The Discourses of Sex Crimes

Little, Mary. The Discourses of Sex Crimes. 2017. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

This project critically examines the language of sex crimes in order to reveal the ways that legal structures are embedded with what Susan Ehrlich describes as “androcentric and sexist assumptions that typically masquerade as ‘objective’ truths.” I use a feminist interdisciplinary approach to assess the common discourses of acquaintance rape and sex work in the United States in order to demonstrate how cultural myths of sexual behavior inform legal standards. These presumably neutral legal standards in turn influence broader discourses of sexuality and sexual crime, lending them a convincing authority. Consequently, these inherently gendered discourses have become inextricable from the legal realities of sexual crime and serve to mitigate or justify violence against women while at the same time defending perpetrators. My research supports the idea that legal reform of sex crimes and the eradication of harmful sex crime discourses requires a two-pronged approach on a legal level and a cultural level. Changing societal attitudes about sex crimes, in particular ideologies of sexuality and gender, is necessary for these harmful discourses to be discontinued. Simultaneously, more attention needs to be paid to judicial training and continuing education regarding sexual crime in order to eradicate these discourses from our legal system and achieve successful legal reform of these crimes.

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