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Sex without Consent

Rape and Sexual Coercion in America

Merril Smith

Publication Year: 2001

A group of men rape an intoxicated fifteen year old girl to "make a woman of her." An immigrant woman is raped after accepting a ride from a stranger. A young mother is accosted after a neighbor escorts her home. In another case, a college frat party is the scene of the crime. Although these incidents appear similar to accounts one can read in the newspapers almost any day in the United States, only the last one occurred in this century. Each, however, involved a woman or girl compelled to have sex against her will.

Sex without Consent explores the experience, prosecution, and meaning of rape in American history from the time of the early contact between Europeans and Native Americans to the present. By exploring what rape meant in particular times and places in American history, from interracial encounters due to colonization and slavery to rape on contemporary college campuses, the contributors add to our understanding of crime and punishment, as well as to gender relations, gender roles, and sexual politics.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix

Grateful thanks to the many people who offered ideas, suggestions, and friendship while I was working on this book. In particular, I would like to thank Else L. Hambleton and Ann Wolff for permitting me to vent my frustrations in numerous e-mails. Jennifer Hammer, my editor at New York University Press, promptly answered my many questions and did ...

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Introduction: Studying Rape in American History

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pp. 1-9

By exploring the experience, the prosecution, and the meaning of rape in American history, we add a larger dimension to the study of crime and punishment, as well as to gender relations, gender roles, and sexual politics. Limiting this book to what is now the United States, with the addition of one essay on Upper Canada, is partly a matter of ...

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1. “None of the Women Were Abused”: Indigenous Contexts for the Treatment of Women Captives in the Northeast

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pp. 10-26

LONG BEFORE THE first New England captives were carried to Canada in the seventeenth century, Wabanaki men took captives in intertribal warfare. A close examination of Wabanaki oral tradition, in conjunction with European travel accounts from the Northeast in the early contact period, suggests that when indigenous women were taken captive ...

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2. “Playing the Rogue”: Rape and Issues of Consent in Seventeenth-Century Massachusetts

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pp. 27-45

THERE ARE CONSTANTS in the female experience of rape. The typical rape victim in the seventeenth century, as today, was unmarried, employed, knew her attacker, and was unlikely to report the assault. Her assailant, in the unlikely event of prosecution, offered a defense as effective in the early modern world as today: the sexual activity had ...

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3. Sexual Consent and Sexual Coercion in Seventeenth-Century Virginia

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pp. 46-60

IN SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY VIRGINIA, matters of sexual consent and coercion rarely came to the attention of the courts. Those few white women who sought to prosecute white men for sexual assault or rape faced formidable barriers to success. For African American slave women, the situation was, of course, worse. They could not seek legal ...

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4. Coerced Sex and Gendered Violence in New Netherland

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pp. 61-80

VIOLENCE PERVADED NEW Netherland. This Dutch colony in the Hudson and Delaware valleys was frequently at war with its Indian and European neighbors and feared constantly that another military conflict was at hand. In addition, court records reveal that more personal violence was, if not an everyday occurrence, common enough. ...

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5. Rape, Law, Courts, and Custom in Pennsylvania, 1682–1800

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pp. 81-102

IN DEPICTING THE behavior of past peoples, historians of crime may employ a variety of records. One of them is the law. The legal code of a society depicts behavior that that society (or some portion of it) desires and requires. And if all men and women behaved altruistically or submissively, the laws would afford a rather comprehensive portrait of people’s ...

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6. “The Law Should Be Her Protector”: The Criminal Prosecution of Rape in Upper Canada, 1791–1850

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pp. 103-135

IN THE SPRING of 1793 Colonel John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, issued a proclamation in which he reminded the colonists of their “indispensable duty . . . to suppress all Vice, Profaneness and Immorality,” lest the province suffer “the Divine Vengeance [of] Almighty God.” The proclamation was published in the ...

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7. “I Was Very Much Wounded”: Rape Law, Children, and the Antebellum South

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pp. 136-177

THE AMERICAN FAMILY has received a great deal of attention from historians in the last few decades, and more than a few of these works have yielded important historical markers about the development and makeup of families in the nineteenth century. We are told, for example, that a dramatic reconceptualization of childhood unfolded in the wake ...

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8. “A Most Detestable Crime”: Character, Consent, and Corroboration in Vermont’s Rape Law, 1850–1920

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pp. 178-203

MANY HISTORIANS AND scholars have been highly critical of the role played by American courts in creating and enforcing American law.1 They have argued that common law courts treated female complainants more like criminals than victims. Women who complained of sexual assault had their reputations dragged through the mud, were accused ...

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9. “In the Marriage Bed Woman’s Sex Has Been Enslaved and Abused”: Defining and Exposing Marital Rape in Late-Nineteenth-Century America

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pp. 204-229

The author of this editorial was only one of many who decried the deplorable condition of women’s health throughout the last half of the nineteenth century. Drawing on her own experience as well as her contact with other women as she toured the “Free States” of the North and the West in the decade before the Civil War, Catherine Beecher, for example, came to ...

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10. Race, Honor, Citizenship: The Massie Rape/Murder Case

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pp. 230-246

FOR MR. AND MRS. Eustace Bellinger it had been a relatively quiet Saturday evening in Honolulu. They had spent most of that night, September 12, 1931, playing cards with their neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. William Clark, and the Clarks’ son, George. In the early morning hours, the small group of friends decided to venture out for a late night snack ...

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11. “Another Negro-Did-It Crime”: Black-on-White Rape and Protest in Virginia,1945–1960

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pp. 247-264

IN 1946, TWO white women in Portsmouth, Virginia, told police that they were walking to a nighttime meeting when a car passed them. The car stopped, and two black men, William Daniels and William Hayes, got out and began to walk toward the women. The women fled and called the police from a nearby home. Police arrested the two men, and ...

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12. Sexual Coercion and Limited Choices: Their Link to Teen Pregnancy and Welfare

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pp. 265-282

She went to a bar and began playing pool and flirting with a man in an area where she was the only woman. While the movie indicated that the men were at fault, and looked realistically at the downside of contemporary sexual mores, it blamed women for putting themselves in compromising positions. When I showed the movie in one of my classes, nearly all my students blamed the Foster character. Their reactions ...

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13. Rape on Campus: Numbers Tell Less Than Half the Story

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pp. 283-300

IN THE DECADE since Congress first required colleges and universities to compile and release statistics of campus crime, numerous schools have battled campus watchdog organizations, students, and parents over the accuracy of the resulting data. The primary conflict is over whose data reflect the true picture of campus safety. The law was explicit ...


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pp. 301-304


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pp. 305-308

E-ISBN-13: 9780814708620
E-ISBN-10: 0814708625
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814797884
Print-ISBN-10: 0814797881

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2001

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Rape -- United States -- History.
  • Sex crimes -- United States -- History.
  • Sex discrimination in criminal justice administration -- United States.
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