Title: Rape III National Developments in Rape Reform Legislation
Author: Leigh Bienen
Publisher: Women’s Rights Law Reporter
Issue: Volume 6, No. 3, pp. 170-213
Description: This Article analyzes legislative changes in the area of rape reform since 1976. Sections II and III outline national trends and discuss reform objectives. Sections IV through VII discuss the trends in specific areas of reform: the consent defense, the spousal exception, changes in the statutory age, and the rape reform evidence statutes. Section VIII traces the experience of reform in New Jersey. Section IX summarizes the implications of rape reform legislation.
As of 1980, every state has considered, and most states have passed, some form of rape reform legislation. The reform legislation has usually been lobbied through state legislatures by a coalition of feminists and law-and-order groups.’ The articulated purposes of the new laws are to increase the number of rape convictions and to ensure that the interests of victims are respected in the criminal justice process. The passage of new laws, the reform process, and the socialization efforts directed at professionals, educators, and police have generated an enormous amount of literature. This literature, combined with popular discussion, has increased pressure for further reform. Rape reform legislation, nevertheless, is still controversial. The vast majority of state legislators are male; and the legislative committees where the drafting and amending processes occur are often, if not always, controlled by older, more conservative men.
Passage of rape reform legislation has involved considerable grass roots lobbying in the state legislatures, with national coordination provided by the National Organization for Women (NOW) National Task Force on Rape. Local women have become familiar with the voting records of their local legislators. The lobbying effort has been similar to lobbying efforts conducted by other special interest groups. Feminists have sought support from traditional political organizations, such as the League of Women Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union. The expertise and political sophistication of such groups were probably critical to success in several states. In every state which has passed some form of rape reform legislation, the particular compromise between legislators and lobbyists reflected the balance between the political pressures exerted by reformers and the legislature’s perception of the need for reform. In some states, reform efforts were demonstrably more successful than in others.’
This Article analyzes legislative changes in the area of rape reform since 1976. Sections II and III outline national trends and discuss reform objectives. Sections IV through VII discuss the trends in specific areas of reform: the consent defense, the spousal exception, changes in the statutory age, and the rape reform evidence statutes. Section VIII traces the experience of re- form in New Jersey. Section IX summarizes the implications of rape reform legislation.
II. NATIONAL TRENDS IN RAPE REFORM LEGISLATION
During the 1976, 1977, 1978, and 1979 legislative sessions, an enormous amount of legislation affecting rape was passed at the state level. During this period, thirty-two states amended their rape statutes or their laws governing sex offenses.’ Some of these states passed only technical amendments or made minor changes. Many states passed legislation entirely rewriting their laws governing rape.’ Despite the variety of new statutes, however, certain national trends are discernible…