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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: 10.1037/10204-000E-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.

  • 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.

    E-mail Citation »

    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.

LAST MODIFIED: 04/14/2011

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195396607-0088

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