Rape crisis movement

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The Rape Crisis Movement began in the 1970s when activists and members of counter-culture began to openly confront or breaking the silence on the issue of rape.[1] Movement members and supporters brought the issue to the public commons by vocalizing the suffering that occurs a result of rape. At the time the movement was considered radical because it destabilized the existing social norms. The movement was concerned with the experiences of women and is credited with the legitimization of victim claims. Prior to the movement, rape victims involved in legal trials were subjected to further victimization at the hands of defense attorneys and the court system. Victims rights and protection became a focus as a result of the movement.


Before the 1970s rape was used to control and undermine women. During the time of slavery, African American enslaved women were legally allowed to be raped by white men. Even after slavery ended, sexual violence was a tactic used to keep the African American population from gaining civil rights or political power.

Once the Civil War ended and slaves were freed with the right to vote and own land society began to be particularly violent. Mobs burned churches, raped Black women, and much more. Following this in 1866, the Ku Klux Klan raped, lynched, and oppressed the Black communities.

During the Memphis Riot of 1866, a group of African American women testified in front of Congress, ultimately breaking the silence regarding rape.


In the early 1970s the Rape Crisis Movement was conceptualized and promoted by women focused on the experiences of rape victims. Leftist activists and members of counter-culture were among the first to join the movement. Early goals of the movement included disrupting and changing social norms that promoted the oppression of women and violence against them and the creation of a support network that engendered fear and blame free environments where women were safe to join a process of self and mutual aid.

In 1974 the Federal Government granted funding to Pittsburg Action Against Rape. this was the first time the Federal Government provided financial aid to a rape center. By the late 1970s the United States had over 1,000 rape crises centers in operation. During the same period of time the ideology of the movement shifted. Prior to 1974 most member movements self identified as radical feminist. By the end of the 1970s most members and crisis support staff self identified as liberal reformists. The movement began to become increasingly professionalized in the early 1980s, focusing on organizational structure, staffing, funding and legislation.[3]


Changes: Many states reformed their laws to redefine the consequences of rape convictions. The new penalty would be a gradation of offenses compared to when it used to be a single offense. More importantly, certain laws or requirements were repealed which allowed for women to have more authority in their trials. The first element to be repealed was the requirement that the victim's testimony had to be corroborated by a witness. It was also repealed that the victim had to have physically resisted the attacker. This aspect particularly protected women with disabilities since they may not have the complete ability to ward off an assailant.

Rape Shield Laws: The enactment of rape shield laws also helped to provide further protection for rape victims during trial. These laws were created to restrict the past sexual history of the victim from being used against them during the trial. Formerly, some defendants’ cases revolved around discrediting the victim's claims by claiming that she was promiscuous so it was likely to be consensual. [4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Matthews, Nancy (1994). Confronting Rape: The Feminist Anti-Rape Movement and the State. London and New York: Routledge. ISBN 0 415 11401 2.
  2. ^ "History of the Rape Crisis Movement". California Coalition Against Sexual Assault. 2 November 2009.
  3. ^ Collins, Barbara; Whalen, Mary (Jan 1989). "The Rape Crisis Movement: Radical or Reformist?". Social Work. 34 (1): 61.
  4. ^ Frohmann, Lisa, and Elizabeth Mertz. "Legal Reform and Social Construction: Violence, Gender, and the Law." Law & Social Inquiry 19.4 (1994): 829-851.