‘You cannot thread a moving needle.’: Defining Rape: A History
Men have been in the business of deciding when it is okay and when it is not okay to rape women for thousands of years. If Missouri Rep. Todd Akin’s claim that women’s bodies magically fend off rapist sperm or the GOP’s meditation on what’s really rape sound medieval to you, that’s because they are. Check out our timeline of the male notions and common-law statutes that have defined rape over time, and see for yourself which eras the GOP’s views on rape line up with:
Property theft: The Code of Hammurabi, one of the first sets of written laws, which dates to about 1780 BC (and contains the old “eye for an eye”), defines rape of a virgin as property damage against her father. If you were married, sorry lady: You were an adulteress. Punishment? You get thrown in the river.
Translation: Girl, you’re screwed. Batigolix/Fotopedia
God is a dude: Deuteronomy 22:28-29 says if you rape a virgin, you have to give her dad 50 shekels and take her to the altar.
Et tu, Roma? The Latin root raptus referred to the abduction of a woman against the will of whatever male controlled her life. What the abductor did with her was secondary.
Rape of the Sabine Women, by Giuseppe Cesari. Dirk Huijssoon/Fotopedia
Todd Akin, 1.0: As the Guardian recently pointed out, one of the earliest British legal texts, Fleta, which was written around 1290, laid the foundation for Akin’s notion that if you get preggers, you weren’t raped: “Without a woman’s consent she could not conceive.”
(Mississippi and) The Middle Ages: During the 13th century, the severity of punishment under Saxon law varied according to the type of woman raped—whether she was a virgin, a wife, a widow, a nun, or a whore. That’s appropriately medieval. But in the United States, well into the ’90s (yes, the nineteen-nineties) some states still had laws that held statutory rape wasn’t rape if the woman was “impure”. Mississippi was the last state to ditch such a law—in 1998.
King Edward I and his wife Eleanor. From an early 14th century manuscript/Wikipedia
Pre-wave feminism: King Edward I of England was a forward-thinking chap. He enacted the landmark Statutes of Westminster at the end of the 13th century. They redefined rape as a public wrong, not just a private property battle. The legislation also cut out the virgin distinction and made consent irrelevant for girls under 12, laying the basis for the modern principle of statutory rape.