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Rape from a Sociological Perspective

Rape from a Sociological Perspective

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Ireland) Competition by Ulic Egan. Originally submitted for Bachelor of Civil Law at NUI Galway, with lecturer Dr. Anne Egan in the category of Law
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Ireland) Competition by Ulic Egan. Originally submitted for Bachelor of Civil Law at NUI Galway, with lecturer Dr. Anne Egan in the category of Law

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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10/27/2013

 
Rape from a sociological perspective
 Introduction
The issue of rape has been a controversial and contentious area of western lawdevelopment and social evaluation. This is especially true of the last 30 years or so, and“most western countries have engaged in substantial reviews of their sexual offencecodes and many have enacted legal reforms as a result.”
1
These reforms have largelybeen brought about as a result of the persistence and dedication of the feministmovement, especially from the late 1960’s onward. This movement engaged in‘consciousness raising,’ a form of political activism, and other such campaigning, toenable society to realise that how it values its fundamental core principles can beassessed from how it punishes those who disrespect those principles. As O’Malley states:
1
O’Malley,
Sexual Offences: Law, Policy and Punishment 
(Dublin: Round Hall Sweet & Maxwell, 1996)at 2.
 
the strength of a society’s commitment to certain core values such as bodilyintegrity, personal autonomy and gender equality can be measured by theeffectiveness with which it outlaws sexual aggression and exploitation, the extentto which it tolerates consensual, non-exploitative sexual relations, and the fairnesswith which it treats both victims and perpetrators of sexual crime.
2
This article will endeavour to discuss rape in some detail from a sociological perspectiveencompassing a historical, law, and feminist perspective.
3
It will also discuss the socialand legal attitudes to rape and society’s treatment of those who fall victim to thisdegrading and sometimes life consuming crime. Furthermore, it will provide somesuggestions for improvements to current Irish law in relation to rape and sexual offences,and to victim treatment, before, during, and after court proceedings.
Historical Perspective
Brownmiller argues that women, throughout history, have been subjugated to male desireand wishes and that by the very design of the human body the woman was forced toaccept man as the protector and subjugator.
4
However, as people began to formcommunities “the societal view of woman as chattel predominated.”
5
 A crime against a
2
 
 Ibid.
at 1.
3
This article deals specifically with the issue of rape of a woman by a man as the majority of rape falls intothis category.
4
Anderson, J., Melisa, “Lawful Wife, Unlawful Sex—Examining the Effect of the Criminalization of Marital Rape in England and the Republic of Ireland,” (1998) 27
Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law
139
 
at 141.
5
 
 Ibid.
2
 
man’s wife or daughter effectively became “a crime committed against the male estate.”
6
In Roman law the crime of rape was “known as ‘raptus,’ which was a form of violenttheft that could apply to both property and persons.”
7
In common law societies successionrights correlated to marriage. Therefore, if a woman had been raped and was seen as‘spoilt goods,’ it would deprive the father of “a valuable property right in the form of asuccessful marriage for his daughter and would deprive a husband of his exclusive ‘right’to the sexual favours of his wife.”
8
In addition, as the male child of the family hadinheritance rights, the issue of his legitimacy was very significant and as a result thechastity of the wife was an important concern to the head of the household.
9
 Furthermore, the influence of the major religions also had an important role toplay in society’s view of the woman and of her place in that society. Christianitytraditionally places women in a submissive role and requires a wife to ‘honour and obey’her husband and to forsake all others for him.
The Old Testament contains variousreferences to rape and places the woman in an extremely vulnerable role. One suchexample is from
Deuteronomy
, the fifth book of the Hebrew Bible:
If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl's father fifty shekels of silver. Hemust marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as
6
 
 Ibid.
quoting Brownmiller,
 Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape,
(London, 1976)at 17.
7
Anderson, J., Melisa,
op. cit.
at 141.
8
O’Malley,
op. cit.
at 3.
9
Anderson, J., Melisa,
op. cit.
at 142.
10
 
 Ibid.
at 144.
3

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