Gender and the Law Prof Blog

Editor: Tracy A. Thomas
University of Akron School of Law

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Detroit business women raise money to test backlog of rape kits

NYT, Detroit Businesswomen Team Up to Get Rape Kits Tested

But she was facing a major financial challenge. Typically, the cost of processing one rape kit is $1,500; testing 11,341 kits would cost about $17 million. That did not include the expense of hiring more investigators and then prosecuting the cases, a process that would most likely cost at least $10 million more. At the time, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office only had three sex crimes investigators on staff.


“We had no resources, no money and no support from the county of Wayne,” Ms. Worthy says. She swung into action.


“I asked everybody for money,” she says, “foundations, people, groups, organizations.” She was able to secure federal grant money to test 2,000 kits and to conduct a study on how sexual assault victims are treated in the criminal justice system. Several years later, the state of Michigan provided $4 million to cover the testing of 8,000 more kits. By then Ms. Worthy had been able to negotiate the cost of the testing down to $490 a kit. But there were still 1,341 untested kits and just two investigators dedicated to the new cases.


In early 2013, a Detroit businesswoman named Joanna Cline saw Ms. Worthy discussing the untested rape kits on a national news program. “I was and am furious” at the oversight, says Ms. Cline, who is the chief marketing officer of Fathead, which manufactures and sells wall decals. When she learned that Ms. Worthy’s office didn’t have enough funding to test the kits and prosecute the resulting cases, she became convinced that this was a solvable problem.

November 12, 2015 in Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Law prof says proposed rape definition would lead to "disturbingly arbitrary" prosecutions

ABA J, Proposed Rape Definition Would Lead to "Disturbingly Arbitrary" Prosecutions, Law Prof Says

A proposed definition of rape being considered by the American Law Institute could lead to “disturbingly arbitrary” prosecutions and convictions if adopted by the states, according to a Harvard law professor who is an adviser on the project.


The draft definition would define sexual consent as a positive, freely given agreement to engage in a specific act of sexual penetration or sexual contact, according to a New Yorker article by Harvard law professor Jeannie Suk.


“If sex that doesn’t meet these criteria becomes criminal, a lot of people will be committing sexual assault even when they have mutually desired sex,” Suk writes. Prosecutions under this standard “will feel disturbingly arbitrary. But we will continue to have these scapegoats for a sexual culture that we increasingly reject,” she says.


The prior legal definition of rape was intercourse accomplished by force and without consent. Many states no longer require proof of force, and no longer require the victim to physically resist. The new definition is the law in New Hampshire.

November 10, 2015 in Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Affirmative Consent of "Yes Means Yes" as Nothing New

I had the pleasure of hearing Jonathan Witmer-Rich (Cleveland State) speak last Friday at the NE Ohio Faculty Colloquium, a twice-annual lunch with the faculties of Akron, Case, and Cleveland State. 

He previewed his thesis that the new legislative movement of "Yes Means Yes" doesn't actually change the existing legal standard of consent, for good or for bad.  He wove in the recent discussion draft of recommended changes to the Model Penal Code. 

You can hear more on this from Jonathan at AALS on January 9, 2016 on Panel 1 of the Symposium on Violence Against Women.


November 3, 2015 in Conferences, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 19, 2015

Sen. Bob Casey's Campus Sexual Assault Bill

The story: 

Colleges and universities in the U.S. are now required to disclose incidents of domestic and dating violence, such as stalking, in their annual crime reports, thanks to a sexual assault reform bill that went into effect this academic year.

Introduced by Democratic Pennsylvania Senator Robert Casey and Democratic New York Representative Carolyn Maloney, The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (SaVE Act) is among the more substantial updates to the Jeanne Clery Act, the 1990 sexual assault prevention bill requiring colleges and universities that receive federal funding to disclose campus crime data like rape, assault and robbery.

October 19, 2015 in Education, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 15, 2015

College Students Accept "Yes Means Yes" as a Meaningful Standard

Wash Post, Adults Hate "Yes Means Yes." The College Students I Meet Love Them.

Last month, Michigan became the latest state legislature to introduce a “Yes Means Yes” law, mandating the teaching of affirmative consent as a sexual standard. In the past year, affirmative consent has become the mandated standard on college campuses in New York and California and is being voluntarily adopted by a growing number universities beyond those two states. The idea is simple: In matters of sex, silence or indifference aren’t consent. Only a freely given “yes” counts. And if you can’t tell, you have to ask.


Every time one of these bills is introduced, a certain subset of adults freaks out. Earlier this year, as the spring semester got underway and these new policies took hold on some campuses, Robert Carle, writing for libertarian outlet Reason, shrieked that “[a]ffirmative consent laws turn normal human interactions into sexual offenses,” as if there’s anything “normal” about a disinterest in whether or not the person you’re having sex with is a willing participant. In the New York Times, Judith Shulevitz dismissed the new standard because “[m]ost people just aren’t very talkative during the delicate tango that precedes sex, and the re-education required to make them more forthcoming would be a very big project,” an assertion for which she provides no evidence. But if students aren’t yet used to practicing affirmative consent, that’s no argument against it. Marital rape used to be both popular and legal, and we didn’t wait until everyone had stopped committing it to institute new laws. And in the Boston Globe, Wendy Kaminer protests that “in practice [affirmative consent standards] aim to protect women from the predations of men,” even though, as even she acknowledges, the standard is gender neutral. (More on that in a moment.)


All the grownup scaremongering is drowning out one important fact: Young people are embracing affirmative consent.

October 15, 2015 in Education, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

"One in four female undergraduates reports sexual misconduct, survey finds"

From the LA Times: 

More than 1 in 4 female undergraduate students say they have been victimized by nonconsensual sexual contact, according to a survey released Monday of 27 universities across the country.

But the survey for the Assn. of American Universities, one of the most comprehensive ever conducted on college sexual misconduct, found wide variation in the cases depending on campus, gender, age and type of offense.


In California, for instance, 29.7% of female undergraduates at USC and 12.7% at Caltech reported the most serious sexual misconduct — sexual penetration or touching involving force or incapacitation by alcohol or drugs.

September 23, 2015 in Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

New Study on Campus Sexual Assault Confirms Prevalence of Problem

Wash Post, What a Massive Sexual Assault Survey Found at 27 Top US Universities (summarizing the results).

Slate, Association of American Universities Campus Sexual Assault Survey: Confirmation of What We Already Knew

The Association of American Universities’ much-anticipated report on sexual assault—a survey that compiled responses from more than 150,000 students at 27 universities—is out today, and it confirms that the situation on campus is as bad as you probably already thought it was. Some bullet points:


• One-third of female college seniors reported that they had been the victims of nonconsensual sexual contact at least once since enrolling in college.


These numbers are roughly consistent with findings of previous studies; if anything, they’re a little higher than the results of the seminal 2007 study that gave us the grim axiom “1-in-5.”—but the authors acknowledge that could be due to the low response rate of 19.3 percent, and the possibility that people who’d experienced misconduct were more likely to participate. As always, the authors had to deal with the challenge of conveying uniform definitions in an area where every experience is intensely individual; for this reason, they didn’t use loaded words such as rape and assault, instead trying to precisely describe situations. But this could’ve caused confusion as well as averted it.


The most interesting thing in the AAU study isn’t what’s on the page, but a question that hovers, frustratingly, between the lines. “The study found a wide range of variation across the 27 [institutions],” the authors write in the executive summary

September 22, 2015 in Education, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 11, 2015

California high schools adopt yes means yes law

From the Guardian UK: 

As the “yes means yes” standard of sexual conduct spreads to many US college campuses, California legislators have passed a new measure that will put affirmative consent curriculum into the state’s high schools beginning next year.

The legislation will require high schools that have a health component as a graduation requirement to teach the “different forms of sexual harassment and violence”, and include lessons on seeking explicit, affirmative permission from a partner before moving forward with sexual activity. The bill, SB695, is now awaiting the signature of the governor to become law, expected in the coming days. California would be the first state in the nation to adopt a mandatory education policy on the topic for K-12 students.

September 11, 2015 in Education, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

"This means two people are being killed by their romantic partners every week"

The story: 

According to Rep. Jeong Yong-ki of the ruling Saenuri Party, the number of murder cases among dating partners has been on the rise in Korea since 2012, from 99 to 108 last year. In the last three years, the number of victims like Kim totaled 313.

The murder cases accounted for 11.9 per cent of all crimes committed by the victims' romantic partners against them, including stalking, physical violence and rape. The rate is particularly high considering the total number of murder cases in Korea only accounted for 1.69 per cent of all violent crimes -- murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault -- in the same period.

"This means two people are being killed by their romantic partners every week," Rep. Jeong said.

According to Korea Women's Hotline, a nongovernmental organisation helping female victims of violence, at least 114 Korean women were killed by either their husbands or boyfriends last year, while at least 95 women survived after being seriously attacked by their spouses or romantic partners.


September 9, 2015 in Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Reimagining the Movement to End Gender Violence

Donna Coker (Miami), Leigh Goodmark (Maryland), Marcia Olivo, CONVERGE! Reimagining the Movement to End Gender Violence, 5 U. Miami Race & Social Justice Law Review 249 (2015)


This introduction to the CONVERGE! Symposium by conference co-chairs Donna Coker, Leigh Goodmark, & Marcia Olivo, describes the aspirations of conference organizers, reflects on the accomplishments of the conference, and looks ahead to ongoing work. 

CONVERGE! Reimagining the Movement to End Gender Violence brought together more than 200 academics, activists, survivors, students, and service providers convened in Miami. People came in response to a call to reimagine the work to end gender violence: "We seek to refocus United States priorities in funding, activism, legal responses, and social services in ways that better address the intersecting inequalities that create and maintain gender violence." 

The conference highlighted the connections between what is often described as “gender violence” or “violence against women” — interpersonal violence, particularly intimate partner violence and sexual assault — and the structural inequalities of colonization, sexism, heterosexism, racism, anti-immigrant bias, and economic injustice. Building on the groundbreaking work of INCITE!, conference speakers expanded the traditional interpersonal violence frame to encompass state violence directed at women — violence that is embodied in racist, homophobic, classist, and anti-immigrant policies and practices, whether in prisons, on the streets, at the borders, in the workplace, or in homes. 

CONVERGE! was bilingual, with a strong voice of monolingual Spanish speakers, undocumented women survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, and domestic workers.

August 13, 2015 in Conferences, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 3, 2015

Rolling Stone Magazine Sued Over UVA Rape Story

From the NYT: 

Three former members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity at the University of Virginia filed a lawsuit against Rolling Stone on Wednesday for defamation and infliction of emotional distress, saying the magazine’s discredited article on a campus gang rape had a “devastating effect” on their reputations.

The article, written by Sabrina Rubin Erdely and published last fall, set off a national discussion with its vivid account of a student’s assault, but it was retracted in April after it fell apart under scrutiny by journalists and law enforcement officials. A report by the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism uncovered an assortment of journalistic lapses, including a lack of skepticism and a failure to interview those accused of the assault.


August 3, 2015 in Education, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

The yes-means-yes law in NY

On July 11, 2015, NY passed a yes-means-yes law for sexual intimacy on college campuses.  Here's the story:

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- What if you had to ask if it was okay
to put your hand on the other person's butt during foreplay? What if you had to
ask again before touching her breast? What if there was a law that said you had
to do this?

In New York, there is now on all college campuses. A bill signed into law July 7 requires both parties to obtain consent for sex and each nibble and caress that sometimes paves the way. The law applies only on college campuses. At its heart is a simple concept: instead of "No Means No," it's "Yes Means Yes."

It switches the dynamic of consent in what could be an empowering way. The hope is that by changing the power structure of the hook-up and making it law, college sexual assaults will decrease. The legislation, proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and called "Enough is Enough," was passed unanimously by the state Legislature.

 There have been critics, including this one: 

"You look at the legal system we're building and it's incredible risky to hook up with someone you're not married to," said Peter Lake, director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University in Florida.

"It changes the rules of the game. It gives the game rules," Lake said.

Perhaps Prof. Lake said more in the interview, stuff that wasn't included in the article.  But what he does say makes no sense to me.  There's no explanation for why the consent requirement would make things "incredibly risky."  Nor do I see what is presumptively problematic about "chang[ing] the rules of the game" or giving the "game rules." (Is anyone else unsettled by the description of sexual intimacy as a "game"?) Sexual intimacy already has rules; it is already governed by norms for what is acceptable intimacy and what is rape.  A proposal to change said rules--or, rather, make them more explicit--is not in and of itself objectionable.  

August 3, 2015 in Education, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Yes, Donald, There is Such Thing as Marital Rape

HuffPostYes, Marital Rape Happens, and Its Terrible

Marital rape is a serious and frequently occurring form of domestic violence. Marital rape strikes at the heart of the marriage covenant, taking the promise, as in some Christian marriage ceremonies, to "cherish" the body of the spouse and turning into to a horror.


For most of human history, however, the marriage contract has meant the wife has "consented to sex" and thus sexual relations at any time are an entitlement by the husband. This is an extension of the idea that wives are the property of their husbands, as Diana Russell wrote in her 1990 landmark book Rape in Marriage.


Today, marital rape is now illegal in all 50 states and has been since July 5, 1993. Donald Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, has apparently just learned this.


Cohen exploded in response to an article in The Daily Beast that cited a 22 year-old allegation that Trump raped his former wife, Ivana. Ivana Trump's assertion of "rape" came in a deposition that was part of the Trumps early '90s divorce case, and revealed in the 1993 book Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump.


Cohen said, "You cannot rape your spouse."


Actually, of course, you can. The legal definition of marital rape varies within the United States, but it is generally defined as any unwanted intercourse or penetration (vaginal, anal, or oral) obtained by force, threat of force, or when the wife is unable to consent (Russell, 1990).


Jill  Hasday (Minnesota), Wash Post, Donald Trump's Lawyer was Right: In Some Places, Raping Your Wife is Still Treated Like a Minor Offense

This week, Donald Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen reportedly said: “You cannot rape your spouse. And there’s very clear case law.” The comment ricocheted around the Internet and was denounced by scores of critics, who accused Cohen of misstating the law. He’s since apologized.


Unfortunately, Cohen’s broad declaration was less wrong than we’d like to think. All states prosecute some forms of marital rape in theory. But in reality, statutes criminalizing marital rape are often inadequate. They also remain dramatically and disproportionately under-enforced.


This injustice has deep historical roots. For centuries, husbands were absolutely exempt from criminal prosecution for raping their wives. In the eyes of the law, marital rape was a legal impossibility.


August 2, 2015 in Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Bill Cosby's Accusers, 35 of them, anyway.....

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Mothers' Constrained Choice as Victims of Domestic Violence

Rona Kitchen (Duquesne), Constrained Choice: Mothers, The State, and Domestic Violence, Temple Political & Civil Rights L.J. (2015).


Mothers who are the victims of domestic violence face unique challenges in their quest for safety. The legal response to domestic violence requires that mothers respond to abuse in specific state-sanctioned manners. However, when mothers respond accordingly, such as by reporting abuse and leaving the abusive relationship, their safety and the safety of their children is not guaranteed. Moreover, by responding in state-sanctioned manners, mothers risk a host of negative consequences including increased threat to their immediate and long-term safety, the loss of their children, undesired financial, health, and social consequences, and criminal prosecution. On the other hand, when mothers respond to abuse in unsanctioned manners, such as by staying in abusive relationships, they face similarly hostile consequences including continued abuse, the loss of their children, and criminal prosecution. Thus, regardless of how mothers respond to domestic violence, they risk being harmed by their abuser and the state. As a result battered mothers’ choices are significantly constrained. 

Though the legal response to domestic violence has improved dramatically over the past few decades, reforms are still needed. The state should sanction a broader range of maternal responses to domestic violence and accept greater responsibility for preventing and responding to private family violence. In addition to increasing victim safety, implementation of these reforms would increase respect for maternal autonomy and demonstrate the state’s true commitment to protecting women and children from domestic violence.

July 21, 2015 in Family, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 13, 2015

White women and racist violence

A bit dated by cyberspace terms but still worth reading from the New Republic: 

We cannot talk about the violence that Dylann Roof perpetrated at Emanuel AME last Wednesday night without talking about whiteness, and specifically, about white womanhood and its role in racist violence. We have to talk about those things, because Roof himself did. Per a witness account, we know that he said: “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country.” “Our” women, by whom he meant white women.

There is a centuries-old notion that white men must defend, with lethal violence at times, the sexual purity of white women from allegedly predatory black men. And, as we saw yet again after this shooting, it is not merely a relic of America’s hideous racial past. American racism is always gendered; racism and sexism are mutually dependent, and cannot be unstitched.

July 13, 2015 in Manliness, Masculinities, Race, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Regulating Sex

NYT, Regulating Sex

THIS is a strange moment for sex in America. We’ve detached it from pregnancy, matrimony and, in some circles, romance. At least, we no longer assume that intercourse signals the start of a relationship. But the more casual sex becomes, the more we demand that our institutions and government police the line between what’s consensual and what isn’t. And we wonder how to define rape. Is it a violent assault or a violation of personal autonomy? Is a person guilty of sexual misconduct if he fails to get a clear “yes” through every step of seduction and consummation?


According to the doctrine of affirmative consent — the “yes means yes” rule — the answer is, well, yes, he is. And though most people think of “yes means yes” as strictly for college students, it is actually poised to become the law of the land.


About a quarter of all states, and the District of Columbia, now say sex isn’t legal without positive agreement, although some states undercut that standard by requiring proof of force or resistance as well.


Codes and laws calling for affirmative consent proceed from admirable impulses. (The phrase“yes means yes,” by the way, represents a ratcheting-up of “no means no,” the previous slogan of the anti-rape movement.) People should have as much right to control their sexuality as they do their body or possessions; just as you wouldn’t take a precious object from someone’s home without her permission, you shouldn’t have sex with someone if he hasn’t explicitly said he wants to.

July 11, 2015 in Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 10, 2015

5 most dangerous countries for women

The report, now a bit dated, but still interesting: 

TrustLaw, an organization that provides legal aid and information on women's rights, set out to determine which countries were the most dangerous for women. By polling more than 200 international gender experts on general perception of danger and six other issues – health threats, discrimination, cultural and religious norms, sexual violence, nonsexual violence, and trafficking – TrustLaw determined that women were at the most risk in the following five countries.

The conclusions: 

* Afghanistan tops expert poll of dangers to women

* Congo plagued by rape as weapon of war

* Pakistan blighted by acid attacks and 'honour killings'

* India cited for trafficking and sexual slavery

* Somalia seen as having full gamut of risks


July 10, 2015 in Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Marital Rape is Semi-Legal

Marital Rape is Semi-Legal in 8 States

Not too long ago, the term “marital rape” was considered an oxymoron. In some U.S. states, it might as well still be one.


Lawmakers in Ohio are trying to remove archaic forms of “marital privilege” in state laws pertaining to rape, The Columbus Dispatch reports. Although marital rape is illegal in Ohio as well as nationwide, the notion of marital privilege or exemption dates from an era when a man could only be charged with rape if the alleged victim was not his wife—an era that only ended in the United States on July 5, 1993 when North Carolina criminalized marital rape, becoming the final state to do so.


But although marital rape is illegal in the United States, Ohio is one of several states in which marital rape continues to be handled in a substantially different way than rape outside of marriage, whether it is charged under a different section of criminal code, restricted to a shorter reporting period, held to a different standard of coercion and force, or given a different punishment.

The classic historiography of marital rape laws is Jill Hasday, Contest and Consent: A Legal History of Marital Rape, 88 California Law Rev. 1373 (2000).

June 16, 2015 in Family, Legal History, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Study Finds Military's Handling of Sexual Assault Cases Slowed by Traditional Gender Role Beliefs and Conservatism

Two articles from Eric R. Carpenter (FIU)

The study: Evidence of the Military's Sexual Assault Blind Spot, 4 Va. J. Crim. Law (forthcoming). 


In response to the American military's perceived inability to handle sexual assault cases, many members of Congress have lost confidence in those who run the military justice system. Critics say that those who run the military justice system are sexist and perceive sexual assault cases differently than the public does.

This article is the first to empirically test that assertion. Further, this is the first study to focus on the military population that matters – those who actually run the military justice system. 

This study finds that this narrow military population endorses two constructs that are associated with the acceptance of inaccurate rape schemas – traditional gender role beliefs and conservatism – to a much higher degree than the general population. Regression models based on these findings predict that in a test rape case, 54% of the general public would find the man guilty while only 41% of this narrow military population would. 

This suggests that at the macro-level, those who run the military justice system may be honestly committed to resourcing the fight against sexual assault and to finding a solution to the problem. But at the micro-level, when looking at a particular case, they have an unconscious cognitive process that interferes with their ability to accurately solve it.

The appendices for this paper are available at the following URL:
And the theory and discussion: The Military's Sexual Assault Blind Spot, 21 Wash. & Lee J. Civil Rts. & Soc. Just. 383 (2015) 

June 4, 2015 in Manliness, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)