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Professor Rose Corrigan Outlines Findings from New Book on Rape Reforms

February 14, 2013

Reforms that aimed to aid victims of sexual assault have largely fallen short of the mark, Professor Rose Corrigan said during a discussion on Feb. 13 of her new book, “Up Against a Wall: Rape Reform and the Failure of Success.”

The creation of rape crisis centers and efforts to redefine sexual assault as a broad societal problem were hailed as “great successes of the second wave of feminism,” said Corrigan, associate professor of law, associate professor of politics and director of the Women’s Studies Program at the College of Arts & Sciences.

The reforms were seen as a boon, in part for redefining victims and perpetrators, recognizing that men can also be victims of sexual assault and that victims do not fit a narrow profile or deserve to have their sexual histories scrutinized, Corrigan said.

But based on interviews with advocates at 112 rape crisis centers in six states, Corrigan said, reforms have actually accomplished little for most victims of sexual assault.

Relatively few hospitals have the technology and trained personnel to conduct comprehensive medical exams of victims, forcing those in rural areas to travel hours to undergo the tests, Corrigan said, noting that some victims cannot make the long trips.

Many other victims languish for hours awaiting medical exams in hospital emergency rooms, get discouraged and leave, which prevents many from seeking justice through the courts. An intense degree of skepticism on the part of police undermines many investigations from the very start. And prosecutors decline to bring charges under a host of scenarios, such as cases where alcohol, prostitution or youthful offenders are involved, Corrigan learned.

“No one knows why prosecutors make these decisions,” she said. “The prosecutor’s office is a black box and there’s no transparency.”

Statutes like Megan’s Law, which aims to protect children, have cast offenders as monsters who should be locked up forever, making convictions harder to achieve, Corrigan added.

Some states have launched effective efforts to aid victims in meaningful ways, Corrigan said, noting that Colorado and South Carolina have appointed specialized prosecutors who focus on crimes of a sexual nature. And in some communities, she added, community-based clinics that are more responsive to the needs of victims handle rape exams.

The event was co-sponsored by the Drexel University Department of History and Politics, the American Constitution Society, the Criminal Law Society, the Health Law Society, the National Lawyers Guild, Phi Alpha Delta and the Women’s Law Society.