Feminist Legal Studies 8 (3):343-366 (2000)

Historically, numbers of women complainants in rape trials have been regarded suspiciously, or prejudiced in that their credibility has been seriously called into question, or undermined, both from within and outside the courtroom. Arguably, public and legal perceptions as to the expected conduct and behaviour of the stereotypical rape victim have been grounded in the belief that genuine women who allege rape should act and portray themselves as unequivocal victims. This suggests that the contemporary construct of the female rape victim and her associated stereotypical image should be considered not solely as a legal derivative but also within a wider cultural context. This article explores the historical influences that shaped the cultural construct operating in the U.K., in particular, the societal and legal attitudes of the mid-Victorians towards women and sexual violence, creating an historical mystification around the construct of the female rape victim and the crime of rape itself. Reference is made to a number of cases reported in The Times newspaper between 1850–1885 which underline the requisite portrayal of the rape complainant as an unequivocal victim. It is argued that the relocation of this historical and socially constructed mythological imaginary within the context of the law and the trial process has disproportionately contributed to the modern scepticism which surrounds the female complainant.
Keywords cultural construct  female complainant  historical approaches to rape  rape  rape myths  rape victim  trial process
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DOI 10.1023/A:1009270302602
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