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Feminist activism and rape law reform in England and Wales : a Sisyphean struggle?

McGlynn, Clare (2010) 'Feminist activism and rape law reform in England and Wales : a Sisyphean struggle?', in Rethinking rape law : international and comparative perspectives. London: Routledge, pp. 139-153.


Rape is a political issue because of feminist activism. Ever since second wave feminism lifted the lid on the systemic nature of sexual violence, including rape, feminists in the UK have fought to secure the better treatment of rape victims by society generally, and by the criminal justice system in particular. Reforming the law on rape has played a key role in these feminist campaigns partly due to the symbolic power of the criminal law, and most recently because of a government receptive to demands for change. However, while law reform has been successful in eliminating some of the most egregious examples of discriminatory attitudes and practices, rape remains endemic and convictions for rape are unjustifiably low. To set the analysis of recent reforms to rape law in context, this chapter provides a trajectory of feminist activism and rape law reform in England and Wales over the past thirty years. It then examines three particular aspects of recent reform which are causing considerable controversy, namely changes to the defence of belief in consent, the introduction of a strict liability offence for child rape and the challenges of intoxicated capacity and consent. The aim is to develop an analysis which demonstrates the vitality and achievements of feminist activism and rape law reform, but also the sustained resistance which such efforts meet.

Item Type:Book chapter
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Date of first online publication:April 2010
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