar terms. Koss, et al. 1987 and Fisher and Cullen 2000 show how the term “rape” has different meanings for subjects, researchers, and the law, and how these definitions have important implications for analyses of rape and sexual assault (see also DeKeseredy and Schwartz 2001). For example, Russell 1982 and Finkelhor and Yllo 1985 provide early critiques of legal definitions that prohibit a husband from being charged with the rape of his wife. Variations in legal definitions continue to have important implications for criminological research because they affect how crime is measured, who is a victim or offender, and the nature of legal practices and reforms.

  • Antioch College Community. 1995. Antioch College: A sexual consent policy. In Rape on campus. Edited by Bruno Leone. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven.

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    Policy for consensual sexual activity among campus community members intended to increase community awareness and prevent sexual offenses. Considered controversial for its definition of consensual sexual activity and for its requirement that verbal agreement be obtained for all sexual contact and conduct.

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  • DeKeseredy, Walter, and Martin Schwartz. 2001. Definitional issues. In Sourcebook on violence against women. Edited by Claire Renzetti, Jeffrey Edleson, and Raquel Kennedy Bergen, 23–34. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    Situates the importance of definitional issues for the study of sexual victimization within the context of similar issues confronting research on violence against women more broadly defined.

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  • Federal Bureau of Investigation. 2004. Uniform crime reporting handbook. Revised ed. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice.

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    Handbook used by police departments that contains instructions for coding rape and other crime incidents. These coding practices are the foundation of the national crime statistics reported annually by the FBI. Available online.

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  • Finkelhor, David, and Kersti Yllo. 1985. License to rape: Sexual abuse of wives. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

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    Examines the marital rape exemption, which refers to laws that prohibit a husband from being charged with the rape of his wife. Includes a summary of legal statutes, and analyses of the incident characteristics, offenders, and victims of marital rape. Also examines public opinion and the legal reforms necessary for eliminating the marital rape exemption.

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  • Fisher, Bonnie, and Francis Cullen. 2000. Measuring the sexual victimization of women: Evolution, current controversies, and future research. In Criminal justice 2000. Vol. 4, Measurement and analysis of crime and justice. 317–390. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice.

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    Provides a history of the measurement of sexual victimization, demonstrating how and why researchers have moved beyond legal definitions of rape and sexual assault.

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  • Koss, Mary, Christine Gidycz, and Nadine Wisniewski. 1987. The scope of rape: Incidence and prevalence of sexual aggression and victimization in a national sample of higher education students. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 55:162–170.

    DOI: 10.1037/0022-006X.55.2.162Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An early assessment of the weaknesses in the measurement of rape and sexual assault, and the limitations associated with legal definitions. Includes analyses of perpetrators and victims.

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  • Russell, Diana E. H. 1982. Rape in marriage. New York: Macmillan.

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    Examines the nature of rapes committed by husbands, the laws supporting those acts, and the links between marital rape and the idea of women as male property, which functions to allow men to use violence as a strategy for maintaining control.

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Measurement

As legal definitions have varied, so has the measurement of rape and sexual assault in criminological research. Researchers often make measurement decisions that do not rely on legal definitions of rape and sexual assault, and criminologists study the measures themselves to determine how methodology affects estimates and conclusions about the crime, and about victims and offenders. Quantitative researchers have conducted comparisons of measures using different data-gathering techniques and methods. Jensen and Karpos 1993 examines the disparity in police data and victim survey data to draw conclusions about the contrasting trends produced by the police versus population-based sampling. Koss 1992 provides a critique of early measures of rape and sexual assault in the National Crime Survey (NCS). Bachman and Taylor 1994 describes the evolution of new questioning for the NCS designed to improve these national estimates of rape and sexual assault in the successor to this survey, the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). Further analyses compared the new NCVS questions to other national data collection efforts. Rand and Rennison 2005 compares rape estimates obtained using the NCVS methodology to those generated by the National Violence Against Women Survey, which was explicitly designed to improve the measurement of rape and other forms of violence against women (Tjaden and Thoennes 2006). Additional comparisons of measurement methodologies have been conducted using samples of college students, allowing researchers to conduct more detailed investigations of how women and men interpret questions about rape, and whether other factors such as myths about rape influence their responses. A more recent example of measurement experiments may be found in Fisher 2009. Finkelhor, et al. 2005 is the pioneer in the development of sexual victimization measures for children and youth. From a psychologist’s perspective, Peterson and Muehlenhard 2004 also studies these issues, paying close attention to the factors associated with women’s labeling of their experience as “rape.” Some feminist researchers use qualitative methods to better understand rape, arguing that an empathic approach is preferable because it allows participants greater control over the interview process, or results in expanded information that cannot be gathered in structured survey formats. Campbell 2002 analyzes how the study of rape affects the researcher.

  • Bachman, Ronet, and Bruce M. Taylor. 1994. The measurement of family violence and rape by the redesigned National Crime Victimization Survey. Justice Quarterly 11:499–512.

    DOI: 10.1080/07418829400092371Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Describes the history of questions used to measure rape and sexual assault in the US national victim survey and why such changes were made.

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  • Campbell, Rebecca. 2002. Emotionally involved: The impact of researching rape. New York: Routledge.

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    Analysis of the impact of studying rape on researchers who often find their work to be emotionally draining. Guidelines are offered to help researchers distinguish feelings about rape from thinking about rape, and how to balance methodological rigor with caring about victims.

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  • Finkelhor, David, Richard Ormrod, Heather Turner, and Sherry Hamby. 2005. The victimization of children and youth: A comprehensive, national survey. Child Maltreatment 10:5–25.

    DOI: 10.1177/1077559504271287Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Paper discussing the limitations of existing methods for gathering data on sexual assault, rape, and sexual harassment of children and youth, and describing the new methodology of the Developmental Victimization Survey.

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  • Fisher, Bonnie S. 2009. The effects of survey question wording on rape estimates: Evidence from a quasi-experimental design. Violence Against Women 15:133–147.

    DOI: 10.1177/1077801208329391Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Compares the results from two survey instruments designed to measure sexual assault victimization experiences among college women.

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  • Jensen, Gary F., and Maryaltani Karpos. 1993. Managing rape: Exploratory research on the behavior of rape statistics. Criminology 31:365–385.

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    Compares increasing rates of rape in the United States, as recorded by police records, to decreasing rates, as measured by victim survey data, for the period 1973 to 1990, and concludes that the upward trends in police data primarily reflect changes in police management of rape cases.

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  • Koss, Mary 1992. The underdetection of rape: Methodological choices influence incidence estimates. Journal of Social Issues 48:61–75.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.1992.tb01157.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discusses the weaknesses in national rape incidence estimates derived from the National Crime Survey (NCS), suggesting that rape incidence, particularly by nonstrangers, is much higher than statistics suggest.

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  • Peterson, Zoe, and Charlene L. Muehlenhard. 2004. Was it rape? The function of women’s rape myth acceptance and definitions of sex in labeling their own experiences. Sex Roles 51:129–144.

    DOI: 10.1023/B:SERS.0000037758.95376.00Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of college women whose experiences met the legal definition of rape and who did not label the experience as “rape.” Women who believed rape myths were found to be less likely to label their experience as rape.

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  • Rand, Michael, and Callie Rennison. 2005. Bigger is not necessarily better: An analysis of violence against women estimates from the National Crime Victimization Survey and the National Violence Against Women Survey. Journal of Quantitative Criminology 21:267–292.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10940-005-4272-7Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Compares rape and sexual assault estimates from two large US national surveys, finding that although one survey produced estimates that were roughly three times greater, the differences were not statistically significant.

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  • Tjaden, Patricia, and Nancy Thoennes. 2006. Extent, nature, and consequences of rape victimization: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey. Report NCJ210346. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice.

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    Report of the results of a national survey designed to improve the measurement of violence against women by using more detailed questioning. The questions were presented in the context of a survey about women’s issues rather than crime, which was thought to be inhibiting women’s responses about rape and sexual assault. Available online.

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Victims

There is a very large literature on victims of rape and sexual assault, and criminological research typically emphasizes the study of individual, situational, and contextual risk factors, prevention strategies, different types of victimization (such as stranger, acquaintance, or intimate partner sexual assault), victimization occurring in special settings (such as on campus or in prisons and jails), and reporting rape to the police. Annual statistics estimating a woman’s risk for rape and sexual assault by age, race, and ethnicity may be found in reports based on data from the National Crime Victimization Survey (Rand 2009). Statistics estimating children’s risk for sexual assault appear in Finkelhor, et al. 2005. Studies of risk among college students typically allow researchers to consider the role of additional demographic factors, as well as lifestyle factors, prior victimization, and the characteristics of the college. Fisher, et al. 2000 reports detailed characteristics about victims’ rape and sexual assault experiences based on data from the National College Women Sexual Victimization study. Ullman 2003 provides a general review of the research on the link between alcohol and risk for rape and sexual assault victimization. Studies that assess how rape victims’ behavior and resistance strategies affect the likelihood of completion and injury include research based on national surveys, such as Kleck and Sayles 1990. Ullman 1997 provides a review of the findings about the effects of victim resistance strategies on rape outcomes. Recent efforts have been undertaken to measure the extent of rape and sexual assault victimization in men’s and women’s prisons and jails, and in juvenile detention facilities as part of a series of national studies ordered by the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003. Beck, et al. 2010 gives information about the nature and level of victimizations against juveniles, while Beck and Harrison 2007 reports on the sexual victimization of inmates in state and federal prisons. Criminological studies of rape victims also assess the factors affecting the decision to report the crime to the police. Baumer, et al. 2003 examines the hypothesis that rates of reporting to police have increased over time in response to efforts to improve the handling of cases by the criminal justice system.

  • Baumer, Eric, Richard Felson, and Steven Messner. 2003. Changes in police notification for rape, 1973–2000. Criminology 41:841–872.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.2003.tb01006.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Comprehensive analysis of national crime victim survey data showing increases in police notification of rapes over time, especially increases in reporting by victims of nonstranger rape.

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  • Beck, Allen, and Paige Harrison. 2007. Sexual victimization in state and federal prisons reported by inmates, 2007. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

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    Report detailing the results of the National Inmate Survey that obtained data from inmates about their experiences with sexual assault and rape in custody. Includes a ranking of facilities by the prevalence of different forms of sexual assault. Available online

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  • Beck, Allen, Paul Guerino, and Paige Harrison. 2010. Sexual victimization in juvenile facilities reported by youth, 2008–09. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

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    Report detailing the results of the National Survey of Youth in Custody that obtained data from youth about their sexual victimization experiences while in custody. Available online

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  • Finkelhor, David, Richard Ormrod, Heather Turner, and Sherry Hamby. 2005. The victimization of children and youth: A comprehensive, national survey. Child Maltreatment 10:5–25.

    DOI: 10.1177/1077559504271287Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Paper describing the Developmental Victimization Survey designed to measure various forms of child and youth victimization using a nationally representative sample of about two thousand youth. Provides estimates of sexual assault, rape, and sexual harassment of children and youth.

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  • Fisher, Bonnie, Francis Cullen, and Michael Turner. 2000. The sexual victimization of college women. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice.

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    The first nationally representative study of rape and sexual assault among college women. Report includes comparisons of rape estimates to other national estimates, and expanded details about the characteristics of sexual victimization, offenders, precautionary behaviors, as well as stalking.

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  • Kleck, Gary, and Susan Sayles. 1990. Rape and resistance. Social Problems 37:149–162.

    DOI: 10.1525/sp.1990.37.2.03a00020Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Assesses the consequences of victim resistance during incidents of rape. Finds that victims who resist are less likely to experience a completed rape, and are no more likely to experience additional injury.

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  • Rand, Michael R. 2009. Criminal victimization, 2008. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

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    Example of one of the annual reports in which female rape rates are estimated according to age, race, and ethnicity of the victim. Provides information for accessing more detailed information about rape incident characteristics. Available online

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  • Ullman, Sarah. 2003. A critical review of field studies on the link between alcohol and adult sexual assault in women. Aggression and Violent Behavior 8:471–486.

    DOI: 10.1016/S1359-1789(03)00032-6Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Provides a review of studies examining alcohol use and its relationship to rape victimization and perpetration. Concludes that alcohol abuse prevention is integral to reducing sexual assaults.

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  • Ullman, Sarah E. 1997. Review and critique of empirical studies of rape avoidance. Criminal Justice and Behavior 24:177–204.

    DOI: 10.1177/0093854897024002003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Review of rape avoidance studies. Finds that although evidence suggests that resistance is useful, few analyses consider the importance of social and situational contexts. of rape to provide situation-specific information about rape avoidance.

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Prevention

Studies of the correlates of rape and sexual assault have uncovered various factors that may be of value in developing prevention programs and reducing the rates of such violence. Prevention researchers evaluate programs that are designed to affect some of the correlates of male sexual assault offending, such as belief in rape myths and empathy for the victim, typically using samples of male college students. Breitenbecher 2000 provides a useful summary of the results from hundreds of these types of studies. Other researchers study how changes in the certainty or severity of punishment might prevent rape by deterring potential offenders. Bachman, et al. 1992 gives a good example of how perceptions of legal sanctions affect men’s willingness to engage in various forms of sexual assault, independent of their beliefs about the morality of doing so and anticipated responses from others. Other forms of prevention research focus on what potential victims might do to reduce their risk of sexual assault. Rozee and Koss 2001 discusses the history of efforts to identify and reduce sexual assault victimization, and offers strategies to help potential victims assess and identify dangerous situations, acknowledge such conditions, and act to reduce the threat and occurrence of rape. The work also includes a discussion of the ways that men and communities can help reduce sexual assault. Fisher, et al. 2008 offers a summary of how certain victim characteristics are correlated with risk for rape to determine who might benefit from programs designed to help females identify risky situations. This article also includes an overview of the type of content of risk reduction programs most likely to be successful.

  • Bachman, Ronet, Raymond Paternoster, and Sally Ward. 1992. The rationality of sexual offending: Testing a deterrence/rational choice conception of sexual assault. Law & Society Review 26:343–372.

    DOI: 10.2307/3053901Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Research study investigating how male college students’ beliefs about the certainty of formal and informal sanctions and moral beliefs affect the likelihood of engaging in sexual assault behaviors as depicted in hypothetical scenarios. Provides evidence that moral beliefs are significant predictors of a willingness to commit sexual assault, while beliefs about formal sanctions are important only when moral inhibitions are weak.

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  • Breitenbecher, Kimberly Hanson. 2000. Sexual assault on college campuses: Is an ounce of prevention enough? Applied and Preventive Psychology 9:23–52.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0962-1849(05)80036-8Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Assessment of evidence about the effectiveness of numerous college-based sexual assault prevention programs. Finds that many programs are effective for producing short-term declines in rape-supportive attitudes, but that there is insufficient evidence of effectiveness for programs designed to decrease sexual assault behaviors.

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  • Fisher, Bonnie S., Leah E. Daigle, and Francis T. Cullen. 2008. Rape against women: What can research offer to guide the development of prevention programs and risk reduction interventions? Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 24:163–177.

    DOI: 10.1177/1043986208315482Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Summarizes research findings about the risk for rape and prevention programs. Argues that programs should be targeted at persons with a prior history of rape, and that program content should emphasize the role of alcohol and drug use, perceptions of dangerous situations, and verbal and physical responses.

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  • Rozee, Patricia D., and Mary P. Koss. 2001. Rape: A century of resistance. Psychology of Women Quarterly 25:295–311.

    DOI: 10.1111/1471-6402.00030Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reviews the history of feminist contributions to redefining rape and changing societal responses to rape. Offers new options for prevention from the victim’s perspective (“assess, acknowledge, and act”) and for males (“ask, acknowledge, and act”), and for community-based efforts to respond to rape and support victims.

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Offenders

Criminological studies of rape and sexual assault offenders have been based on a variety of data sources, such as victim reports about offenders, self-reports from males or other interviews, and official data from arrest, imprisonment, and recidivism records. The focus of criminological studies tends to be the factors that predict perpetration, the motives that appear to be behind rape and sexual assault, whether sex offenders specialize, whether sex offenders tend to be different from offenders of other types of crime, recidivism rates among sex offenders, and changes in the punishment of sex crime offenders over time. One of the earliest topics was whether rapists were psychologically ill or distinct from “normal” men in their attitudes toward rape. The findings in Malamuth 1981 showed that a large proportion of college men indicated that they would rape a woman if they believed they would not be caught. These men also were more likely to be aroused by rape depictions and accept myths about rape, such as the need to use force in some situations. Koss and Dinero 1988 studies how college men’s psychological characteristics are associated with rape and sexual assault. Criminologists have also interviewed convicted rapists to obtain direct information on motives, techniques, and opportunities, as in Scully and Marolla 1985. In more recent years, researchers have turned their attention to the study of sex offender registration and notification laws, as well as recidivism rates among sex offenders. A review of national data and findings is available in Greenfeld 1997, and a summary of additional research on these issues appears in Sample 2009. Langan, et al. 2003 provides a thorough assessment of how often sex offenders released from prison are rearrested for sex offenses or other types of crime, and compares their recidivism rates to those of others released after serving time for nonsexual offenses.

  • Greenfeld, Lawrence A. 1997. Sex offenses and offenders: An analysis of data on rape and sexual assault. Report NCJ163392. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

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    Uses multiple data sources to describe the characteristics of those who commit rape and sexual assault, including information about offenders’ cases in the criminal justice system. Available online.

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  • Koss, Mary, and Thomas Dinero. 1988. Predictors of sexual aggression among a national sample of male college students. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 528:133–147.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1988.tb50856.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analysis of the relationship between early experiences, psychological characteristics, and involvement in a range of aggressive sexual behaviors, including coercion, attempted rape, and rape among male college students.

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  • Langan, Patrick A., Erica L. Schmitt, and Matthew R. Durose. 2003. Recidivism of sex offenders released from prison in 1994. Report NCJ198281. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

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    Compares approximately 10,000 sex-offenders to 262,000 non-sex-offenders released from prison, and examines rearrest and reconviction rates after a three-year period. Results show that sex offenders are least likely to be rearrested in general but also more likely than others released to be rearrested for a sex crime. Available online.

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  • Malamuth, Neil M. 1981. Rape proclivity among males. Journal of Social Issues 37:138–157.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.1981.tb01075.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Article summarizing the literature about the similarities and differences between rapists, men willing to rape, and other men. Also discusses the literature on attitudes about rape and its link to propensity to rape.

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  • Sample, Lisa. 2009. Sexual violence. In The Oxford handbook of crime and public policy. Edited by Michael Tonry, 51–70. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Summarizes research on recent legislation about sex offending, assumptions about sex offenders, recidivism rates among sex offenders, and their likelihood of committing other offenses such as murder.

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  • Scully, Diana, and Joseph Marolla. 1985. Riding the bull at Gilley’s: Convicted rapists describe the rewards of rape. Social Problems 32:251–263.

    DOI: 10.1525/sp.1985.32.3.03a00070Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Based on interviews with 114 convicted, incarcerated rapists. Finds that some used sexual violence as revenge or punishments, others used it as a way of gaining access to unavailable women. Other motives are discussed as well.

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Explanations

Explanations of rape tend to address one of two questions: Why are some persons more likely to commit a rape or sexual assault, or why do some places (such as nations or states) or groups have higher rates of rape? Earlier studies of males, such as Burt 1980, suggested that male rapists held stereotypical attitudes toward women, but also that their attitudes were not very different from those held by the wider culture. These types of findings led to greater emphasis on understanding differences in rape rates across societies, as well as groups and places. In contrast to the idea that male rape was rooted in biology, Sanday 1981 established that there was indeed variation in levels and cultural supports for rape across tribal societies, and these supports are related to broader views about violence and male dominance. In a later work, Sanday 1996 assesses historical changes in attitudes toward “acquaintance rape” in the United States and argues that changes in views about the expression of male and female sexuality are also relevant for understanding changes in rape rates. Weldon 2002 provides additional insight into cross-national differences and the role of the international community to affect changes in sexual violence and other violence against women. Schwendinger and Schwendinger 1983 and Messerschmidt 1986 link rape and violence against women to stereotypical attitudes about women, which are argued to be the consequence of exploitive cultural norms resulting from economic inequality and a capitalist economy. Studies of variation in rape rates across states (Baron and Straus 1989) and cities (Whaley 2001) represent analyses designed to assess more generally how levels of gender inequality are related to sexual violence within the United States. Miller 2008 combines mainstream criminological theorizing about the importance of economic conditions and social institutions with feminist theories about gender inequality and traditional masculinity norms to understand sexual violence in disadvantaged urban areas.

  • Baron, Larry, and Murray A. Straus. 1989. Four theories of rape in American society: A state-level analysis. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

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    Examines variation in rape rates across US states, and assesses the ability of four factors to account for that variation. Analyzes the focus on levels and patterns of male dominance; pornography; norms supportive of violence; and poverty and economic inequality.

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  • Burt, Martha. 1980. Cultural myths and supports for rape. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 38:217–230.

    DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.38.2.217Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Study showing that a belief in rape myths is associated with support for stereotypical sex roles, and that offenders are not unusual in their attitudes toward women. Also finds that persons believing in rape myths tend to support sex-role stereotypes.

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  • Messerschmidt, James. 1986. Capitalism, patriarchy, and crime—toward a socialist feminist criminology. Totowa, NJ: Roman & Littlefield.

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    Argues that Marxist criminology has failed to adequately analyze gender relationships. Proposes a socialist feminist explanation of violence against women, including sexual violence.

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  • Miller, Jody. 2008. Getting played: African American girls, urban inequality, and gendered violence. New York: New York Univ. Press.

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    Expands ecological explanations typically found in criminology to explicitly incorporate gender inequality and explain violence (sexual and otherwise) against girls in disadvantaged communities. Finds that sexual violence is common in economically disadvantaged areas where young men’s masculine identity focuses on respect, violence, and heterosexual prowess, where adults are unable or unwilling to intervene or become involved, and where institutions are weak.

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  • Sanday, Peggy Reeves. 1981. The socio-cultural context of rape: A cross-cultural study. Journal of Social Issues 37:5–27.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.1981.tb01068.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Important early study demonstrating cross-cultural variation in rape using a sample of tribal societies. Organizes existing literature into four key hypotheses that are tested, including the role of sexual repression, level of intergroup and interpersonal violence, nature of parent–child relationships, and male dominance ideology.

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  • Sanday, Peggy Reeves. 1996. A woman scourned: Acquaintance rape on trial. New York: Doubleday.

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    Provides a historical analysis about popular views concerning “acquaintance rape” that denotes four periods in which the legal and social subjugation of women varied, as did attitudes about male and female sexuality. Argues that this type of rape was more likely in the early 20th century due to the belief that male sexual aggression was biologically motivated and that female sexual passivity was also biologically rooted.

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  • Schwendinger, Julia, and Herman Schwendinger. 1983. Rape and inequality. New York: SAGE.

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    Argues that rape rates are highest in contemporary capitalist societies because the economic system promotes exploitive relationships that, in turn, promotes male dominance and violence.

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  • Weldon, Laurel. 2002. Protest, policy and the problem of violence against women: A cross-national comparison. Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press.

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    Provides an analysis of cross-national differences in sexual violence and other forms of violence against women, with an emphasis on how social movements, legislative practices, and specific types of policy-making institutions can be used to reduce gender inequality and violence against women.

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  • Whaley, Rachel Bridges. 2001. The paradoxical relationship between gender inequality and rape: Toward a refined theory. Gender & Society 15:531–555.

    DOI: 10.1177/089124301015004003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Studies how short- and long-term changes in gender inequality are associated with rape rates across 109 US cities. Finds evidence that in the short term, improvements in women’s status increase rape rates; however, over the long term, rates are reduced.

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Legal Reforms and the Criminal Justice System

One of the largest areas of criminological research on the topic of rape and sexual violence is the literature assessing legal reforms and their intended and actual effects on the criminal justice system’s handling of rape victims and rape cases. Early studies of the treatment of rape victims by the criminal justice system, such as Burgess and Holmstrom 1975, document the overwhelmingly negative experiences of victims particularly in the courtroom. Feminist groups advocated for changes in rape laws to improve the treatment of victims, and to increase reporting, prosecution, and conviction rates. Legal reforms also were viewed as necessary because existing laws were seen as perpetuating male subordination of females: it was hoped that changes in the laws would prompt changes in public perceptions about rape and its victims. Typical legal reforms included redefinitions of rape, removal of requirements for corroboration and proof of resistance, and implementation of rape shield laws. Berger, et al. 1994 is one example of a study that assesses how these reforms are related to rates of reporting to the police and arrest rates. Other assessments of the impact of rape reform legislation examine its impact on case outcomes across specific jurisdictions, showing mixed effects. Spohn and Horney 1992 assesses rape reforms across six jurisdictions and finds that the reforms had limited effects on rape reporting and processing of cases in five of the six jurisdictions. These analyses also assess the attitudes of courtroom officials. Bachman and Smith 1994 continues this line of research using state- and national-level data. Studies such as LaFree 1980 and Spears and Spohn 1997 analyze the impact of victim characteristics on case outcomes. Myers and LaFree 1982 compares the handling of sexual assault cases to other types of violent crime to assess whether victim characteristics play a greater role in sexual assault cases. The role of the media in furthering myths and stereotypes about rape, as well as promoting or hindering legal reforms, is discussed in Cuklanz 1996. The most recent and exhaustive review of the history of rape reforms and the evidence surrounding their effectiveness is available in Caringella 2009. This book also provides a series of pragmatic solutions for overcoming the remaining challenges not solved by existing reforms.

  • Bachman, Ronet, and Pheny Smith. 1994. The adjudication of rape since reforms: Examining the probability of conviction and incarceration at the national and three state levels. Criminal Justice Policy Review 6:342–358.

    DOI: 10.1177/088740349200600405Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines the conviction and incarceration rates in three large states and the nation, showing some increases in the likelihood of conviction when refined measures are used to examine these trends as well as some increases in incarceration.

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  • Berger, Ronald, Lawrence Neuman, and Patricia Searles. 1994. The impact of rape law reform: An aggregate analysis of police reports and arrests. Criminal Justice Review 19:1–23.

    DOI: 10.1177/073401689401900102Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analysis of rape law reform in forty-eight states and their relationship to rape rates, showing interaction effects between various contextual variables, reforms, and rates.

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  • Burgess, Ann, and Lynda Holmstrom. 1975. Rape: The victim and the criminal justice system. In Victimology: A new focus. Edited by Israel Drapkin and Emile Viano. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

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    Based on a study following rape victims and their cases, the authors describe how courtroom experiences constituted an additional “crisis” for the victims. Victims reported experiencing delays and being treated like an offender. Particular problems include insinuating questions about lack of consent, evidence of physical resistance, general character, past sexual behaviors, and delays in reporting.

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  • Caringella, Susan. 2009. Addressing rape reform in law and practice. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    An exhaustive analysis of the rape reform literature and of reform legislation, including an analysis of changes that are necessary to improve the treatment of rape victims and hold offenders accountable for their crimes.

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  • Cuklanz, Lisa M. 1996. Rape on trial: How the mass media construct legal reform and social change. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.

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    A study of news coverage and media depictions of rape cases and rape reform efforts in which the author argues that rape reforms have been successful in increasing attention to rape and rape victims, and changing public perceptions about rape.

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  • LaFree, Gary. 1980. Variables affecting guilty pleas and convictions in rape cases: Toward a social theory of rape processing. Social Forces 58:833–850.

    DOI: 10.2307/2577187Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analysis of the characteristics of rape cases, showing that convictions were more likely in cases that reflected stereotypical views about victims, offenders, and situations, net of the effect of evidence.

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  • Myers, Martha, and Gary LaFree. 1982. Sexual assault and its prosecution: A comparison with other crimes. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 73:1282–1305.

    DOI: 10.2307/1143194Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Compares outcomes of Indiana sexual assault cases to those of other violent crimes to determine if official reactions to sexual assault cases depend on victim characteristics or are driven by different factors. Finds that victim characteristics did not play a role in sexual assault cases in this jurisdiction.

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  • Spears, Jeffrey W., and Cassia Spohn. 1997. The effect of evidence factors and victim characteristics on prosecutors’ charging decisions in sexual assault cases. Justice Quarterly 14:501–524.

    DOI: 10.1080/07418829700093451Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Assesses the factors associated with prosecutors’ charging decisions in Detroit sexual assault cases, finding that net of evidentiary factors, victims’ characteristics significantly influenced decisions to charge. Suggests that prosecutors screen out cases depending on victims’ behavior at the time of the incident and credibility.

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  • Spohn, Cassia, and Julie Horney. 1992. Rape law reform: A grass roots revolution and its impact. New York: Plenum.

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    Examines the effects of rape law reforms in three states with weak reforms and three states with strong reforms on the reporting of rape, the prosecution of cases, and the attitudes of court officials about evidence and the admissibility of victims’ sexual histories.

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LAST MODIFIED: 04/14/2011

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195396607-0088

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