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hile most American agree that rape is horrible, they do not agree on what rape is. While there are numerous legal definitions, covering all aspects and dimensions of rape, they do not truly reflect how rape is seen by the average American. Americans disagree on just what does and does not constitute rape, and there is great controversy surround the subject. Rape, in the minds of Americans, is not a black and white issue[TJL31], but actually is made up of [TJL32]many shades of gray.

The definition of rape has changed as the years have gone by, growing to encompass the changing ideas and beliefs of society. Rape is a state crime, and therefore there are no federal laws relating to rape. However, on the whole, most states have very similar definitions. In terms of rape, the definitions usually come in different parts, covering different aspects of rape. There are the codes against statutory rape, sodomy, and rape. For an example of how rape laws appear, the rape codes of Virginia will be used. To view this law, please find it in Appendix I.

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These are only the official definitions, how the laws appear on the books. How these laws are enforced by law officials depends upon different factors. Police and prosecutors, as well as others in the criminal justice system, will make their own decisions on whether or not something is rape, regardless of how the laws appear. Situational and contextual aspects of the crime all too [TJL33]often interfere when decisions of arrests, trials, etc. of rapists are being made. Often, cases of rape that fit the legal definition will go unprosecuted because those in charge of the case feel that the events are too “gray” for a conviction.

Men On Rape by Timothy Beneke was very helpful in understanding how rape is perceived and the affects of different perceptions of rape. Though his interviews with men from different sectors and classes of society, Beneke is able to explore what forms males’ opinions of rape and what they think of different rape laws. Particularly helpful were in [TJL34]Beneke’s interviews with prosecutors and police officers. Through these interviews, it is revealed how these law officials, in the 1980’s, viewed rape laws and how they enforced those laws. These officials, while feeling great sympathy for female victims, stated that they will not make an arrest or bring to trial ambiguous rapes. These rapes included many date rapes, in which there is no collaboration or evidence of attack. The general consensus is that it is too easy for a woman to cry rape. Because of this, all reported rapes must be taken gingerly, and with a grain of salt.

In Beneke’s research, it is also revealed that, in terms of rape, men are confused. Many know that it is wrong, but will make excuses for it along the lines of, “she was asking for it.” Many felt that they were capable of rape. In addition to this, law officials would often use their own ideas of what rape was to decide when and how to proceed in rape cases. One prosecutor even dismissed the notion of marital rape entirely, wondering “where’s the horror? Where’s the shame? (Beneke, 112).”[TJL35] The same DA wishes that the marital rape laws had never been passed. However, he (like many other interviewees) said that, should any female in his family or acquaintance be raped, he would take severe action. These ideas on rape show how “gray” the subject is- there is no consensus, even within the individual mind.

The confusion extends beyond just men, however. And it extends throughout history. In Sex Without Consent: Rape and Sexual Coercion in America , edited by Merril Smith, a compilation of essays shows the evolution of how rape is perceived. Looking through America’s history, this book shows that rape has always been a complicated crime. No one has ever known exactly what is and is not rape, and the ideas are always changing. It also shows that “blame the victim” is not a new phenomenon. This books also deals with the idea that some rapes are given more importance. Rapes of white women by black men are considered to be much worse than any other rape. Black women raped by black men tend to be of little importance, even within the black community. Through the evolutionary look at rape, one is able to see how far the United States has come in terms of what it calls rape. However, it also shows how much further there is to still go.

Extenuating circumstances can and do have a profound influence. Though society as a whole has moved away from blaming the victim in regards to how she is dressed or where she was and at what time, there are times when society seems to feel that the victim was at some fault. Ideas about what constitutes date rape fall into this category. People are just not clear in their own minds to when rape is possible. These areas make rape and its prosecution very complicated.

Date rape can be studied best within college communities because of both the nature of college campuses and the nature of date rape. A time of frequent dating and going out, college campuses are situations which can easily lead to date rape. However, many students and administrators are not clear to just what is date rape. Is it rape when the girl invites the guy into her dorm room? How can rape occur in crowded residents halls where a scream will bring help running. Because of questions like these, date rape is difficult to prosecute and prove.

Jodi Gold and Susan Villari look at how schools and students view and address rape and sexual assault in their book Just Sex: Students rewrite the Rules on Sex, Violence, Activism, and Equality. Through a series of essays, universities come under the microscope in how they deal with rape on campus. Some, such as Antioch in Ohio, were shown favorably for their institution of consent rules and openness to change. However, a majority of schools were found to be wanting in terms of how they deal or dealt with problems Schools such as the College of William and Mary and Brown University were found to not be responsive to the needs of their students. Schools are never sure what the correct form of action should be, or whose rights they should be protecting. In most of the cases, the school chose to protect the male student over the female victim. This book showed just how gray the area of sexual assault and rape can be. No one knows who to believe or if what was described was really rape.

Marital rape, or rape within the marriage, is also a complicating aspect to rape. Though all states, as of July 5, 1993, now call marital rape a crime, the prosecution of such acts is different from other acts of rape. Thirty-three states still have prosecution exemptions for rapists who rape within the marriage. Some feel that these exemptions demonstrate that martial rape is not treated as seriously as other forms of rape, though marital rape does account for 25% of all rapes. (

In Wife Rape: Understanding the Response of Survivors and Service Providers by Raquel Bergen, the author researches spousal rape. She finds that most women who are marital raped are also beaten by their husbands. However, her research is biased as she uses data gathered at centers for abused women. Still, her recordings of interviews of rape victims is very helpful in showing the mentality of marital rape victims. She is able to show that most of these women suffer from severe psychological abuse, and often blame themselves for the rape and abuse. These women are not really capable of calling what happened to them rape, so how can society?

A further problem with rape is that it is one of the most underreported crimes. Some of this underreporting has to do with the fact that police and prosecutors, as discussed earlier, do not move forward with reported cases. However, there is a problem with rape statistics and the manner in which they are gathered. There are two main sources of crime data: the UCR (U[TJL36]niform Crime Reports) published by the FBI, and the NCVS (National Crime and Victimization Survey). There have also been independent studies done, trying to get accurate rape statistics. However, all of these methods are plagued with problems which cause the numbers to be off.

UCRs are made up of data compiled by the FBI from statistics sent in from police departments all over the country. The problems with the UCR data is that it [TJL37]only includes rapes that are reported and where reports are actually filed. It is fairly typical for police to talk victims out of making reports, especially when the rape occurs between married couples or couples that are in some sort of relationship. Such occurrences [TJL38]make the UCR statistics on rape low.

NCVS statistics are also typically lower than the actual number of rapes that occur. This statistical model involves interviewing households on all crime that was committed against them in a certain time period. This survey includes incidents of criminal victimization [TJL39]that is not reported to the police. However, the method of data collection, which is of interviewing the family together, keeps the numbers low. Some crimes, when brought up, will still not be discussed because the victim feels embarrassed or ashamed. Also, if the perpetrator [TJL40]of the crime is present, such as in cases of marital rape, the likelihood of the victim reporting the crime to the interviewer [TJL41]is slight. Also, if a member of the family is not around at the time of the interview, it is up to the other family members to report crimes committed against the absent family member. Often times, families will be unaware of sexual assault, etc, so they cannot report it.

Independent research is often just as flawed, usually because of the questions asked. The questions will be biased or unclear, causing those being surveyed to answer affirmatively when they do not mean to do so. One such study, conducted by Koss, used questions in this manner. Her findings, based on these [TJL42]flawed research questions, showed that one out of four women will be raped. However, this is because she asked misleading questions in regards to drinking and having sex. Many of the women who answered yes to this question were counted as being raped though the “victims” themselves did not believe they had ever been raped. (Sommers, ).

While rape statistics are difficult to obtain, it is even more difficult to obtain statistics on date and marital rape. Because both are so underreported, and even less likely to be talked about than stranger rape, the numbers of such rapes is also far lower than it should be. In terms of marital rape, most rapes are not reported unless there are extenuating circumstances. Oftentimes[TJL43], these circumstances come in the form of escaping abusive relationships and staying at shelters. Because of this, the correlation between women who are raped by their husbands and women who are abused by their husbands is quite high (Bergen). However, this correlation could be illusory, because of the nature of how the statistics are collected.

When dealing with date and marital rape, statistics are also low. Those suffering from these forms of rape have the same problems as women who are stranger raped. However, unlike with stranger rape, women who are raped by an acquaintance or spouse are blamed for what happened. Cultural norms protect males in these instances. These rapes are usually the areas that are the most “gray.” People are not sure what does and does [TJL44]not constitute rape in these situations. Is it rape if the woman says “no” over and over, but finally gives in? What if they have had sex before? What if they have children together? What if, in the course of making out, the woman changes her mind? If [TJL45]heavy petting is involved, is it still permissible to say “no?” These questions, and more, make this area of rape more confusing and ambiguous than any other offense.

Research Proposal: For my honors thesis, I propose to use focus groups, interviews, and content analysis to discover the prevalence of rape scenes in romance novels and the effect [TJL46]that romance novels have on rape perceptions. Content Analysis: Using the form at the end of this paper, I will [TJL47]read the best-selling romances for August 2000, 2001, and 2002. I will read the best-sellers from these time periods as it is a high travel month in terms of vacation, so people would have bought books for “fun reading” during this time. The books I would use would be single-title romances, as those were read by 37% of all romance readers in 2002, while only 18% of romance readers read only series romance. Therefore, by using these titles in August, one can get an idea of what is popular in terms of romances, and what is typical for the romances.

In terms of the romance books themselves, I will analyze their scenes of sexual intercourse in terms of what they say about sex. I will be looking at when the book takes place (what time period), what the relationship is between the victim and the perpetrator, whether the sexual encounter would be rape and, if so, the circumstances surrounding the rape. It is also important to examine what the outcome of the rape is. Do the victim and rapist end up in love? What is the level of resistance?

Once the content analysis has been gathered, it will be complied into sub-genres, to better understand when (in what time periods, situations, attackers) rape is permissible within romance novels This compilation will demonstrate what romance novels are saying about rape and sex. And, by understanding the message that the romance novels contain, it will be easier to identify the effect romance novels have on their readers.

If romance readers parrot the idea of “rape leading to love” that appear in romance novels, while non-romance readers do not exposit this idea, it will show that romance novels are influencing the opinions of their readers. By understanding that there is such an influence, and the nature of that influence, it will become easier to circumvent those attitudes. Surveys/Focus Groups: A series of focus groups and surveys will be conducted, so as to understand several aspects of romance novels and their affects on rape.

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