Rape, also referred to as sexual assault, is an assault by a person involving sexual intercourse with or sexual penetration of another person without that person's consent. Rape is generally considered a serious sex crime, as well as a civil assault.
The rate of reporting, prosecution and convictions for rape varies considerably in different jurisdictions. The rape of women by men is by far the most frequent form of the assault. Studies have found that the majority of rapes are committed by persons known to the victim, and that only 2% are committed by strangers.
When part of a widespread and systematic practice, rape and sexual slavery are recognized as crimes against humanity and war crimes. Rape is also recognized as an element of the crime of genocide when committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a targeted group.
Though definitions vary, rape is defined in most jurisdictions as sexual intercourse, or other forms of sexual penetration, by one person ("the accused" or "the perpetrator") with or against another person ("the victim") without the consent of the victim.
The term sexual assault is closely related to rape. Some jurisdictions define "rape" to cover only acts involving penile penetration of the vagina, treating all other types of non-consensual sexual activity as sexual assault. Other jurisdictions define all non-consensual sexual activity to be rape. But the terminology varies, with some places using other terms. For example, Michigan, United States uses the term "criminal sexual conduct". In some jurisdictions, rape is defined in terms of sexual penetration of the victim, which may include penetration with objects, rather than body parts. Some jurisdictions also consider rape to include the use of sexual organs of one or both of the parties, such as oral copulation and masturbation.
In recent years, women have been convicted of raping or sexually assaulting men; for example, by the use of an object or when the man is below the statutory age of consent. Also, in recent years women have also been convicted of rape or sexual assault by procuring a man to rape another woman, and by being an accomplice to a rape.
In Scotland, rape is a gender-specific crime, meaning it can only be committed by males upon females. Oral, anal and male rape do not constitute rape, nor is digital penetration sufficient.
In Brazil, the definition of rape is even more restrictive. It is defined as non-consensual vaginal sex. Therefore, unlike most of Europe and the Americas, male rape, anal rape, and oral rape are not considered to be rape. Instead, such an act is called a "violent attempt against someone's modesty" ("Atentado violento ao pudor"). The penalty, however, is the same.
Duress, in which the victim may be subject to or threatened by overwhelming force or violence, and which may result in absence of objection to intercourse, leads to the presumption of lack of consent. Duress may be actual or threatened force or violence against the victim or somebody else close to the victim. Even blackmail may constitute duress. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in its landmark 1998 judgment used a definition of rape which did not use the word consent. It defined rape as: "a physical invasion of a sexual nature committed on a person under circumstances which are coercive.
Consent can always be withdrawn before the actual sexual intercourse takes place, so that any further sexual activity after the withdrawal of consent constitutes rape.
The law would invalidate consent in the case of sexual intercourse with a person below the age at which they can legally consent to such relations. (See age of consent.) Such cases are sometimes called statutory rape or "unlawful sexual intercourse", regardless of whether it was consensual or not.
In times gone by and in many countries still today marriage is said to constitute at least an implied consent to sexual intercourse. However, marriage in many countries today is no longer a defence to rape or assault. In some jurisdictions, a person cannot be found guilty of the rape of a spouse, either on the basis of "implied consent" or (in the case of former British colonies) because of a statutory requirement that the intercourse must have been "unlawful" (which is legal nomenclature for outside of wedlock). However, in many of those jurisdictions it is still possible to bring prosecutions for what is effectively rape by characterizing it as an assault.
In ancient history, rape was viewed less as a type of assault on the female, than a serious property crime against the man to whom she belonged, typically the father or husband. The loss of virginity was an especially serious matter. The damage due to loss of virginity was reflected in her reduced prospects in finding a husband and in her bride price. This was especially true in the case of betrothed virgins, as the loss of chastity was perceived as severely depreciating her value to a prospective husband. In such cases, the law would void the betrothal and demand financial compensation from the rapist, payable to the woman's household, whose "goods" were "damaged". Under biblical law, the rapist might be compelled to marry the unmarried woman instead of receiving the civil penalty if her father agreed. This was especially prevalent in laws where the crime of rape did not include, as a necessary element, the violation of the woman's body, thus dividing the crime in the current meaning of rape and a means for a man and woman to force their families to permit marriage. (See .)
The word rape itself originates from the Latin verb rapere: to seize or take by force. The word originally had no sexual connotation and is still used generically in English. The history of rape, and the alterations of its meaning, is quite complex. In Roman law, rape was classified as a form of crimen vis, "crime of assault. Unlike theft or robbery, rape was termed a "public wrong" iniuria publica as opposed to a "private wrong" iniuria privita. Augustus Caesar enacted reforms for the crime of rape under the assault statute Lex Iulia de vi publica, which bears his family name, Iulia. It was under this statute rather than the adultery statute of Lex Iulia de adulteriis that Rome prosecuted this crime. Emperor Justinian confirmed the continued use of the statute to prosecute rape during the 6th century in the Eastern Roman Empire. By late antiquity, the general term raptus had referred to abduction, elopement, robbery, or rape in its modern meaning. Confusion over the term led ecclesial commentators on the law to differentiate it into raptus seductionis (elopement without parental consent) and raptus violentiae (ravishment). Both of these forms of raptus had a civil penalty and possible excommunication for the family and village receiving the abducted woman, although raptus violentiae also incurred punishments of mutilation or death.
From the classical antiquity of Greece and Rome into the Colonial period, rape along with arson, treason and murder was a capital offense. "Those committing rape were subject to a wide range of capital punishments that were seemingly brutal, frequently bloody, and at times spectacular." In the 12th century, kinsmen of the victim were given the option of executing the punishment themselves. "In England in the early fourteenth century, a victim of rape might be expected to gouge out the eyes and/or sever the offender's testicles herself.
During the Colonization of the Americas the rape of native women was not held to be a crime under Spanish Law as the persons in question were pagan and not Christian.
The English common law defined rape as "the carnal knowledge of a woman forcibly and against her will." The common law defined carnal knowledge as the penetration of the female sex organ by the male sex organ (it covered all other acts under the crime of sodomy). The crime of rape was unique in the respect that it focused on the victim's state of mind and actions in addition to that of the defendant. The victim was required to prove a continued state of physical resistance, and consent was conclusively presumed when a man had intercourse with his wife. "One of the most oft-quoted passages in our jurisprudence" on the subject of rape is by Lord Chief Justice Sir Matthew Hale from the 17th century, "rape...is an accusation easily to be made and hard to be proved, and harder to be defended by the party accused, tho never so innocent." Lord Hale is also the origin of the remark, "In a rape case it is the victim, not the defendant, who is on trial." This propensity to "blame the victim" continues to this day, despite modern judicial reforms which have sought to eliminate this perception. Additionally, gender neutral laws have combated the older perception that rape never occurs to men, while other laws have eliminated the term altogether. The modern criminal justice system is widely regarded as unfair to sexual assault victims. Both sexist stereotypes and common law combined to make rape a "criminal proceeding on which the victim and her behavior were tried rather than the defendant".
Since the 1970s many changes have occurred in the perception of sexual assault due in large part to the feminist movement and its public characterization of rape as a crime of power and control rather than purely of sex. However, a victim is still put on trial in most rape cases. In some countries the women's liberation movement of the 1970s created the first rape crisis centers. This movement was led by the National Organization for Women (NOW). One of the first two rape crisis centers, the D.C. Rape Crisis Center, opened in 1972. It was created to promote sensitivity and understanding of rape and its effects on the victim. In 1960 law enforcement cited false reporting rates at 20%. By 1973 the statistics had dropped to 15%. After 1973 the New York City Police Department used female officers to investigate sexual assault cases and the rate dropped to 2% according to the FBI. (DiCanio, 1993). False reporting rates are difficult to interpret, as it varies by location what constitutes "false". Whether that means the police or the DA did not feel there was enough evidence for an arrest or to take it to trial. Whether the case was dropped, or if a court rule not-guilty. Or whether a victim recanted. And all of these possibilities do not necessarily mean that a report is false, as they are often made as reactions to victim blaming.
Male-male rape has historically been shrouded in secrecy due to the stigma men associate with being raped by other men. According to psychologist Dr Sarah Crome fewer than one in ten male-male rapes are reported. As a group, male rape victims reported a lack of services and support, and legal systems are often ill equipped to deal with this type of crime.
Most legal codes on rape do not legislate against women raping men, as rape is generally defined to include the act of penetration on behalf of the rapist. In 2007 the South Africa police investigated instances of women raping young men.
Rape, in the course of war, dates back to antiquity, ancient enough to have been mentioned in the Bible. The Israelite, Greek, Persian and Roman troops would routinely rape women and boys in the conquered towns.
The systematic rape of as many as 80,000 women by the Japanese soldiers during the six weeks of the Nanking Massacre was one of the atrocities committed. During World War II an estimated 200,000 Korean and Chinese women were forced into prostitution in Japanese military brothels, as so-called "comfort women". At the end of World War II, Red Army soldiers are estimated to have raped around 2,000,000 German women and girls. French Moroccan troops known as Goumiers committed rapes and other war crimes after the Battle of Monte Cassino. (See Marocchinate.)
It has been alleged that an estimated 200,000 women were raped during the Bangladesh Liberation War by the Pakistani army, (though this has been disputed by many including the Indian academic Sarmila Bose ), and that at least 20,000 Bosnian Muslim women were raped by Serb forces during the Bosnian War. Wartime propaganda often alleges, and exaggerates, mistreatment of the civilian population by enemy forces and allegations of rape figure prominently in this. As a result, it is often very difficult, both practically and politically, to assemble an accurate view of what really happened.
Commenting on rape of women and children in recent African conflict zones Unicef said that rape was no longer just perpetrated by combatants but also by civilians. According to Unicef rape is common in countries affected by wars and natural disasters, drawing a link between the occurrence of sexual violence with the significant uprooting of a society and the crumbling of social norms. Unicef states that in Kenya reported cases of sexual violence doubled within days of post-election conflicts. According to Unicef rape was prevalent in conflict zones in Sudan, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is estimated that there are as many as 200,000 surviving rape victims living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo today.
In 1998, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda found that systematic rape was used in the Rwandan genocide. The Tribunal held that "sexual assault [in Rwanda] formed an integral part of the process of destroying the Tutsi ethnic group and that the rape was systematic and had been perpetrated against Tutsi women only, manifesting the specific intent required for those acts to constitute genocide." An estimated 500,000 women were raped during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.
The Rome Statute, which defines the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, recognizes rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, "or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity" as crime against humanity if the action is part of a widespread or systematic practice.
Rape was first recognised as crime against humanity when the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia issued arrest warrants based on the Geneva Conventions and Violations of the Laws or Customs of War. Specifically, it was recognised that Muslim women in Foca (southeastern Bosnia and Herzegovina) were subjected to systematic and widespread gang rape, torture and enslavement by Bosnian Serb soldiers, policemen and members of paramilitary groups after the takeover of the city in April 1992.
The indictment was of major legal significance and was the first time that sexual assaults were investigated for the purpose of prosecution under the rubric of torture and enslavement as a crime against humanity. The indictment was confirmed by a 2001 verdict of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia that rape and sexual enslavement are crimes again humanity. This ruling challenged the widespread acceptance of rape and sexual enslavement of women as intrinsic part of war.
"... one explanation for such a wide range in the statistics might simply be that they come from different studies of different populations... But there's also a strong political tilt to the debate. A low number would undercut a belief about rape as being as old as the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife: that some women, out of shame or vengeance ... claim that their consensual encounters or rebuffed advances were rapes. If the number is high, on the other hand, advocates for women who have been raped worry it may also taint the credibility of the genuine victims of sexual assault."In her work, "The Legacy of the Prompt Complaint Requirement, Corroboration Requirement, and Cautionary Instructions on Campus Sexual Assault", Michelle J. Anderson of the Villanova University School of Law states: "As a scientific matter, the frequency of false rape complaints to police or other legal authorities remains unknown. The FBI's 1996 Uniform Crime Report states that 8% of reports of forcible rape were determined to be unfounded upon investigation, but that percentage does not include cases where an accuser fails or refuses to cooperate in an investigation or drops the charges. A British study using a similar methodology that does not include the accusers who drop out of the justice process found a false reporting rate of 8% as well.
In 1994, Dr. Eugene J. Kanin of Purdue University investigated the incidences, in one small urban community, of false rape allegations made to the police between 1978 and 1987. Unlike those in many larger jurisdictions, this police department had the resources to "seriously record and pursue to closure all rape complaints, regardless of their merits". The falseness of the allegations was not decided by the police, or by Dr. Kanin; they were "... declared false only because the complainant admitted they are false." The number of false rape allegations in the studied period was 45; this was 41% of the 109 total complaints filed in this period.
A 2006 paper by N.S. Rumney in the Cambridge Law Journal provided an exhaustive account of studies of false reporting in the USA, New Zealand and the UK. A tabulated list of studies on false reporting published between 1968 and 2005 placed the percentage of false reports between a minimum on 1.5% (Theilade and Thomsen, 1986) and a maximum of 90% (Stewart, 1981). Rumney notes that early researchers tended to accept uncritically Freudian theories which purported to explain the prevalence of false allegations, while in more recent literature there has been "a lack of critical analysis of those who claim a low false reporting rate and the uncritical adoption of unreliable research findings" (p.157) Rumney concludes that "as a consequence of such deficiencies within legal scholarship, factual claims have been repeatedly made that have only limited empirical support. This suggests widespead analytical failure on the part of legal scholarship and requires an acknowledgement of the weakness of assumptions that have been constructed on unreliable research evidence".
According to United States Department of Justice document Criminal Victimization in the United States, there were overall 191,670 victims of rape or sexual assault reported in 2005. Only 16% of rapes and sexual assaults are reported to the police (Rape in America: A Report to the Nation. 1992). 1 of 6 U.S. women has experienced an attempted or completed rape.
According to a news report on BBC1 channel presented in 12 November 2007, there were 85,000 women raped in UK last year or about 230 cases every day. According to that report one of every 200 women in the UK was raped last year. The report also showed that only 800 persons were convicted in rape crimes that same year.
Some types of rape are excluded from official reports altogether, (the FBI's definition for example excludes all rapes except forcible rapes of females), because a significant number of rapes go unreported even when they are included as reportable rapes, and also because a significant number of rapes reported to the police do not advance to prosecution.
The rape of women by men is by far the most frequent form of the assault, with an estimated 91% of rape victims being female and 9% being male while 99% of offenders are male. In contrast, rape by women is a barely understood phenomenon that is widely denied in most societies and one that usually causes surprise, shock, or utter revulsion.
In the United States, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey, the adjusted per-capita victimization rate of rape has declined from about 2.4 per 1000 people (age 12 and above) in 1980 to about 0.4 per 1000 people, a decline of about 85%. But other government surveys, such as the Sexual Victimization of College Women study, critique the NCVS on the basis it includes only those acts perceived as crimes by the victim, and report a higher victimization rate.
While researchers and prosecutors do not agree on the exact percentage of false allegations, they generally agree on a range of 2% - 8%. The belief that false allegations of rape are a problem is common. Unfortunately, that belief can discourage victims from reporting for fear of being put on trial themselves:
According to a report of the Defense Department Inspector General released in 2005, approximately 73% of women and 72% of men at the military service academies believe that false accusations of sexual assault are a problem.
Cundiff (2004) argued that the inavailability of another outlet for male sexual desires, such as prostitution, may contribute to the prevalence of rape.
The research on convicted rapists has found several important motivational factors in the sexual aggression of males. Those motivational factors repeatedly implicated are having anger at women and having the need to control or dominate them. In one study, it was found that rapists had less empathy toward women that had been sexually assaulted by an unknown assailant and more hostility toward women than nonsex offenders and nonoffender males. Most rapists do not have a preference for rape over consensual sex. Around 90% of rapists who participated in a 1986 study by Baxter et al. were more aroused by depictions of mutually enjoyable sex than violent rape. There are not significant differences between the arousal patterns of rapists and nonrapists.
From 2000-2005, 59% of rapes were not reported to law enforcement. One factor relating to this is misconception that most rapes are committed by strangers. In reality, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 38% of victims were raped by a friend or acquaintance, 28% by "an intimate" and 7% by another relative, and 26% were committed by a stranger to the victim. About four out of ten sexual assaults take place at the victim's own home.
More than 67,000 cases of rape and sexual assaults against children were reported in 2000 in South Africa. Child welfare groups believe that the number of unreported incidents could be up to 10 times that number. A belief common to South Africa holds that sexual intercourse with a virgin will cure a man of HIV or AIDS. South Africa has the highest number of HIV-positive citizens in the world. According to official figures, one in eight South Africans are infected with the virus. Edith Kriel, a social worker who helps child victims in the Eastern Cape, said: “Child abusers are often relatives of their victims - even their fathers and providers.”
According to University of Durban-Westville anthropology lecturer and researcher Suzanne Leclerc-Madlala, the myth that sex with a virgin is a cure for AIDS is not confined to South Africa. “Fellow AIDS researchers in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Nigeria have told me that the myth also exists in these countries and that it is being blamed for the high rate of sexual abuse against young children.”
For one-third to one-half of the victims, these symptoms continue beyond the first few months and meet the conditions for the diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder. In general, rape and sexual assault are among the most common causes of PTSD in women.
Some sociobiologists argue that our ability to understand rape, and thereby prevent it, is severely compromised because its basis in human evolution has been ignored. Some studies indicate that it is an evolutionary strategy for certain males who lack the ability to persuade the female by non-violent means to pass on their genes.
American social critic Camille Paglia, and some sociobiologists, have argued that the victim-blaming intuition may have a non-psychological component in some cases. Some sociobiological models suggest that it may be genetically-ingrained for certain men and women to allow themselves to be more vulnerable to rape, and that this may be a biological feature of members of the species.
Control is important in providing:
Violation of privacy or "control" comes in many forms, with sexual assault and the resulting psychological traumas being one of the most explicit forms. Many victims of sexual assault suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, which also center around control issues. Therefore, some argue that it makes more sense to look at the issue of sexual assault as an invasion of privacy (Mclean, D. 1995):
The more comfortable a person is with talking about invasion of privacy and in insisting that he or she has privacy that deserves respect, the clearer that person’s understanding of rape will be…
Approaching rape through the concept of privacy helps bypass certain social stigmas.
Because there are 51 jurisdictions, each with its own criminal code, this section treats only the crime of rape in the federal courts and does not deal with state-by-state specifics. The term rape is not used in federal law. Rape is grouped with all forms of non consensual sexual acts under chapter 109a of the United States Code.
Under federal law the punishment for rape can range from a fine to the death penalty. The severity of the punishment is based on the use of violence, the age of the victim and whether drugs or intoxicants were used in the to override consent. If the perpetrator is a repeat offender the maximum sentence is automatically doubled.
Different categorizations and maximum punishments for rape under federal law
|Rape using violence or the threat of violence to override consent||unlimited||0 - unlimited||yes|
|Rape by causing fear in the victim for themselves or for another person to override consent||unlimited||0 - unlimited||yes|
|Rape by giving a drug or intoxicant to a person that renders them unable to give consent||unlimited||0 - 15||no|
|Statutory rape involving an adult perpetrator||unlimited||0 - 15||no|
|Statutory rape involving an adult perpetrator with a previous conviction||unlimited||0 - unlimited||yes|
|Statutory rape involving a perpetrator who is a minor||unlimited||0 - 15||no|
|When a person causes the rape by a third person||unlimited||0 - 10||no|
|When a person causes the rape of a child under 12 by a third person||unlimited||0 - unlimited||0 - 20|
Rape of women by men, by perpetrator
|Steady dating partner||21.6%|
Rape of men by women, by perpetrator
|Steady dating partner||18.6%|
Drug, especially alcohol, use is frequently involved in rape. In 47% of rapes, both the victim and the perpetrator had been drinking. In 17%, only the perpetrator had been. 7% of the time, only the victim had been drinking. Rapes where neither the victim nor the perpetrator had been drinking were 29% of all rapes.
Contrary to widespread belief, rape outdoors is rare. Over two thirds of all rapes occur in someone's home. 30.9% occur in the perpetrators' homes, 26.6% in the victims' homes and 10.1% in homes shared by the victim and perpetrator. 7.2% occur at parties, 7.2% in vehicles, 3.6% outdoors and 2.2% in bars.
Most rape research and reporting to date has been limited to male-female forms of rape. Research on male-male and female-male is beginning to be done. However, almost no research has been done on female-female rape, though women can be charged with rape.