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Aya Gruber - Rape, Feminism, and the War on Crime

Aya Gruber - Rape, Feminism, and the War on Crime

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Published by Paul Heideman
Argues that feminist efforts to increase punitive sanctions for date rape and other non-paradigmatic forms of rape are ineffective and contrary to feminist egalitarianism.
Argues that feminist efforts to increase punitive sanctions for date rape and other non-paradigmatic forms of rape are ineffective and contrary to feminist egalitarianism.

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Published by: Paul Heideman on Feb 19, 2013
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06/12/2014

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Copyright © 2009 by Washington Law Review Association
581
RAPE, FEMINISM, AND THE WAR ON CRIME
Aya Gruber*
 Abstract:
Over the past several years, feminism has been increasingly associated withcrime control and the incarceration of men. In apparent lock step with the movement of theAmerican penal system, feminists have advocated a host of reforms to strengthen state power to punish gender-based crimes. In the rape context, this effort has produced mixed results.Sexual assault laws that adopt prevailing views of criminality and victimhood, such as predator laws, enjoy great popularity. However, reforms that target the difficulties of daterape prosecutions and seek to counter gender norms, such as rape shield and affirmativeconsent laws, are controversial, sporadically-implemented, and empirically unsuccessful.After decades of using criminal law as the primary vehicle to address sexualized violence,the time is ripe for feminists to reassess continued involvement in rape reform. This Articlecautions feminists to weigh carefully any purported benefits of reform against theconsiderable philosophical and practical costs of criminalization strategies before makingfurther investments of time, resources, and intellect in rape reform. In advancing this caution,the Article systematically catalogues the existing intra-feminist critiques of rape reform anddiscusses reasons why these critiques have proven relatively ineffective at reversing the punitive course of reform. The Article then crafts a separate philosophical critique of pro- prosecution approaches by exposing the tension between the basic tenets of feminism andthose animating the modern American penal state. Finally, it discusses why purportedcultural and utilitarian benefits from rape reform cannot outweigh the destructive effectcriminalization efforts have on feminist discourse and the feminist message. The Articleconcludes that feminists should begin the complicated process of disentangling feminism’simportant stance against sexual coercion from a criminal justice system currently reflectiveof hierarchy and unable to produce social justice.
 
INTRODUCTION ................................................................................ 582
 
I.
 
BRIEF HISTORY OF CRIMINAL RAPE LAW REFORM ....... 586
 
A.
 
Early Reforms Eliminated Formal Prosecution Barriers .... 586
 
B.
 
Realist Rape Reforms Address De Facto Sexism in RapeTrials ................................................................................... 594
 
II.
 
EXISTING FEMINIST CRITIQUES OF CRIMINAL RAPELAW ............................................................................................. 603
 
A.
 
Criminal Rape Laws Negatively Affect Female Agency ... 607
 
* Professor of Law, University of Iowa. I would like to thank Paola Bergano, Jorge Esquirol, NeilGotanda, Janet Halley, Duncan Kennedy, Angela Onwuachi-Willig, Karen Pita Loor, SongRichardson, and Laura Rosenbury for their helpful insights. This Article benefitted immensely from presentation at the Iowa Legal Studies Workshop; LatCrit Conference; and Iowa, Connecticut,Houston, and Colorado faculty colloquia. Finally, I praise the diligent work of my researchassistants Tom Werge and Lacee Oliver.
 
Washington Law Review Vol. 84:581, 2009582B.
 
Criminal Rape Laws Negatively Affect FemaleSexuality ............................................................................. 611
 
C.
 
Criminal Rape Laws Abridge Civil Liberties ..................... 613
 
D.
 
The Criminal System is Culturally and StructurallyInconsistent with Feminism ................................................ 614
 
III.
 
CRIMINALIZATION STRATEGIES SUPPORTCONSERVATIVE POLITICAL IDEOLOGY ............................ 617
 
IV.
 
RAPE REFORM HAS PRODUCED LIMITED BENEFITS ...... 626
 
A.
 
Rape Reform Has Limited Potential to Change NormsRegarding Date Rape .......................................................... 627
 
1.
 
Prevailing Gender Norms Restrict Rape Reform’sExpressive Value .......................................................... 629
 
2. Prevailing Criminality Discourse Thwarts RapeReform’s Norming Potential ........................................ 637
 
B.
 
Rape Reform Does Not Substantially Benefit Victims ...... 644
 
1.
 
Broader Date Rape Criminalization Will Not Solvethe Problem ................................................................... 644
 
2. Encouraging Punitiveness May Harm Victims............. 647
 
V. FEMINISTS SHOULD DISENGAGE FROM RAPEREFORMS THAT STRENGTHEN THE PENAL STATE ......... 651
 
CONCLUSION .................................................................................... 657
 
INTRODUCTIONOver the past several years, feminism has become increasinglyidentified with crime control and the prosecution of men who commitoffenses against women. Some feminist scholars have begun to expressgrave concern that “a punitive, retribution-driven agenda” nowconstitutes “the most publicly accessible face of the women’smovement.”
1
Twenty-six years ago, feminist scholar CatharineMacKinnon exposed the theoretical incongruity between feminism andthe “liberal”
2
protection of women’s rights through police power.
3
She
1.Dianne L. Martin,
 Retribution Revisited: A Reconsideration of Feminist Criminal Law ReformStrategies
, 36 O
SGOODE
H
ALL
L.J. 151, 158 (1998).2.I use the term “liberal” not in its colloquial form to signify a person with left-leaning views, but to describe the philosophy that there are “autonomous spheres of family, civil society(economy), and state” each with “natural” conditions. Wendy Brown,
Finding the Man in the State
,18 F
EMINIST
S
TUD
. 7, 17 (1992) [hereinafter 
 Man in the State
]. Liberalism constructs the state “bothto protect citizens from external danger and to guarantee the rights necessary for commodiouscommerce with one another.”
 Id 
.
 
3.Catharine A. MacKinnon,
Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State: Toward Feminist  Jurisprudence
, 8 S
IGNS
635, 644 (1983) [hereinafter 
Toward a Feminist Jurisprudence
].
 
Rape, Crime, and Feminism583observed, “The liberal state coercively and authoritatively constitutes thesocial order in the interest of men as a gender, through its legitimizingnorms, relation to society, and substantive policies.”
4
DespiteMacKinnon’s insistence that only radically social, as opposed to liberal,strategies adequately address rape, most feminists took her basicmessage
5
as a call to legal arms against rapists.
6
 The United States is one of the most punitive nations on earth.
7
Fear of crime constitutes a meaningful part of Americans’ everyday lives andexerts significant influence on how Americans live.
8
As the UnitedStates became more and more punitive, feminists hopped on the bandwagon by vigorously advocating reforms to strengthen theoperation of criminal law to combat gendered crimes. Today, manyassociate feminism more with efforts to expand the penal laws of rapeand domestic violence than with calls for equal pay and abortion rights.
9
 The zealous, well-groomed female prosecutor who throws the book at“sicko” sex offenders has replaced the 1970s bra-burner as the icon of women’s empowerment.
10
Indeed, many regard criminal law reform asone of feminism’s greatest successes.
11
 
4.
 Id 
.5.
See
Catharine A. MacKinnon,
Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State: An Agenda for Theory
, 7 S
IGNS
515, 534 (1982) (“Without a change in the very norms of sexuality, the liberationof women is a meaningless goal.” (quoting Susan Sontag, “The Third World of Women,”
Partisan Review
40 no. 2 (1973): 180–206, esp. 188)).6.
See
S
TEPHEN
J.
 
S
CHULHOFER 
,
 
U
 NWANTED
S
EX
:
 
T
HE
C
ULTURE OF
I
 NTIMIDATION AND THE
F
AILURE OF
L
AW
25 (1998) [hereinafter U
 NWANTED
S
EX
]; Corey Rayburn,
To Catch a Sex Thief:The Burden of Performance in Rape and Sexual Assault Trials
, 15 C
OLUM
.
 
J.
 
G
ENDER 
& L. 437,443 (2006) (noting MacKinnon’s influence on criminal rape reforms). Of course, I am notsuggesting that MacKinnon’s was the only voice motivating early rape reform efforts.
See infra
 notes 56–59 and accompanying text.7.
See
Ric Simmons,
Private Criminal Justice
, 42 W
AKE
F
OREST
L.
 
EV
.
 
911,
 
913
 
(2007)
 
(observing that “the United States leads the world by imprisoning 750 people out of every 100,000citizens, while almost every European country ranges between 100 and 200”).
 
8.
See
Jonathan Simon,
Crime, Community, and Criminal Justice
, 90 C
AL
.
 
L.
 
EV
.
 
1415, 1416– 17 (2002) [hereinafter 
Crime, Community, and Criminal Justice
] (“[B]y far the larger portion of  people actively governed by crime are not criminal-law violators but persons affirmatively seekingto protect themselves and their families from crime.”).9.
Cf 
.
 
Symposium,
 Battered Women & Feminist Lawmaking: Author Meets Readers, Elizabeth M 
.
 Schneider, Christine Harrington, Sally Engle Merry, Renée Römkens, & Marianne Wesson
, 10 J.L.
 
&
 
P
OL
Y
313, 344 (2002) (querying whether “the feminist social movement [is] to be rememberedfor its influence on criminal law”).10.For example,
 Law & Order: Special Victim’s Unit 
(NBC television) airs almost continuouslyin syndication and features an attractive, slim female prosecutor, who is particularly driven tocombat sex crimes, and is always more involved with “women’s” issues than any other legal actor in the show.
See
Diane Klein,
 Ally McBeal and Her Sisters: A Quantitative and Qualitative Analysis

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