Criminology/ An Examination Of Rape Studies term paper 16424

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An examination of rape studies and the effect on the society and its legal system

Oliver B. Johnson III

University Of Pittsburgh


Many of the sources credited in this paper use outdated crime reports. Without damaging the credibility of the various authors, included in the beginning of this paper is an update on all relevant crime statistics. The source of the updates come from the FBI s national crime reports and include up to 1998, the latest year reported. The data is broken up into two definitions: the first being Forcible Rape . Forcible rape as defined in the Uniform Crime Reporting Program (UCR).

[Forcible Rape] is the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will. Assaults or attempts to commit rape by force or threat of force are also included; however, statutory rape (without force) and other sex offenses are excluded.

The second being sex offenses (except forcible rape and prostitution), all statistical updates are giving under one of those two definitions and never a combination of both. Other statistical updates, other then the number of known offenses, include number of cleared offenses. The definition of a cleared offense is: an offenses is cleared or solved when at least one person is arrested, charged with the commission of an offense, and turned over to the court for prosecution. Included are offenses committed in previous years where person is charged in the current year. It is likely that multiple persons can clear one crime or visa-verse multiple crimes cleared by the arrest of one person. A crime can be cleared by other means then included above, but only if elements beyond law enforcement s control interfere with formal charges being placed. As written in section III of the Crime Index these include: the death of the offender, a victim s unwillingness to cooperate, only after offender as be identified, or the denial of extradition.

The UCR is compiled from all law enforcement agencies around the US. In 1998 it was estimated that 93,103 forcible rapes happened nation wide, a decline of 3 percent from 1997 and 9 percent from 1994. Since the UCR only defines rape victims as females an update on male victims couldn t be found. It was worked out that 67 of every 100,000 females in the US were reported raped in 1998. To compare this number to other years (fig2), the rate of rapes (per 100,000), of females, had decreased 4 percent from 1997. From 1994 to 1998 the rate of rape had decreased 13 percent. 89 percent of attempted rapes were successful. 50 percent of reported forcible rapes were cleared by Law Enforcement, third highest among violent crimes (fig2).

The intentions of this essay is to examine the defining characteristics of a Rape myth, and father more, to look at what experts agree on as the major myths; dissenting and concurring opinions for classifying a common belief as a myth and the psychological evidence for these opinions. How could knowledge of a Rape myth affect the cognitive schema of an individual, and in turn, how could that affect the justice system. A look at the different between expert opinion and the opinion of the lay people, which is the deciding characteristic of allowing expert testimony in court, and how we can combat these myths. Where are we today on the acceptance of Rape myths in the legal system? Last, a look at Rape Shield laws; are they, in fact, a combatant to Rape Myths? What are some of the reasons that having such laws could hurt the legal system? Studies looking at the effect of new rape laws can help us see the effects of Rape Shield laws.

Before we look rape myths, or at the impact they have on the legal system, I will include a brief summarization of the three major theories of rape. It is very important for readers to have a grasp on the multiple theories of rape. Since the sexual myths are held by the lay person, and discredited by the scientist, in the case of this report the Psychologist, understanding which theories the scientist base their logic on will allow the lay person to get a better idea of the myths . The three theories that I am about to summarize are deal with the act of rape, and not the rapist or the rape victim.

The first theory is the Feminist Theory of Rape . It is a common belief that all rapes are carried out for the soul purpose of sexual gratification. The Feminist Theory , however, does not assume sex to be the prime motive for rape. In this theory rape is seen to be cause by a deep-rooted social tradition in which males have dominated nearly all important political and economic activities. Rape is seen as factors of power and control instead of sex. The supporters of this theory look at rape figures of different cultures around the world; it is found that the less rights a culture gives its females the higher the numbers of rape incidents Rapes occur more in America then any other industrialized country. It is this theory that leads way to a major Rape Myth : rapist only rape for sex. Though this may be true when generalizing all rapes, calling this a Rape Myth may be premature the reasons will be made clearer when we look at the ways in which we define Rape Myths . It is true that sex may not be the prime factor in most types of rape, but, in date rape, which accounts for most of the rapes committed in America, sex is, in the majority of the cases, the prime factor for this type of rape.

The second theory of rape is the Social Learning Theory . This theory is very alike to the the Feminist Theory of Rape , in that they both blame social influences as a cause for rape. It is the motivational factors that the two theories differ on. The Social Learning Theory is quicker to use sexual frustration and aggression as the prime cause of rape, but incorporate other social factors (pornographic influences and misguided cognitive dating scripts, for example).

The third, and most controversial, is the unpopular Evolutionary theory of rape. This theory looks at the natural mating process. Evolution has giving different tendencies to males and females, in all species including humans. In respect to reproduction, females allocate their time to caring for offspring while males emphasize time to copulating with as many sexual partners as possible. Evolutionary scientist believe males have a stronger likely hood to evolve traits that would give them better chances of inseminating large groups of female. If this is true forced copulation, or rape, may have been a reflection of the rules of natural selection .

Now that we have a basic idea of the major theories of rape, we can look at Rape myths . A myth would be defined as a false belief that the society holds true. The major reasons for Rape myth are Sexual Conservatism, Adversarial Sexual Beliefs, and Sex-Role Stereotyping.

Sexual Conservatism looks at the moral circumstances that sexual actives should accrue. Because rape normally violates aspects of conservative stances, there maybe a tendency to over looked the force aspect and blame the victim for being in the situation. Adversarial Sexual Beliefs uses the idea that it is normal to be manipulative in sexual relationships. Each partner is trying to cheat the other; a person holding this belief might think that rape is just the extreme side of this manipulative spectrum. Sex-Role Stereotyping is the idea of gender expectations. Females are put in a passive role in sexual situations, and males are expected to be more aggressive.

We now have the reasons one might develop a Rape Myth we must understand how a researcher would go about the process of categorizing a belief as a Rape Myth . There are many problems in classifying Rape Myths , as caused by the numerous schools of thought (psychology, anthropology, philosophy, and sociology). There are basic fundamental characteristics that all the school share: cases that support Rape Myths tend to be highly publicized, though the majority of cases may contradict the myths; many myths are almost impossible to verify; and that they are best conceptualized as stereotypes. It is important in our society to be able to distinguish between true beliefs and Rape Myths because these schemas are echoed in our jury verdicts (for rapist and victims alike), our public policy decisions (shown in the adoptions of Rape Shield laws), and our personal reaction to survivors of sexual violence (rather than being shunned by society women may be more likely to suffer rape victimization and not report the crime to any authorities). In 1990 a candidate for the governorship of Texas said, Rainy weather is like a woman being raped; if it s inevitable just relax and enjoy it.

For the reminder of this paper I will focus on the legal system, the trial process to be more specific. The last of my focus will be broken into Expert witness testimony, and the adoption of the highly criticized Rape Shield laws.

Psychology experts are rarely allowed in court, when dealing with rapes, this is due to the fact that the victim s state of mind is rarely in question. There have been many debates dealing with other uses of expert testimony in rape trial. Can Rape Myths be so embedded in our society that we would need an expert to explain them to us? That s where the debate lies. A study done by Burt found that over half the people surveyed believed when a man was invited into a women s apartment she was offering sex. It is easy to see why a person would conclude that this belief could transfer over to a jury of one s peers. The real question, in psychology, is to what effect could an expert have on a person s believes? One study found that if a jury were to hear an expert s testimony by itself, they would be more likely to find a defendant guilty, however, during cross-examination, which happens in all true cases, the expert is easy discredited. Before I go on I must make it clear that just because it is shown that a jury is more likely to convict doesn t mean it is a reason to allow an expert in court. More over this many be the biggest factor in the reason why most expert witnesses aren t allowed in. Testimony concerning rape has been ruled too prejudicial, because it s feared that it would make the jury apply the general description of rape to the specific case in hand.

The disallowing of testimony isn t always in favor of the defendant, as the case in Rape Shield laws. Until recently a rape victim s past sexual history was fair game, once she took the stand. Though a defendant does have a Sixth Amendment right to cross-examine any witness who testifies against him, there has been an overwhelming social force against the legal system to govern this right. The question is how much of ones sexual past is relevant to a specific case? Until the late 70s and early 80s this was solely up to the defendant s attorney. But with the new social awareness to rape, brought on by many studies some of which I have mentioned, some states have given the decision of relevance to the judges. It was a common practice of criminal lawyers to pressure rape victims from testifying with the threat of bring out her sexual past. Though a victims sexual past still is allowed within the guidelines of Rape Shield laws, lawyers must now argue why it is relevant to the case first. A study looking at the impact of Rape shield laws found that though it might protect victims from some attack (how many times a victim has had sex with men at a singles club for example) it doesn t protect from most questions dealing with sexual past, even when the laws are clear on the matter. As one judge put it, the law is the law, but fair is fair. A closer look at this occurrence may reveal a more realistic reason for this legal glitch. If a judge were to make the mistake of allowing in too much of a victims sexual past, the judge would not be criticized by the legal system; however, if a judge were to not allow enough of a victims sexual past into trail, a defendant would have the right bring the mistake to an appeals court, in which the trial verdict could be over turned.

It is easy to see that experts should continue their research on the different aspects of rape. We need to study the perpetrator and his victim, the society s reaction to rape and the effects of this reaction on the legal system. America still ranks the highest amongst most of the free world in rape incidences, though in most cases the figures seem to be on the decline. Further knowledge dealing with rape can help defense lawyer and prosecutor, males and females alike. Because of the awareness to rape we can now get better figures. It is the job of the psychologist to uncover as much information as possible, so that this information can be put to use in the legal system.

Work Cited

Allison, J. & Wrightsman, L. (1993). Rape: The Misunderstood Crime. Newbury Park, California: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Burt, M. R. (1980). Cultural myths and supports for rape. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38 217-230.

Call, J. & Nice, D. & Talarico, M. (1991). An Analysis of State Rape Shield Laws. Social-Science-Quarterly, 72 774-788.

Lonsway, K. & Fitzgerald, L. (1994) Rape myths: In review. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 18(2) 133-164

Samaha, J. (1999). Criminal Law. Albany, NY: West/Wadsworth

Spanos, N. & Dubreuil, S., Gwynn, M. (1992) The effects of expert testimony concerning rape on the verdicts and beliefs of mock jurors. Imagination, Cognition & Personality,11(1) 37-51.

Spohn, C., & Horney, J. (1991). Law s the Law, Fair Is Fair. Criminology, 29 137-161.

Uniform Crime Reports (UCR)


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