The History of the Anti-Rape Movement
Rape has been and will continue to be a pervasive form of physical, emotional, and psychological control over the less powerful and oppressed. The legal definitions and consequences of rape and the social implications of rape on the victims and perpetrators have gone through many changes throughout the centuries but the emotional effect on the victim and the controlling intent of the perpetrator has always remained the same. Rape will continue to be a lasting problem for for women, children anad, other men until equality and respect is the dominating principle of human cultures across the world. Until this time, sexual violence advocacy centers and coalitions will remain with open doors for victims and survivors or rape, sexual assault, and childhood sexual abuse.
Rape crisis centers began to emerge across the country during the 1970s Anti-rape Movement. This movement found itself immediately born from the successes of the country’s Civil Rights Movement and subsequent Women’s Movement but credit for the conversation should be given to the African-American activists who fought against rape and oppression from the time following the Civil War, through the Jim Crow era, and into the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Following the civil war the southern states found themselves in a state of chaos. In their loss of control and following the abolition of slavery, the south began to govern under Jim Crow and segregation laws. This time period saw the brutal murder of thousands of black men and rapes of countless black women as a white man’s attempt to maintain power over the African-American citizens. The first organized anti-rape effort can be credited to the five women who testified before congress in 1866 after each experiencing gang rape during the Memphis Riot. (Heldman, Brown 2014) Following these women’s testimonies, the 1890s saw the formation of black women’s clubs in response to unceasing violence.
The 1970s and 1980s saw the organized anti-rape movement sweep across America. Survivors and activists employed speak-outs, anti-rape marches, campus sexual violence protests, survivor lead self-defense classes, rape crisis hotlines, rape-crisis centers, and coalitions as methods to promote awareness, correct misconceptions, offer help for victims, and demand legal protection for victims. Women everywhere began to see that the mantra, “the personal is political,” that described the second wave of the women’s movement so well, extended past women’s lack of professional, economic, and educational opportunities into the gender based sexual violence that women faced (and continue to face) daily. The women’s movement had begun to see what African-American women knew since the 18th century. Rape is a perversely prevalent form of oppression used by men to control women’s bodies. This sentiment is best described through a powerful statement in the Chicago Women Against Rape’s 1970s statement of purpose: “In rape, the woman is not a sexual being but a vulnerable piece of public property; the man does not violate society’s norms so much as take them to a logical conclusion.” With this survivors began to advocate for themselves, they advocated for other survivors, and women everywhere demanded social change and legal protections. The movement yielded new laws such as the Rape Shield Law to make a victim’s sexual history irrelevant in the court of law, the federal Victims of Crime Act of 1985 and the Violence Against Women Act of 1994.
Today we see the beginnings of a new wave the anti-rape movement as the national discussion is once again brought to the forefront. This new wave embraces the power of social media to mobilize large groups and more quickly and easily share their messages of equality and anti-violence. Although the settings and structures of our activism have changed and should continue to change with the time, the mission of the movement remains the same. Support victims of sexual violence and advocate for social change, equality, and respect for women and minorities. Only then can we see an end to sexual violence.