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Rape Shield Laws: A Need for an Ethical and Legal Reexamination?

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Studies Volume: 17 Issue: 3 Dated: September 2004 Pages: 281-290
Robert J. Meadows
Date Published
September 2004
10 pages
This article re-examines the ethical and legal implications of rape shield laws.
Meant to protect accusers in sexual assault cases of undue examination into their sexual and psychological histories, rape shield laws, according to the author, may also hinder the constitutional rights of the accused to discover evidence. The accusation of sexual assault is grave, with serious penalties attached if convicted. As such, in sexual assault cases where there is no corroborating evidence and the case is based largely on “he said-she said” accusations, an examination of the histories of both the accused and the accuser is appropriate and necessary. Several studies of sexual assault accusations on college campuses are reviewed as the author continues to argue that rape shield laws represent a miscarriage of justice to the accused in ambiguous sex assault cases. Rape shield laws function to block a full examination of the facts surrounding the case, hindering the sometimes necessary inquiry into the dynamics of the sexual encounter and credibility of the accuser. Thus, in instances in which the initial encounter between the accuser and the accused was consensual and when there is no physical evidence or witnesses, the constitutional rights of the accused dictate a full investigation into aspects of the accused history. Such an inquiry can only be achieved with the repeal of rape shield laws. Notes, cases, references