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Rape and Sexual Assault: Historical Evidence Analysis Essay

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Rape and Sexual Assault

Resistance with All Her Strength is a testimony of Joan Brown, who witnessed a number of cases of sexual assaults against unmarried women committed by Thomas Hellyer (Crawford 2000). The case took place in Lottisham, near Datchet, Somerset, at the threshold of the seventeenth century. The woman represents her story in an unusual way, by describing in detail the experiences and events she observed and experienced. Brown pressed charges and expressed her vulnerability to exploitation, rape, and harassment in the workplace. In addition, the record under analysis reproduces experiences of women in the seventeenth century, which allows contemporary women to understand how their testimonies and attitudes differ from those times. In order to understand the perceptions and attitudes of women’s experiences of sexual assault, specific attention should be paid to the debates that historians develop to investigate acts of violence.

Debates of Historians Using Criminal Justice and Inquisitional Records to Investigate Rape and Sexual Assault

Judicial procedures in the seventeenth century rarely dealt with cases of women as victims of rape and sexual assault due to many religious, social, and cultural reasons. In the later seventeenth century, courts were predominantly concerned with the cases of illicit sex and, therefore, sources revealing illicit sexual activities are much fuller in comparison with those connected to other spheres of women’s lives. In the majority of cases, courts presented and punished defendants with penance, which led to a decrease in the functioning of the courts.(Brownmiller 2008). Instead, the responsibility for considering sexual regulations was imposed on the quarter sessions, or on the church courts (Brownmiller 2008). Certainly, the courts were interested in illicit sexual assaults only and, therefore, sex in marriage was not the central issue in judicial procedures.

Historians emphasize the fact of early representations of female sexuality were shaped by medical, religious, legal, and cultural expectations. However, the seventeenth century’s views on women’s sexual behavior did not provide them with the possibility to protect their rights (Brownmiller 2008). Despite the fact that Brownmiller (2008) has sufficiently highlighted the attitude to women and rape in industrial society, her feministic approach seems to be a bit controversial. To enlarge on this issue, Porter opposed Brownmiller’s idea about considering rape as a commonplace for the seventeenth century’s preindustrial society (Tomaselli and Porter 1986). In contrast, Shorter (1977) relies on Brownmiller’s (2008) ideas to argue historically predetermined conception of rape in seventeenth-century Britain. Therefore, it is purposeful to assert that both Shorter and Brownmiller’s (2008) visions on rape narratives did not reflect the actual matters of that period.

The pre-conditions of court decisions in the seventeenth century are connected to earlier perceptions of public accusations of sexual assault and rape. Specifically, the first laws expanding protection of victims suffering from rape occurred in Medieval England, in the thirteenth century. The king was concerned with the law protecting married women who had been sexually abused. However, the evidence showed that “…wives, who were raped, were considered to technically guilty of adultery and executed with their lovers” (Pitono 1988, p. 271). However, in 1285 the adopted law postulated, “…any man raping a married woman or virgin would be considered guilty of a felony and punished by death” (Pitono 1988, p. 271). More importantly, virgin suffering from sexual assault should initiate the process that would lead the rapist to court. The introduction of these provisions was explained by the failure of the government to consider rape as a heavy crime. In contrast to Pitono (1998), Ruggiero (1975) focuses on the state of affairs in Renaissance Venice, where rape was considered in a broader sense of criminal offenses and, as a result, rape was not considered a serious crime.

The attention of historians to women’s testimonies about rape and sexual violence was not significant in early modern England. Similar to Walker (1998), Chaytor also introduces her interpretations of the rape narratives in the seventeenth century. In particular, the researchers focus on the way of exposing the information about the case of rape. Most of the confessions are made in a selective way with no reference to background information and descriptions of life. The reason for such a selective deposition is apparently connected with the related chance of women to give their private life to publicity. To explain the purpose of exposing rape narrations in such a way, Chaytor (1995) writes, “Content is not separate from form, it is carried within it, and both are the product of the emotional context in which these stories were told” (380). Emotional context, therefore, is the basic dimension by means of which women were guided while introducing their testimonies.

While analyzing testimonies, Chaytor (1995) pspecialcial attention to the way women recount their experiences, but not to what was actually delivered. This supposition is highlighted in Walker’s (1998) deliberation on rape narratives. In particular, Walker (1998) introduces a set of rape narratives revealing strong connections between language, interpretation, and event. While evaluating the records, the researcher attains much importance to metaphor as the main stylistic device used by women in their testimonies (Walker 1998). In particular, the metaphors were used to veil direct references to sexual violence and the sexual body. Aside from the importance of language in rape narratives, Walker (1998) opposes Chaytor’s claims about rape narratives as victims’ recollections of the event. Instead, Walker (1998) emphasizes, “entrenched in the practices and strategies of an individual’s everyday life and embedded in an institutional framework, there are several reasons why the personal, reflexive nature of these tales cannot be dislocated from the circumstance in which they were told” (Walker 1998, p. 3). With regard to this approach, Brownmiller’s arguments about stereotypic views on women’s sexuality, especially the ones that suppress the concept, explain women’s decision to resort to metaphors while describing their experience.

With regard to the above-presented debates on understanding the contents of rape narratives in the seventeenth century, it should be noted that most of the records were represented in a veiled language and were extracted from a wider context. Within the context of the case, it should be stressed that Walker (1998) was more closed to understanding the contextual and emotional underpinnings of representing rape narrations. In particular, the historian manages to explain the actual reasons for concealing some information.

How Are Those Debates Illustrated By Your Analysis Of The “Primary” Source Of Evidence That Is Provided For This Assignment

While considering records of women who were the victims of sexual abuse, it is possible to highlight important aspects of the social and historical environment s in the seventeenth century. To begin with, the recordings reveal a reference to the historical period of the Renaissance that shed light on the revolutionary spirit of women striving to relieve themselves from the patriarchal laws and restrictions. Specific attention should also be given to the concept of sexuality in the seventeenth century. According to Keeble (1994), rejection of sexuality in that period was explained by the existing traditions, stereotypes, and prejudices, particularly in religion. Within this discourse, women who were forbidden to reveal their sexuality were inclined to suffer from various mental disorders. In the case under analysis, Brown’s detailed account of the man’s violence against a number of women is explained by her anger and inability to protect rights, freedoms, and desires.

The limitation on her sexual life was also seen in the way she expressed the act of rape committed by Hellyer. Thus, she veils all words related to sexuality, sexual desires, and lust. In the passage under analysis, the victim describes, “the said Hellyer took forth of his breeches his privy member of the yard, and strived and struggled with her in the said entry for the space of an hour or near thereabouts, assaying by all means to have the carnal knowledge of the body” (Crawford 2000, p. 160). At the same time, she emphasizes the desires and lecherousness of the rapist to underline his guilt: “in the end seeing that his Jurate at no hand would consent to his attempted devilish purpose, he left her and went his way” (Crawford 2000, p. 160). In such a manner, the victim strived to justify her position and reject women’s involvement and consent in the act of violence: “this deponent utterly refused the same and requested him to depart and suffer her to go about master’s business” (Crawford 2000, p. 160).

Aside from hidden discontent and rebellious spirits, Joan also makes an explicit attempt to protect women’s rights and freedoms and provide evidence of the act of violence against other women in the workplace. More importantly, overt description of raping also proves woman’s extremely aggressive attitude to maltreatment of women working as servants. To explain the issue, Brownmiller (2008) argues that suppressed sexual desires of women can lead to serious deviations in behavior. With regard to the above deliberations on honor and chastity, the record under analysis also emphasizes the increased importance of these concepts for Joan Brown. In particular, she mentions chastity in reference to experiences, such words as “lustfully”, “forcibly”, and “violently” while addressing the actions committed by the rapist. Judging from these assumptions, it is possible to prove the arguments introduced by Van der Heijden (2000) who mentions the social context of seventeenth-century Europe. In particular, the researcher emphasizes the role of honor in judicial procedures and how they affected the judges’ decisions.

The socially constructed codes of honor had a major influence on women’s attitudes and perceptions of rape. It is logical, therefore, for women to conceal some details of the sexual assault because of the reluctance of women to distort their good reputation. In this respect, Welles (2000) argues that seventeenth-century rape narratives imply “rape as the literal infliction of bodily hurt and rape as the metaphorical wounding of the social body” (p. 177). In this respect, the social influences and the increased value of honor are decisive in dictating the content of rape narratives.

Cultural preconditions of rape should also be considered to define the character of the relationship between sexual violence and culture. In this respect, Renzetti and Bergen (2005) have discovered, “…in pre-industrial societies women are more likely to lack important life options and to be politically and physically oppressed where they lack economic power relative to men” (p. 16). In this respect, women in pre-modern societies could not possess similar privileges with males. Overall, the historical evidence under consideration can widen historians’ understanding of women’s perception and attitude rape, as well as define further implications for historical research.

Interpreting the Topic With Regard to Historical Evidence

With regard to the historical evidence, as well as historical analysis of rape narratives, specific emphasis should be placed on the analysis of arguments represented by Walker (1998) and Brownmiller (2008) because researchers highlight the social, historical, and moral conventions existing in the seventeenth century. They also represent pertinent information on the value of rape narratives, as well as how these texts were used in the court. Other historians are less convincing because they focus more on general information about the way people perceive sexual violence during that period.

Brownmiller (2008) has managed to succinctly and sufficiently describe and explain how women’s social position restricts their legal rights and freedoms. The history of rape, therefore, sheds light on the changing attitudes of women to sexual violence, which could be both politically and cross-culturally predetermined. Considering a particular period in history, particularly the place of women in it, it is possible to define how women can express their reactions to sexual violence. The story of Joan Brown is full of details and overt discussions of rape scenes, which signifies women’s desire to free themselves from the established conventional and stereotypical frames. Therefore, significant emphasis should be placed on the historian’s concern with the interpretation of legal laws with regard to cultural and social traditions in seventeenth-century England.

The record of rape also suggests that it was hard for women to take control over their sexual availability. The problem was that rape and sexual assault were rarely considered in court and, therefore, it was difficult for Directors of Public Prosecutions to prosecute the case. In the majority of cases, rape was associated with property crimes (Walker 1998). However, the rise of accusations in the seventeenth century has narrowed the focus of rape that was perceived as a sexual offense and was regarded as a sexual act without mutual consent. All these explanations are congruent with the testimony of Joan Brown. In fact, the victim represented herself in the court as the victim, but not a consenting partner, which was regarded as the main ground for defense. However, some women of that period were more restricted in court speech because of the cultural and moral norms.

While considering inquisitional recordings and criminal justice, historians raise important questions about attitudes and stereotypes on women’s sexuality and identity, the social-political environment, and perceptions of honor in pre-industrial society. In this respect, historical research pays much attention to the aspects of mental illnesses and forensic psychology that should have been introduced in the court in the earlier period of judicial system development. Therefore, it is impossible to rely entirely on Walker’s (1998) suggestions about interpreting rape narratives because emotional and psychological factors should be taken into the deepest consideration. Moreover, such approaches are widely used in current forensics.

References

Brownmiller, S 2008, Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape. Paw Prints, US.

Chaytor, M 1995, Husband(ry): Narratives of Rape in the Seventeenth Century. Gender and History, vol. 7, no. 3, pp. 378-407.

Clausen, A 2007, The Power of a Woman’s Voice in Medieval and Early Modern Literature: New Approaches to German and European Women Writers and to Violence Against Women in Premodern Times; Walter de Gruyter, US.

Crawford, P 2000, ‘Resistance with all her strength: Joan Brown c.1601’ In, P. Crawford, Women’s Worlds In Seventeenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, Routledge, New York, pp.159- 61.

Keeble, NH 1994, The Cultural Identity of Seventeenth-Century Woman: A Reader, Routledge, New York.

McLaughlin, E, Hughes, G, and Muncie, J 2003, Criminological Perspectives: Essential Readings SAGE, US.

Pitono, SP 1988, ‘Susan Brownmiller and the history of rape’. Women’s Studies, vol. 14, no. 3, 265

Renzetti, CM, and Bergen RK 2005, Violence against Women. Rowman & Littlefield, US.

Ruggiero, G 1975, Sexuality Criminality in the Early Renaissance: Venice 1338-1358, University of California, US.

Shorter, E 1977, ‘On Writing the History of Rape’. University of Chicago Press. vol. 3, no. 2, 471-482.

Tomaselli, S and Porter, R 1986, Rape, Blackwell, Oxford, UK.

Vigarello, G 2001, A History of Rape: Sexual Violence in France from the 16th to the 20th Century, Wiley, US.

Walker, G 1998, ‘Rereading Rape and Sexual Violence in Early Modern England’, Gender & History, vol. 10, no. 1, 1-25.

Welles, M 2000, Persephone’s Girdle: Narratives of Rape in Seventeenth-Century Spanish Literature, Vangerbit University Press, US.

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