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Rape - why is it a crime?

(20 Posts)
cailindana Fri 30-Jan-15 16:25:28

Forgive me for starting another thread on rape, but this is tangential to the current one.

I've heard a few times the idea that rape used to be a crime of property - ie rape was crime against the man who "owned" the woman, rather than against the woman herself.
I never really delved into that idea before, until today.

Why would a misogynistic society that gives women few or no rights even care about rape? Why would it even be a crime? Well it wouldn't be, of course, except when it impinges on real people, ie men. Thus we had a situation where rape was a crime of property, ie by raping a woman you were "stealing" her from another man and so had defaced his property. Hence, the situation where a man couldn't rape his own wife - you can't steal your own property.

So far, so awful.

Things have changed, but has the underlying attitude got any better? Is the idea of property still underlying society's perceptions of rape? Is that why society, and men in particular, seem to struggle so much with the idea that women are autonomous beings who should have the right to stop sex at any time any place anywhere for any reason?

adarkwhisperinthewoodwasheard Fri 30-Jan-15 16:30:42

I don't think so. Rape is classed now as violent crime and the fact that more men are reporting being victims supports the wider view of society that it is always considered as such

OFrabjousDay Fri 30-Jan-15 16:31:03

The idea of woman as property of man is still very prevalent - eg. woman is chatted up/catcalled/harassed etc. but then the harasser realises she is with a man and he apologises to the man.

adarkwhisperinthewoodwasheard Fri 30-Jan-15 16:32:42

Though I'm not suggesting that male victimhood is the only reason it is more commonly regarded as a serious crime, just that there is more widespread recognition of the offence.

tryingtofindausername Fri 30-Jan-15 16:32:49

Firstly I would have to challenge the basis of your question. Have you any evidence that rape used to be a crime of property, here in the UK, ? I don't think that's true. The victim has always been seen as the woman, not a man connected to her. Men not being able to rape wives was a matter of presumed consent, not quite ownership, and it's not relevant to most rapes any way.

tryingtofindausername Fri 30-Jan-15 16:35:34

I agree there's always been an attitude about women being property of men (and some legal issues around that) but I don't think rape has really widely been seen as damaging a man's property, instead of a crime with a female victim.

Rape used to be a capital offence as well, so I think it was always seen as a serious matter. Provable, ah, that's something else entirely.

MephistophelesApprentice Fri 30-Jan-15 16:40:16

Because a woman's body is still property, it's just that ownership now rests where it always should have done; With her.

We all own ourselves now (theoretically).

BuffytheReasonableFeminist Fri 30-Jan-15 16:41:36

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

bigkidsdidit Fri 30-Jan-15 16:45:18

This is interesting because when people say 'she was wearing z short skirt therefore she was asking for it' the analogy they ALWAYS give is 'I wouldn't leave my laptop in the front seat of my car and not expect it to be stolen'. They never compare rape to other crimes of violence, always other crimes of property.

BuffytheReasonableFeminist Fri 30-Jan-15 16:52:16

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

cailindana Fri 30-Jan-15 17:20:42

Another link:

Another thing to add here is that in many countries, up until the 17th/18th century rape could only be carried out on an "honest virgin," somebody else's wife, or a widow. Forced sex with any other woman was not rape, as in women had no right to expect bodily autonomy unless they had value to men as a prize (ie a virgin), were owned by a man as his wife (in which case he could rape her, but no one else could) or had once been owned and had lost her owner (widow).

SardineQueen Fri 30-Jan-15 18:36:37

I would say that in our society the crime of rape is most definitely recognised where the victim is "innocent".

So generally when heterosexual males are raped by men, or females who are pre-pubescent or elderly are raped, then society will recognise this as a violation and a crime.

Women who are in their child-bearing years are not seen as "innocent". For the crime of rape against them to be recognised it needs additional features - extreme violence or murder, a gang-rape situation, the woman has features that counteract it eg she is a virgin nun and so on. A lot of these tie in with the ideas in previous centuries that have been mentioned. A "good wife" or a virgin is a victim of rape. A prostitute or woman who goes out and associates with men - well what does she expect.

Generally I would say that society at the moment has little desire to criminalise the crime of rape against women in their child-bearing years where there are no additional factors. It's seen as just a standard normal thing that you can't really do anything about and actually why would you even want to.

I don't think things have changed much really in some respects. The laws are better and the theory is better but the attitudes haven't moved on much at all really.

Blistory Fri 30-Jan-15 19:11:34

Rape stopped being a capital crime only because juries were apparently reluctant to find men guilty if they could receive a death sentence for it.

Interestingly consent has been an issue for some time. A man who took advantage of an incapacitated woman was considered more harshly but not because society was sympathetic to the woman but because it was caddish behaviour to take advantage of a weak or feeble minded woman.

Rape was considered a vile crime because it ruined a woman - not for the physical or mental effects on her - but because it ruined her for marriage where ironically her husband would be free to get on and rape her as much as he wanted.

HouseWhereNobodyLives Fri 30-Jan-15 19:46:43

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Blistory Fri 30-Jan-15 20:32:25

I don't think it has ever been a property crime in the UK. It's a crime simply because it's classed as violent. If violence wasn't involved then it wasn't considered a crime historically.

I think it was arose as a crime primarily because women are seen as weaker and the use of substantial physical force against them has always been seen as wrong. In order for it to be rape, the physical force was required to be substantial - a woman was expected to suffer real physical harm and if she didn't it wasn't rape. I think this view still persists in society even if the legal thinking has moved on somewhat.

I think that there may have been an element of social thinking that a rape of a woman was an insult to her father, husband as she belonged to them etc but I don't think that was ever the legal position. As I understand it, marital rape wasn't acceptable not because the women became her husband's property but because she had given irrevocable consent with her marriage vows.

HouseWhereNobodyLives Fri 30-Jan-15 20:55:18

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Blistory Fri 30-Jan-15 21:32:06

The above links to a thesis :

King. Rebecca Frances, (1998) Rape in England 1600-1800: trials, narratives and the question of consent,Durham theses, Durham University

Chapter 1 sets out her research into the history of how rape has been regarded in a legal sense. There appears to be a period where it's a crime of property but suggests that this had disappeared by the 9th century and it was recognised as a crime against the woman in her own right.

HouseWhereNobodyLives Fri 30-Jan-15 21:51:14

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

PuffinsAreFictitious Fri 30-Jan-15 22:42:30

Rape was a popular way of "marrying" a woman at several points in history, because once a woman was spoiled, she couldn't be given in marriage to anyone else, so it was either, marry your rapist or take the veil. Man rapes woman, woman is punished for the rest of her life.

cailindana Sat 31-Jan-15 08:19:43

If you were unlucky enough to be raped in Ireland and to get pregnant, you had exciting option number 3, which was to be incarcerated in a Magdalene laundry (at the say so of your father or brother, naturally), where your baby was taken and sold and you got to spend years and sometimes the rest of your life being a slave.

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