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Rape Law Reform: A Grassroots Revolution and Its Impact

NCJ Number
C Spohn; J Horney
Date Published
192 pages
Data from the rape cases processed over a 15-year period in Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. were used to examine the impact of rape law reform on reports of rape, the processing of rape cases, and officials' evaluations of different kinds of rape cases.
The six jurisdictions came from three states (Illinois, Michigan, and Pennsylvania) that enacted strong reforms and three (Georgia, Texas, and Washington, D.C.) that enacted weak reforms on such issues as consent, corroboration, and evidence of the victim's sexual history. The analysis used quantitative and qualitative data from official records from 1970-84, as well as findings from interviews with judges, prosecutors, and public defenders in each jurisdiction. Factors examined included reporting, case screening procedures, conviction rates, extralegal factors, and other aspects of case processing. Results revealed that the ability of rape reform legislation to produce instrumental change is limited, because the reforms placed few constraints on the tremendous discretion exercised by criminal justice decisionmakers. Nevertheless, the reforms sent an important symbolic message regarding the handling of rape cases and rape victims. Results suggested the need for advocates of rape law reform to create incentives for compliance by monitoring the implementation of the reforms and by applying public pressure on criminal justice officials who fail to comply.