U.S. Rape Reform Laws, 1970s

U.S. Rape Reform Laws, 1970s Discussion August 1996



Query From Janet Gornick jagb%cunyvm@uicvm.cc.uic.edu 06 Aug 1996


I'm looking for information on the passage of rape reform laws during the 1970s. It is reported that all fifty US states reformed their rape laws between 1974 and approximately 1980--mostly eliminating corroboration requirements, altering evidentiary rules, and "staircasing" offenses in order to increase conviction rates. Does anyone know of an information source with details on this period of reform? I'm particularly interested in a comprehensive list of statutory reforms, with the dates. Thank you very much.



>From Eve Trook-White etwhite@sul-ross-1.sulross.edu 07 Aug 1996

Depending on your research target, I would suggest - as lawyer and ex-professor of criminal justice - that annotated legal codes from each state (available via Lexis or Westlaw and assorted Internet niches plus hard copy via public law libraries) would be the most fundamental information available. Please feel free to contact me at above address if you are not yet familiar with the above mentioned resources and could use more detail. Sincerely.

>From Dana Bennett dbennett@lcb.state.nv.us 07 Aug 1996

One of the very best resources for information about state legislation is the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver, Colorado. Tel: 303/830-2200. Web site: www.ncsl.org

Although the NCSL staff specializes in the current activities in all of the state and territorial legislatures, they're pretty good with major legislative issues from the recent past.

>From Andrea Pappas pappas@scf.usc.edu 08 Aug 1996

A law librarian is probably what you need to find this info. However, a quick and dirty guide to some of the high points can probably be assembled by checking the back run of MS magazine from this period: I remember there used to be regular coverage of this issue at the time...

Editor's Note: Add to the list of readings:

Johnson, Allan Griswold "On the Prevalence of Rape in the United States", Signs 6(1980): 136:46 KL


>From Karen K. Avery, Esq smnd@grove.iup.edu 09 August 1996

I missed the original query here but, as an attorney, a feminist, a public defender and a legal researcher, I am confident I can lead you in the right direction. Legal research is a discipline all by itself and, once one understands how it's done, an extremely valuable one. For historians, research of the law provides such a wealth of information concerning the development of culture on local, state, regional and federal levels. It also informs us about class differences as we look at the reasoning of legislators, prosecutors, judges and individuals at each of those levels.

Rape laws are particularly interesting since we find not only legislative changes but we find out whether the laws were changed due to lawmaker's response to public outcry or due to judges --ie. whether the changes in the law were proactive or reactive. Also, we learn much about the mind-set of particular states--do the courts enforce the law and, if so, how forcefully do they do it? Do the legislators just give a nod in the direction of reform or do they have the guts to stand up for women?

For instance, In Pennsylvania, we retain the old common law definition of rape ( a husband cannot be found guilty of rape when the victim is his wife). Pennsylvania added a new law named Spousal Sexual Assault which is a LOWER CLASS OFFENSE than is rape of a stranger! And, as in every statute I've seen, both are a lower offense than is, for example, Theft of over $500.00.

For anyone interested in learning about legal research please contact me either at the above address or at (412)543-1787, or at Karen K. Avery, Esq 166 South McKean Street, Kittanning,PA 16201. I have the Pennsylvania law (both statutory and case law) on CD-ROM and would be thrilled to help in any way I can.