The specific behaviors that constitute rape vary across cultures (Koss, Heise, & Russo, 1994). In the United States the meaning of rape has undergone considerable change. Donat and D’Emilio (1992) pointed out that in colonial times sex was regulated by the church and rape was con­sidered a crime against the man who “owned” the woman, either her father or her husband. In the 19th century this view changed. “In the 19th cen­tury, women were viewed as pure and virtuous by nature, and as disinter­ested in sex” (Donat & D’Emilio, 1992, p. 11). A woman who engaged in sexual intercourse outside of marriage was considered an impure or fallen woman, even if the intercourse was the result of rape.

In the 20th century until the beginning of the modern feminist move­ment, the rapist, at least the White rapist, was viewed as someone with a mental illness (Amir, 1971; Donat & D’Emilio, 1992). In addition, the widespread belief in rape myths (e. g., you can’t rape a woman who doesn’t want to be raped) led to the view that women contributed to their own victimization (Burt, 1980). As Donat and D’Emilio (1992) pointed out, it was widely believed that the good woman was one who knew her place. If she strayed from her feminine role and acted as a man, one of the conse­quences could be rape.

In the 1970s feminist writers such as Brownmiller (1975), Griffin (1971), and Millet (1970) demonstrated how rape and the fear of rape functioned as a means by which men controlled women in a patriarchal society, a way to intimidate women and keep them fearful. Thus, over the past three centuries the meaning of rape has changed from a crime against a woman’s owner (father or husband), to a defect in a woman (impurity) and a sickness in a man, to a means of social control of women by men.

As Donat and D’Emilio (1992) pointed out, it is interesting to note that almost all consideration of rape prior to the 1970s referred to stranger rape. However, once rape was reconceptualized as a means of intimidating and controlling women, it became conceivable that other men—fathers, brothers, dates, neighbors, friends—might also use rape as a means of con­trol. Once acquaintance rape was identified as a possibility, researchers began investigating it.

The feminist reconceptualization of rape has been accompanied by changes in the rape laws of virtually every state (and across the Western world) (Donat & D’Emilio, 1992; Goldberg-Ambrose, 1992; Searles & Ber­ger, 1987). Although rape laws vary somewhat from state to state, most states now define rape as sexual intercourse without a person’s consent, and allow for various degrees of rape depending on the amount of force used.

Increasing the scope of the definition of rape has also blurred the distinction between rape and consensual sexual intercourse. What is rape? How does one know when rape has occurred? A public (Maglin & Perry, 1996; Roiphe, 1994) and scholarly (Gilbert, 1993; Koss & Cook, 1993; Sanday, 1996) debate has been ongoing regarding the distinction between acquaintance rape and bad sex (see Kamen, 1996). Muehlenhard, Powch, Phelps, and Giusti (1992) argued that this new, broader definition of rape is in the service of women. For example, if rape is narrowly defined and based on high levels of assailant force and victim resistance, it is the woman who has to prove that she was raped by showing that her experi­ence fell within these boundaries, something that is frequently difficult to do. Muehlenhard and Linton (1987) and Rapaport and Burkhart (1984) have reported that most men do not use either high levels of force or severe threat of force to obtain intercourse against a woman’s will; rather, they are most likely to ignore her protests and use their greater size and weight to continue until intercourse has been completed. Without obvious phys­ical threat or force, it would be difficult to show that this typical situation falls within the narrow definition of rape. On the other hand, if rape is defined to include all nonconsensual sexual intercourse and is not limited by amount of assailant force or victim resistance, then the burden falls on the man to demonstrate that he did not rape.

As this brief review demonstrates, what is considered rape is influ­enced by society’s beliefs about the roles and status of women. The defi­nition of rape we use in this chapter is consistent with that used in most feminist research as well as most state laws. We define rape as vaginal, anal, or oral penetration of a woman by a man without her consent. Although it is possible for a woman to rape another woman, for a man to rape another man, or for a woman to rape a man, the focus of this chapter is on sexual assaults by men against women.