U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Historical Timeline of Rape

NCJ Number
On The Edge Volume: 8 Issue: 1 Dated: Spring 2002 Pages: 4-7
Patricia Crane M.S.N
Linda D. Bernak
Date Published
4 pages
This article provides a century-by-century analysis of how rape has been perceived and handled from 500 AD to today.
In this article, the etymology of the word "rape" is discussed, with the earliest definitions reflecting a woman as the possession of the father, confusing pleasure with force, and equating violence with initiation of intercourse. Some of the laws summarized here are the Code of Hammurabi, 1990 BC, which stated that sexual acts with one's betrothed were forbidden and female slaves could not be raped as they were expected to do what their masters desired. Athenian Law said that female slaves were expected to produce offspring for their owners, so it was free women and virgins who were more likely to report rape. In Salic Law, 500 AD, the punishment for rape was a fine and death. Jewish Law held that rape was a civil wrong against the fathers and considered a crime of theft (of virginity). Canon Law said nothing about rape, with major arrests for rape being among the clergy. Orthodox Christianity decreed that guilty clerics lost rank in the church while non-clerics were not punished (by castration or loss of body part) if the accused rapist married the victim. In France in the 1600's, the first notations of women's emotional state after rape were found in court records, but judges were accusatory and assumed women to be liars. Today the feminist movement has led to rape law reforms in the United States, including rape shield laws in all States. Sophisticated techniques of evidence and documentation, newly devised trauma theory, and advances in science concerning the biological stress response, all contribute to more scientific basis regarding what is known about evidence of trauma. In conclusion, some case examples are summarized.