Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Rape Definition:

Sex with a woman, other than the perpetrator's wife, without her consent.

Related Terms: Statutory Rape, Sexual Assault

Many states have changed this basic definition to include sex with a minor (with or without consent; also known as statutory rape), sex with a man without his consent, or exempting men who force their wives to have sex.

The concept of rape has been altered by many jurisdictions to sexual assault or aggravated sexual assault, which encompasses the former distinct crime of rape.

In International Criminal Tribunal dedicated to investigating war crimes committed in Rwanda (citation: Prosecutor v. Jean Paul Akayesu ICTR-96-4-T), adopted this succinct definition of rape:

"A physical invasion of a sexual nature committed on a person under circumstances which are coercive".

The US Code, at Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 109A (2007), ¶2242 defines sexual abuse as:

"Whoever ... knowingly causes another person to engage in a sexual act by threatening or placing that other person in fear (other than by threatening or placing that other person in fear that any person will be subjected to death, serious bodily injury, or kidnapping); or engages in a sexual act with another person if that other person is incapable of appraising the nature of the conduct; or  physically incapable of declining participation in, or communicating unwillingness to engage in, that sexual act."

Historically, the horrible crime was defined with all the quaintness one can expect from medieval law:

"(I)f a man ... do ravish a woman, married or maid, or other, where she did not consent neither before nor after, he shall have judgment of life and member."

According to Blackstone (1756), Volume 4 of his Commentaries, rape was punishable in Jewish law by death unless the woman was not married, in which case, the perpetrator was fined 50 shekels:

"... and she (the victim) was to be the wife of the ravisher all the days of his life without the power of divorce."

This was somewhat mirrored by the ancient common law which allowed a "ravisher" condemned to death to be saved only if (1) his victim was single at the time, (2) she offered to take him as her husband, and (3) he agreed to marry her!

Categories & Topics:

Always looking up definitions? Save time with our search provider (modern browsers only)

If you find an error or omission in Duhaime's Law Dictionary, or if you have suggestion for a legal term, we'd love to hear from you!