Much about rape seems transhistorical. When historians are faced with evidence of continuity – such as the dismal acquittal rate, under-reporting, rape myths such as women enjoy being forced and say no when they mean yes – they have assumed that the history of rape is one of continuity rather than change. The manner in which assumptions about women and men’s relative accountability for rape, including various types of ‘victim-blaming’, inform the nature and outcome of rape trials and media coverage in the present would seem, therefore, to apply also to earlier periods. In this paper, I shall show that the focus of rape trials in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century had undergone a dramatic change by the end of the century – with far-reaching implications – and offer some explanation for such change.
Garthine Walker is Reader in History at Cardiff University, a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellow (2013-16), and specialises in the histories of early modern gender and crime, and in approaches to historical writing. Publications include Crime, Gender and Social Order in Early Modern England (Cambridge UP, 2003), several edited volumes including Gender and Change: Agency, Chronology and Periodisation (2009) and Writing Early Modern History (2005). Her article on rape, acquittal and culpability, in Past & Present 220 (2013) won the Sutherland Prize of the American Society for Legal History for the Best Article on English History. She is also Co-Investigator on an AHRC-funded four-year project, ‘Women Negotiating the Boundaries of Justice: Britain and Ireland c.1100-c.1750’.