Apart from murder, the crime of rape is the most devastating in terms of its consequences and effect, and a much harder crime to prove, at least to the criminal law standard of beyond ‘all reasonable doubt’. Sexual intercourse is a very personal and private activity. Where consent is contested, cases will inevitably turn on whom the jury believe; the complainant or the man accused. Predictably, cultural and gendered stereotypes will dominate. Because of the very intimate nature of rape, independent evidence is rarely available, making it difficult, if not impossible, for a court to establish exactly what happened. Rape therefore presents significant and enduring problems for the law. This is exacerbated by the fact that, as Foucault surmised, people rarely speak the ‘truth’ about sex. From Victorian times sex became shrouded in myth and secrecy, making the true incidence of rape impossible to ascertain. Everyday language became desexualised, making it difficult for both sexes, but women in particular, to speak about sex openly and in explicit terms, thereby compromising the truth of their narratives, especially in the public delivery of courtroom testimony. Constructing a historiography of rape is, therefore, a considerable challenge and one compounded by the absence of information in the historical record, as official statistics and documents are often incomplete or unreliable, adding to the mystique.
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