Sexual violence remains one of the world’s most under-reported crimes. Victims who press charges are often subjected to painful scrutiny of their own behaviour and personal lives by medical personnel, juridical authorities and the media. Survivors of sexual violence have described their frustration at the legal process, which seems to place them rather than their attackers on trial: ‘…I feel like I was given the life sentence that he deserves’. Academic scholarship has highlighted the inadequacies of police and criminal justice systems around the world when it comes to prosecuting sexual crimes (Temkin, 1992; Corrigan, 2013). In particular, court proceedings are frequently influenced by a number of all-pervasive rape myths which place the burden of responsibility for sexual violence on the failure of victims to protect themselves (Brownmiller, 1975; Bourke, 2007). At the same time, well-meaning attempts to recognise the trauma experienced by rape victims or to empower women through the use of anti-rape technologies can reinforce emphasis on the victim as the site of rape prevention, thus displacing male responsibility for sexual violence (Mardorossian, 2002; White and McMillan, 2019).
Though it transcends historical periods, sexual violence is not inevitable or ahistorical. The perpetration, policing, and prosecution of sexual aggression are shaped by historically contingent myths and assumptions, as well as by social structures which foster the circumstances for sexual assault. Historically, the perpetrators of sexual violence have often been protected by legal systems which place the burden of proof on victims, and by patriarchal social structures in which men are more likely to occupy positions of power which can be exploited with impunity.
The Sexual Harms and Medical Encounters (SHaME) project at Birkbeck, University of London, invites article proposals that scrutinise and historicise the perpetrators of sexual violence in the modern period. The term ‘perpetrator’ is understood in a broad sense, as both the individual agent of crime as well as the institutions and social structures which facilitate sexual violence. We are keen to include as broad a geographical and cultural range of contributions as possible, and therefore would particularly welcome proposals from contexts beyond the western, anglophone world. We also welcome submissions which adopt a range of disciplinary and methodological approaches, including from the medical humanities, psy disciplines, criminology, and history. A prestigious, peer-reviewed academic journal has been approached and has shown interest in hosting such a themed issue.
Potential topics may include but are not restricted to:
– Survivors’ and perpetrators’ testimonies about perpetrators of sexual assault;
– Medical and psychiatric classifications of/ responses to the perpetrators of sexual violence;
– The impact of race, ethnicity, class, sexuality and gender identity on medical/legal/media perceptions of perpetrators;
– Perpetrators within the legal process; defence statements and testimonies;
– Changing ideas about the motivation, modus operandi and profile of sexual perpetrators;
– Institutional responses, including the covering up of sexual violence;
– Cultural and/or literary representations of sexual perpetrators throughout history.
Informal enquiries and proposals, consisting of a short CV and 500-word abstract, should be sent to Dr Stephanie Wright (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Dr Ruth Beecher (email@example.com) by 31 October 2020.