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The concept of rape, both as an abduction and in the sexual sense (not always distinguishable), makes its first historical appearance in early religious texts.

In antiquity and mythology

In Greek mythology, for example, the rape of women, as explained by the rape of Europa, and male rape, found in the myth of Laius and Chrysippus, were mentioned. Different values were ascribed to the two actions. The rape of Europa by Zeus is represented as an abduction followed by consensual lovemaking, similar perhaps to the rape of Ganymede by Zeus, and went unpunished. The rape of Chrysippus by Laius, however, is represented in darker terms, and was known in antiquity as "the crime of Laius", a term which came to be applied to all male rape. It was seen as an example of hubris in the original sense of the word, i.e. violent outrage, and its punishment was so severe that it destroyed not only Laius himself, but also his son, Oedipus.

What type of crime?

In some cultures, rape was seen less as a crime against a particular girl or woman than against the head of the household or against chastity. As a consequence, the rape of a virgin was often a more serious crime than of a non-virgin, even a wife or widow, and the rape of a prostitute or other unchaste woman was, in some laws, not a crime because her chastity could not be harmed. Furthermore, the woman's consent was under many legal systems not a defense. In seventeenth-century France, even marriage without parental consent was classified as rape.[1]

The penalty for rape was often a fine, payable to the father or the husband whose "goods" were "damaged".[2] That position was later replaced in many cultures by the view that the woman, as well as her lord, should share the fine equally.[citation needed]

In some laws the woman might marry the rapist instead of his receiving the legal penalty. This was especially prevalent in laws where the crime of rape did not include, as a necessary part, that it be against the woman's will, thus dividing the crime in the current meaning of rape, and a means for a couple to force their families to permit marriage.

Pagan and Christian conceptions

File:Tizian 092.jpg

Tarquinius Sextus and Lucretia by Titian

In pagan Rome, it was expected that an honorable woman, being raped, would like Lucretia remove the stain on her honor by committing suicide. The failure of Christian women, having been raped in the sack of Rome, to kill themselves was commented on by pagans with shock and horror; St. Augustine dedicated an entire book of The City of God to defending these women's honor and chastity and virginity. Early Christianity also maintained, as paganism did not, that slave women were entitled to chastity, and that therefore a slave woman could be raped, and honored as martyrs slave women who resisted their masters.

In Roman law, the crime of rape was not defined by the lack of consent of the woman, but by her removal from her family; the change was described by William Blackstone in his Commentaries on the Laws of England:

The civil law [of Rome] punishes the crime of ravishment with death and confiscation of goods: under which it includes both the offence of forcible abduction, or taking away a woman from her friends, of which we last spoke; and also the present offence of forcibly dishonoring them; either of which, without the other, is in that law, sufficient to constitute a capital crime. Also the stealing away a woman from her parents or guardians, and debauching her, is equally penal by the emperor's edict, whether she consent or is forced: “sive volentibus, sive nolentibus mulieribus, tale facinus fuerit perpetratum.” And this, in order to take away from women every opportunity of offending in this way; whom the Roman laws suppose never to go astray, without the seduction and arts of the other sex: and therefore, by restraining and making so highly penal the solicitations of the men, they meant to secure effectually the honor of the women...

But our English law does not entertain quite such sublime ideas of the honor of either sex, as to lay the blame of a mutual fault upon one of the transgressors only: and therefore makes it a necessary ingredient in the crime of rape, that it must be against the woman's will.

Islamic conception

In Islamic criminal jurisprudence, the overwhelming majority of Muslim scholars believe that there is no punishment for a woman forced to have sex.[3] According to a Sunni hadith, the punishment for committing rape is death, there is no sin on the victim, nor is there any worldly punishment ascribed to her.[4] Most scholars treat rape as hiraba (disorder in the land).[5]

In Islamic military jurisprudence, classical jurists laid down severe penalties for rebels who use "stealth attacks" and "spread terror". In this category, Muslim jurists included abductions, poisoning of water wells, arson, attacks against wayfarers and travellers, assaults under the cover of night, and rape. The punishment for such crimes were severe, including death, regardless of the political convictions and religion of the perpetrator.[6]

War rape

Rape, in the course of warfare, also dates back to antiquity, ancient enough to have been mentioned in the Bible. The Greek, Persian and Roman troops would routinely rape women and young girls in the conquered towns. Rape, as an adjunct to warfare, was prohibited by the military codices of Richard II and Henry V (1385 and 1419 respectively). These laws formed the basis for convicting and executing rapists during the Hundred Years' War (13371453).

Napoleon Bonaparte also found rape committed by soldiers particularly distasteful. During his Egyptian Expedition, he declared that “everywhere, the rapist is a monster” and ordered that “anyone guilty of rape would be shot.”[7]

Bride capture

Bride capture may feature rape, but this is not necessarily so. The practice of bride capture has become elaborate and ritualised in some cultures, with suggested links to the origin of the honeymoon. Bride capture is common in the cultures of Central Asia, and is also found in Southern Europe and is additionally practised traditionally by the Hmong.

Modern re-evaluation

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. 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 ([4]), opened in 1972. It was created to promote sensitivity and understanding of rape and its effects on the victim.

Marital rape first became a crime in the United States in the state of South Dakota in 1975. In 1993, North Carolina became the last state to outlaw marital rape. [8] The marital rape exemption was abolished in England and Wales in 1991 by the House of Lords, in its judicial capacity, in the case of R v R [1992] 1 AC 599 (more details).

In the 1980s, date or acquaintance rape first gained acknowledgment. An important part of the history of rape is the foundation of RAINN, which runs the national sexual assault hotline and is the leading organizer of rape crisis awareness as well as a research resource for the media. This is a national organization rather than regional and is regarded as an authority for statistics and other research. Rape crisis centers were created to serve survivors of all forms of sexual violence during any phase of their healing process. Rape crisis centers and other community based service providers continue to grow and serve their communities by providing direct services and prevention programming.

On September 2, 1998 the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda delivered a precedent-setting verdict that made sexual violence a war crime.[9] This was followed in November 1998 by the decision of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia that acts of rape may constitute torture under international humanitarian law.[10]

Current topics being debated are the marginalized victims of rape — domestic violence and rape victims, marital rape victims, male rape victims of both male and female rapists, female-female rape victims, parental-rape incest victims, and child sexual abuse victims. Other emerging issues are the concept of victim blame and its causes, male rape survivors, male-male rape, female sexual aggression, new theories of rape and gender, date rape drugs and their effects as well as the psychological effects of rape trauma syndrome.

England and Wales

See Rape in English law#History

See also


  1. Catherine Orenstein, Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked p 36 ISBN
  2. Sedney, M., "rape (crime)." Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. Scholastic Library Publishing, 2006 <>
  3. According to Ibn Qudamah, "This is the view of Omar, al-Zuhri, Qatadah, al-Thawri, al-Shafi'i, and others and we do not know anyone who has departed from this view." (Although this seems to indicate unanimity, Ibn Qudamah himself uses the language "overwhelming majority.") Muwaffaq al-Din Ibn Qudamah, al-Mughni (Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-'Arabi n.d), Vol. 10, p. 159, quoted in
  4. Sunan Abu Dawud Template:Hadith-usc.
  5. See, e.g., and Asifa Quraishi. "Her Honor: An Islamic Critique of the Rape Laws of Pakistan from a Woman-Sensitive Perspective," in Windows of Faith: Muslim Women Scholar-Activists in North America, Gisela Webb (Ed.), Syracuse University Press (June 2000). Mentioned in verses Template:Quran-usc-range
  6. Abou El Fadl, Khaled. [Commentary: Terrorism Is at Odds With Islamic Tradition]. Muslim Lawyers
  7. Napoleon Bonaparte, “Address to the Army of Egypt,” Napoleon: Symbol for an Age, A Brief History with Documents, ed. Rafe Blaufarb (New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008), 44; J. David Markham, Napoleon for Dummies: A Guide for the Rest of Us!, (Hoboken: Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2005), 106.
  8. [1]
  9. Fourth Annual Report of ICTR to the General Assembly (1999), accessed at [2] March 23, 2007
  10. Sixth Annual Report of ICTY to the General Assembly (1999) accessed at [3] March 23, 2007

Further reading

  • Dejanikus, T. (1981). Rape Crisis Centers: Ten Years After. Off Our Backs, Washington: 14 (8) p. 17.
  • Pride, A. (1981) To respectability and back: A ten year view of the anti-rape movement. Fight Back! (pp. 114–118).
  • Howard, Angela & Kavenik Francis. (2000). Handbook of American Women's History. CA: Sage Publications Inc.
  • Largen, M. (1981). "Grassroots Centers and National Task Forces: A History of the Anti-Rape Movement," Aegis: A Magazine on Ending Violence Against Women, Autumn.
  • Pierce, Karen F.; Deacy, Susan; Arafat, K. W. (2002). Rape in antiquity. London: The Classical Press of Wales in association with Duckworth. ISBN 0-7156-3147-0.

External links



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