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date: 16 May 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This essay reviews historical studies on sexual assault. Ancient concepts of rape involved the theft of women’s chastity, which was the property of their male relatives. Early modern authorities equated rape with adultery and punished victims for sexual immorality. The modern focus on consent makes the relative status of victims and assailants crucial to the outcome. Social assumptions about gender roles and sexuality often meant that unless victims suffered severe physical injuries, the crime was perceived as seduction. Victims were often required to establish that they were innocent and helpless. Few “respectable” white men were convicted of sexual assault, and race could render nonwhite victims inconsequential or make nonwhite perpetrators much more likely to be convicted and executed. Rape has also been used as a weapon of revenge or ethnic genocide, and the power of rape as a metaphor for brutal conquest has undermined comprehension of the reality of the crime.

Keywords: rape, sexual assault, consent, gender, violence

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