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Rape: The Impact and Limits of Law Reform

NCJ Number
J Horney
Date Published
12 pages
After outlining the major provisions of rape law reforms, this study analyzes the impact and limits of law reform based on a review of the relevant literature.
During the last 20 years, there has been a sweeping effort to reform rape laws in the United States. Many States have replaced the single crime of rape with a series of offenses graded by seriousness and with commensurate penalties. A number of jurisdictions have changed the consent standard by modifying or eliminating the requirement that the victim resist her attacker. Another statutory reform was elimination of the corroboration requirement, i.e., the rule that prohibits conviction for forcible rape on the uncorroborated testimony of the victim. Most States enacted rape shield laws that place restrictions on the introduction of evidence of the victim's prior sexual conduct. A number of studies that have evaluated the impact of the various rape law reforms have now been reported. Taken together, studies have shown that the ability of rape reform legislation to produce significant change in the processing of rape cases is limited. The rape law reforms place few constraints on the discretion exercised by decisionmakers in the criminal justice system. Reforms aimed at improving the treatment of victims may provide criminal justice officials with even fewer incentives to change than other types of reforms. The ultimate problem of rape is that it occurs more often than most people realize. Statutory reforms and modifications of the criminal justice system are unlikely to have a notable impact on solving this problem. Many believe that to reduce the prevalence and incidence of rape, there must be systematic education of youth that challenges many of the traditional cultural beliefs and values that lead to sexual violence. An 18-item bibliography


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