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Up Against a Wall

Rape Reform and the Failure of Success

Rose Corrigan

Publication Year: 2013

Rape law reform has long been hailed as one of the most successful projects of second-wave feminism. Yet forty years after the anti-rape movement emerged, legal and medical institutions continue to resist implementing reforms intended to provide more just and compassionate legal and medical responses to victims of sexual violence. In Up Against a Wall, Rose Corrigan draws on interviews with over 150 local rape care advocates in communities across the United States to explore how and why mainstream systems continue to resist feminist reforms.

In a series of richly detailed case studies, the book weaves together scholarship on law and social movements, feminist theory, policy formation and implementation, and criminal justice to show how the innovative legal strategies employed by anti-rape advocates actually undermined some of their central claims. But even as its more radical elements were thwarted, pieces of the rape law reform project were seized upon by conservative policy-makers and used to justify new initiatives that often prioritize the interests and rights of criminal justice actors or medical providers over the needs of victims.

Published by: NYU Press


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pp. vii-x

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1. Introduction: The Failure of Success

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pp. 1-20

The anti-rape movement has long been described as one of the most successful projects of second wave feminism. The story goes something like this: Beginning in the early 1970s, feminist activists—outraged by grossly inadequate medical and legal responses to women who had been raped—created local rape crisis centers (RCCs), organizations which modeled...

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2. The Anti-Rape Movement and the Turn to Law

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pp. 21-51

In this chapter, I explore not only how feminist activists changed laws regarding sexual violence, but how the movement itself was significantly altered by its engagement with legal concepts, language, categories, and constraints. Rape law reform was described by observers and participants as a resounding success, but it carried significant costs for the movement...

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3. Listening to Rape Care Advocates

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pp. 52-64

This study draws on interviews with staff (“advocates”) at local RCCs in six states to understand the effects of policy innovations in the legal and medical response to sexual assault. In chapter 4 I discuss some of the statistical analyses of rape law reforms passed in the 1970s. These instrumental outcomes—whether reforms alter reporting rates, affect convictions, or change sentencing—are clearly a critical measure of policy reform. I wanted to add to those quantitative studies a richer analysis of the political...

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4. Institutional Responses to Rape: Following the “Leaky Pipeline” of Rape Reporting

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pp. 65-116

By the mid-1980s, most states had removed their marital rape exemptions, ending the last significant effort of the original campaign for rape law reform. After that, sexual violence receded as an issue on the public policy agenda for a decade. Since 1994, when passage of Megan’s Law in New Jersey and the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) renewed attention to sex crimes, states have once against begun pursuing statutory...

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5. Developing the Body of Evidence: Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Programs

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pp. 117-157

One of the most highly touted improvements in the systems response to rape is the wide-scale adoption of medical forensic examination protocols, often referred to generically as sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) programs. SANE programs, which provide specialized medical care and forensic evidence collection in the wake of a sexual assault, are universally described by scholars, nursing professionals, and government agencies as a significant step forward in the effective investigation and prosecution...

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6. When Rights Are Wrong: Emergency Contraception and the Failure of Policy Success

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pp. 158-204

In 1988, Pennsylvania state representative Steven Freind, architect of the state’s draconian Abortion Control Act, defended the law’s lack of an abortion exception for women who were pregnant as a result of sexual assault by saying that “a rape victim ‘secretes a certain secretion which has a tendency to kill sperm’ and so only ‘one in millions and millions and millions’ of rape victims becomes pregnant” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 1994). In 1995, North Carolina state representative Henry Aldridge of Pitt County spoke...

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7. When Is a Rapist a Sex Offender?: Sex Offender Registration and Notification Statutes

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pp. 205-248

On July 29, 1994, in Hamilton Township, New Jersey, Jesse Timmendequas invited seven-year-old neighbor Megan Kanka to his house to see his new puppy. Unbeknownst to Kanka or the community, Timmendequas was a convicted sex offender with a history of increasingly violent assaults against children. Once inside the house, Timmendequas strangled Kanka with a belt, raped her at least twice, and finally suffocated her to death by placing a plastic bag over her head. He was arrested shortly after the...

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8. Fleeing from Feminism: The Troubled Legacy of Rape Law Reform

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pp. 249-264

The case studies presented here illuminate the treacherous ground RCCs tread: clearly it is no easy task to manage the often-conflicting goals of advocating for individual victims, maintaining community partnerships, and pushing for systemic change. Rape law reform, especially its legitimation of criminal justice systems as the central focus of the state response to rape, has shifted the ideological, political, and legal grounds from which sexual violence emerged as an issue of public concern. In this last chapter,...


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pp. 265-280


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About the Author

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pp. 320-331

E-ISBN-13: 9780814725214
E-ISBN-10: 0814707939
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814707937
Print-ISBN-10: 0814707939

Page Count: 344
Publication Year: 2013