Edited by Robin West and Cynthia G. Bowman
Chapter 9: Sexual agency and the unfinished work of rape law reform
For half a century, feminist legal scholars and activists have worked to reconstruct the retrograde foundations of rape law. In place of chastity protection, I argue that sexual agency underpins the modern law of rape. I begin by describing the construct of sexual agency, emphasizing how feminist insights have enriched the familiar ideal of autonomy in ways that bear directly on sexual violence. I then apply the theory of sexual agency to three areas of relatively successful law reform efforts – substantive, evidentiary and procedural. I also consider the limits of rape law’s progress, again by reference to sexual agency. The agency frame recasts how a set of necessary reforms has fallen short of its intended target. I consider one final challenge to women’s agency that has become increasingly salient in the current #MeToo moment – acquiesced-to (unwanted consensual) sex. I conclude that, while the promise of female sexual agency remains unfulfilled, it should endure as the desideratum of reform.
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