Rape -or not - Discussion (May 1998)


Query from Miranda E. Morris mimorris@netspace.net.au 08 May 1998 cross-posted to VICTORIA

I am preparing a paper dealing with an accusation of rape in late 1870s Tasmania. When I began my research I had assumed the accusation to be valid even though the findings were in favour of the defendant. Now, having read all the evidence of the case, I have considerable doubts about the validity of the accusation. There are a number of excellent studies on rape but they deal with actual rape and are often intent on exploding the myth of false accusation. I feel as if I am treading a veritable fuse-wire here, but wish to explore the circumstances that might have led to this rape charge - without adding voice to those who believe that women cry rape.

Is there any one who knows of any feminist studies that explore the context of misleading charges of rape - or indeed anyone who is working on a similar issue out there?

Responses:

From Moira Maguire mm53491@american.edu 11 May 1998

I don't know of any studies that examine the complexities of rape accusations but I think my work is somewhat relevant. I am working on infanticide in 20th century Ireland, and rape accusations, true or otherwise, are something I've had to grapple with. It is particularly noteworthy that married women accused of murdering infants that were not fathered by their husbands often claimed to have been raped, and it is virtually impossible to know if the allegations were true. I just received a chapter back and one of the readers blasted me for suggesting in one case that a woman was forgiven by her husband and accepted back into the home.

She wasn't happy with the idea that a woman needed to be forgiven for being raped (although those were her husband's words, not my own). I was trying to come at these cases, not from the perspective of whether or not *I* believed the women were raped, but whether their families did, and how that influenced how women accused of infanticide were treated by their families, by the courts, by society, etc. I don't know if this helps your own study but if you want to explore this further off-list, I'd be happy to chat with you about it.

From Lee Whitfield Stephen Whitfield 110523@compuserve.com 11 May 1998

As you may be discovering, the case of rape is a lot more complicated than it may appear. Laws, made of course, by men, make it extremely difficult to press such a charge by limiting the definition to precise, hard-to-prove details-- number of assailants, rupture of hymen, evidence of wounds. I'm working on such a case in the late 70s in France. There is also the matter of revising the law as to who has the right to press charges at the civil party, what type of court will hear the case, etc. Definitions as always, depend on who has the right to define.