Sexual Violence and the Law
Marriage, prisons, the family—all of these are legal constructions. And yet, far from providing its members the safety legal recognition supposedly offers, all three are empirically known to be prevalent sites of rape and sexual abuse. Is the law’s failure to protect incidental? Or, do legal institutions in fact play a role in producing (and re-producing) sexual violence? How can we understand the relationship between sexual abuse, the law, and such institutions?
In this course, we will examine the intersection of law and sexual violence to ask: What are the rules of law, and the relations and ideologies of property and contract, that underlie and unite the ostensibly different spheres—whether deemed “public” or private—in which sexual violence tends ot occur? And, how do laws regulating sexual violence also regulate and produce race, gender, sexuality, and class? We will take a deep dive into the history of rape and sexual violence law in the United States, from the colonial property regimes that promoted the sexual slavery of Black women and legalized marital rape; to antebellum constructions of white femininity, sex, and vulnerability within legal doctrines of rape and incest; to the scapegoating of Black men for raping white women; to interventions into current legal debates over workplace sexual harassment, the Violence Against Women Act, and the Prison Rape Elimination Act. Students will examine and compare works from scholars and organizations committed to traditional conceptions of punitive law and order such as Rachel Louise Snyder and RAINN with those of abolitionist feminist collectives such as INCITE! and the Combahee River Collective. We will explore the complicated relationship between law, criminal justice, and (in the words of Tanya Serisier) our desire for that “open and insecure future which is yet to be written but which insists that the story of a world without rape is possible, desirable and necessary.”
Readings will include a combination of caselaw and critical scholarship, with readings by Carole Pateman, the Combahee River Collective, Tanya Serisier, Kimberle Crenshaw, INCITE!, Hortense Spillers, Johanna Bourke, Angela Davis, Rachel Louise Snyder, Saidiya Hartman, Sharon Marcus, Katie Roiphe, Kristin Bumiller, Gayle Rubin, and Joseph Fischel, among others. Please note that this can be a quite difficult subject matter, and we will devote special care to the complex positionality of fellow rape and incest survivors in our discussions.
Course ScheduleSunday, 2:00-5:00pm EST
April 10 — May 08, 2022
4 sessions over 5 weeks
Class will not meet Sunday, April 17th.