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Rape, Racism and the Law, Essay Example

Pages: 1

Words: 1183

Essay

The article discussed in the present paper suggests a great discrepancy in the criminal justice system of the USA concerning identification and punishment for rape. The author argues that throughout history the women’s rights have been neglected, which pertains both to white and black women in general; Black men have been considered the most prevalent group of sexual offenders and white men have mostly succeeded to escape punishment by law for rape, both of white and black women. Wriggins states that the concept of rape has been historically perceived as an act of violence committed by Black man and directed at white women. Thus, as it comes from the author’s review and analysis, rape is treated on the basis of a set of commonly known stereotypes and biases, hence affecting the sentence, treatment of the perpetrator and the victim accordingly.

The first stage of rape consideration given by the author is the period of slavery – Wriggins states that rape of Black women both by white and Black males used to be legal, thus leaving the sufferings of a victim aside (Wriggins 118), while rape of white women was treated differently. In case the perpetrator was white, his guilt was neglected due to gender inequality (Wriggins 134), and in case Black men were defendants, they were punished extremely severely on the basis of vague evidence (Wriggins 105, 107). The most popular kinds of punishment for Black men who were accused for raping a white woman were castration, lynching and execution (Wriggins 105, 109). The sentence could not be mild, and local mobs demanded death for Black rapists even in case their guilt was hard to prove, threatening to conduct their own punishment execution, which was often made true by racists and anti-Black activists. It is possible to make a conclusion that harsher sentences for the rape of white women were not the proper response of the legal system in the attempt to protect women, but an additional tool for executing racism against Black males.

Another idea voiced by Wriggins is that the concept of rape is mistakenly perceived in a limited, cross-cultural sense even nowadays, though equality of races and democracy has been long ago established in the USA. Still, guided by statistical evidence, Wriggins proves that even now Black men are more often sentenced to prison for rape than white males, while rape of white women is punished with harsher sentences than the rape of Black women (Wriggins 122).

At the same time, it is essential to consider the evolution of the women’s place in the criminal justice system when the sentence deals with rape. The attempts to make the rape-related laws more race-neutral have only resulted in additional hardships that women face in the attempt to prove the fact of rape (Wriggins 129). The main challenges that women of color used to have while proving the act of violence was that chastity was a race-related issue, with white women (even prostitutes) considered chaste by nature and Black women not possessing chastity initially (Wriggins 126). Together with this, the previous sexual history was taken into consideration for Black women, being neglected in white women’s cases. This made chastity-related conclusions a subject of the overall opinion about the woman’s reputation that was not grounded by facts but only made according to the woman’s racial identity (Wriggins 127).

Proceeding to the evolution of treating rape in the US criminal justice system, Wriggins (134) makes a thoughtful conclusion that despite much fight for gender and racial justice in terms of legal protection women have not achieved more security from rape. Feminism and civil rights movement have surely contributed enormously to the reconsideration of women’s rights and approach to their own responsibility for experiencing rape, but they did not diminish the number of violence acts directed at women. Wriggins (130) assumes that domestic violence and incest are still treated relatively weakly by law, leaving much space for sexual coercion and male dominance beyond the measures of race and gender. Hence, the author calls for the creation of a broader vision of rape as an act of violence that cannot have any gender or race differences both for the victim and the perpetrator.

Feminists nowadays are directing their activities at the improvement of victims’ treatment in the process of criminal proceedings relating to rape, claiming that it will increase the percentage of reported crimes (Wriggins 140). However, their effort is also controversial, failing to meet the main needs of sexual violence victims: by increasing rape convictions and increasing the number of women representing the law enforcement bodies dealing with rape in the USA they will surely get productive results but will not offer more security for potential victims (Wriggins 140). Logically, another approach to treating rape and victimization within the borders of the US criminal justice system is necessary.

An alternative is offered by Lisa Calderon who speaks from multiple viewpoints, being a law enforcement official, a woman of color and a former victim of sexual abuse. She also admits the presence of multiple biases and stereotypes in the process of determining the criminal responsibility for sexual abuse. The author notes that the sphere of criminal justice suffers much from the inability to quantify rape and sexual, which often prevents the victim from being heard. Calderon thus offers a set of innovative, unbiased assumptions that should be taken for granted by all law enforcement officials working with rape. She argues that freeing one’s mind from basic stereotypes will substantially help them analyze the in-depth assumptions of the case and make objective judgment through the proper consideration of both sides of the argument from an equally objective stand. Some of those assumptions include treating the defendant as innocent until his guilt is proven, regarding victim as not responsible for the violence imposed on her; protection of all women should be equal, not depending on race, social status or previous sexual history etc. Following those guidelines, it will be much more possible to clear the system of punishment for rape from prejudice and injustice deeply rooted in human perception of race, gender and class implications.

Questions for Discussion

  1. It is evident that even white women used to have little chances for their rapist to be convicted in case he was white. How did gender issues affect the perception of rape together with racism? What changes are evident nowadays?
  2. The belief that a white woman would never consent to have sex with a Black male was the basis for harsh convictions more than a century ago. In modern times, with the growing popularity of cross-cultural relations, has this stereotype in dealing with rape changed?
  3. In-depth consideration of the concept of rape is needed to achieve justice. What changes in victim treatment is likely to increase the number of reported crimes? Which ones will decrease rape occurrence? Which of the two is more important for the improvement of the rape-related situation in the USA?

Works Cited

Calderon, M. Lisa. “Rape, Racism and Victim Advocacy”. The Black Commentator, Iss. 98. 8 Jul. 2004. 11 April 2010. <http://www.blackcommentator.com/ 98/98_calderon_rape_racism_pf.html>

Wriggins, B. Jennifer. “Rape, racism and the law”. Harvard Women’s Law Journal, Vol. 6, 1983, pp. 103-141.

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