The issue of sexual history evidence exposes a strange dissonance at the heart of rape law. On the one hand, the principle of sexual autonomy, which provides the normative grounding for rape law, recognises and purports to protect the right of any person to choose when, where, and with whom they have sexual relations. It thus entails a conception of consensual sex which is time, place, and person specific. On the other hand, the defendant’s right to a fair trial, a right which is both amorphous in substance and scope, and weighty in terms of normative significance, is believed to support the right of a rape defendant to bring to the court’s attention evidence that a complainant has engaged in consensual sex at other times, places, and even with people other than the defendant. How can this be? How can such two apparently incompatible positions co-exist within the same justice imaginary? Must one inevitably cede to the other or is it possible to envisage an ideal of criminal justice capacious enough to encompass both? (more…)
In the first half of this academic year, a lot of interest was generated by discussion of newly-discovered documentary evidence relating to the life of medieval English poet and author, Geoffrey Chaucer. This was explored in a special edition of a literary journal, The Chaucer Review. Something new about Chaucer was of great interest to scholars of medieval literature, of course, but the subject-matter of the new evidence also drew in a wider audience, since it dealt with an episode in Chaucer’s life which was not primarily connected to his writing: an apparent accusation of rape. As somebody who has taken an interest in the issue of rape and sexual misconduct in medieval common law, I was keen to see the new evidence, and to think through its implications for Legal History, as well as the possible contributions which a legal historian could make to scholarship here. This post sets out some preliminary thoughts. (more…)
In this seminar I argue for the need to think resistance to rape as part of a much broader feminist decolonial revolutionary praxis. I approach feminist anti-rape praxis in view of the consistent failure of criminal justice but also with an eye on the political present, which is characterised by profound inequality, state violence and repression, and the outright breakdown of many aspects of the social contract. To fully comprehend what the harm of sexual violence means and why it happens, we need to insist on a critical continuity between the diagnostic aspect of feminist philosophical scholarship on rape and a theoretically robust strategy for resistance.
The last few weeks have seen the revelation that Harvey Weinstein, renowned Hollywood producer of such award-winning films as Gangs of New York, Pulp Fiction, and Shakespeare in Love, moonlighted as a prolific sexual predator. A significant number of women have now made public complaints of sexual harassment and assault against Weinstein, including well-known Hollywood stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Rose McGowan, and Angelina Jolie. Weinstein is also reportedly facing allegations of rape. His wife, Georgina Chapman, announced she was leaving him, the company he co-founded fired him, and police on both sides of the Atlantic have opened investigations into him.
The media discourse that greeted the revelations has been characterised by astonishment at the scale of the alleged offending, and the failure of those making allegations to have come forward sooner. In fact, there is often evidence of a long line of complaints against men who are finally revealed in mainstream media to be chronic sexual predators. In Weinstein’s case there is evidence of three decades of prior complaints by women, at least two of which were reported to police. The public disclosure of these allegations was repeatedly thwarted by the use of non-disclosure agreements, the alleged ‘killing’ of news stories on the topic, and the habitual capacity of those who knew about it to ignore it. In the case of Jimmy Savile in the UK, believed to have preyed unimpeded for 60 years on around 500 vulnerable victims as young as two years old, a 2013 HMIC report found at least seven complaints against Savile in police records since 1964. (more…)
In 1292, Herefordshire, close to the Welsh border, received a visit from the royal justices, touring England with a view to hearing legal disputes, investigating crimes and making a tidy profit for the king from the various fines imposed upon individuals and communities. Precociously bureaucratic, the machinery of royal government recorded much of what went on before the justices, bequeathing to future generations priceless insights into life and law at this early time.
One intriguing case from the rolls of this 1292 session gives important glimpses of several different aspects of medieval law and life. As I have noted in a recent article in Social History of Medicine, Isabella Plomet, a woman from Hereford, managed to obtain some measure of legal redress from Ralph de Worgan, a surgeon of sorts, who was found to have agreed to treat her for leg problems, but actually gave her a drug called dwoledreng and proceeded to rape her. (more…)