by Rose Corrigan. New York: New York University Press, 2013. 320pp. Cloth $39.00 ISBN: 978-0-8147-0793-7

Reviewed by Natalie Kapur Johnson, Department of Political Science, University at Albany, SUNY. nkapur [at] albany.edu


Socio-legal scholarship is replete with detailed examinations of the relative successes and failures of individuals to mobilize the law (e.g. McCann, 1994; Rosenberg 2008) and the anti- rape movement has long been considered one of the successes. However, in this work Rose Corrigan counters this generally acknowledged success by telling a story “that documents the continued and widespread resistance of community institutions to taking rape seriously and describes the marginalized and politically vulnerable position of local [rape crisis centers] RCCs” (p.3). In doing so, Corrigan brings into focus the significant interactions and contingent nature of law, politics and social movements in producing legal and social change. One of Corrigan’s aims is to show the juxtaposition of the successful mobilization of the law in the 1970s followed by the significant decline in the 1980s and 1990s. While advocates had been successful during the 1970s in removing marital rape exemptions, for example, there was little success in, and substantial resistance to, reforming procedures around collecting evidence and performing medical examinations of rape victims.

Corrigan asks four central questions: “Why are some reforms embraced by policymakers and criminal justice actors while others are resisted? Why do rape victims have so few rights – either on the books or in practice? How do reforms both challenge and reinforce cultural perceptions of sexual violence? And how do feminists simultaneously recognize the unavoidable role of the state in confronting acts of violence and the states’ complicity in systemic violence against many of its own citizens?” (p.17). In order to answer these questions, Corrigan examines six states that are geographically, politically, and culturally diverse in order to be able to draw comparisons between larger urban areas and smaller rural communities. Corrigan terms this a “between and within” strategy and certainly allays some methodological concerns strict quantitative scholars may have. Thus, methodologically Corrigan’s work is qualitative. She recognizes the limited causal inferences and generalizations that can be made from this type of work but is not discouraged (and neither should she be). Indeed, her methodological choice works to the credit of the book, and of Corrigan. Corrigan provides rich and detailed discussion of her semi-structured interviews with advocates in RCCs to inform the reader of the institutional barriers facing rape victims and advocates. Quantitative, large N studies cannot replace the “thick descriptions” within this work and certainly would not answer the core questions Corrigan posits. Neither, I think, would a largely quantitative methodology allow for an [*182] exploration of the true complexities facing police, courts, and victims of sexual assault.

Although Corrigan does not specifically separate the book into two parts, it is readily understood that way. The first part (chapters 2-4) provides an overview in various different contexts. The second part (chapters 5-7) discusses more in depth the ways in which policy innovations work in a movement that faces significant institutional barriers accompanied by a severe lack of legal mobilization.

Chapter two reads like a literature review of the scholarship in law and social change within the context of rape reforms from the 1970s onwards. In this chapter Corrigan notes five themes identified as accounting for the “de-mobilization” of the anti-rape movement. These were: a failure to fit, rights claims and the limits of criminal law, loss of specialized legal advocates, the political costs of legal success (pp.23-27). This chapter discusses some of the obvious successes of the anti-rape movement feminists were able to achieve. Chapter three provides an overview of the study and the organizations included within it. Additionally, this chapter details the states studied, justifications for the methodological choices, and any reliability issues. Chapter four gives the reader the context for the study in terms of contemporary medical and legal rape case processing. In doing so, Corrigan illustrates some of the institutional barriers facing rape victims and advocates in having cases processed in an accurate and timely fashion. Here she documents the responses at each step of the way from the fear of victims when reporting the sexual assault to hospital staff not wanting to perform medical exams to the police simply not taking the time and care necessary and turning the tables on the victim. These individual actions may not be significant in isolation, but when taken together the arduous legal process discourages victims of sexual assault from reporting the crime.

Moving onto the policy innovations, chapter five examines the sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) programs that were instituted in the 1970s and 1980s to provide improved care for rape victims in the aftermath of the assault. While these programs are largely successful according to Corrigan, one problem occurs for example when the police are unsure of the extent of care the victim may need. The sexual assault response teams (SARTs) that grew out of SANE programs consist of medical providers, law enforcement and RCC advocates who often clash over power dynamics leading to problems for sexual assault victims and RCC advocates being left out of the process. This frustration was certainly illustrated through the first hand comments of advocates participating in Corrigan’s study, but still there was no move to mobilize the law.

Chapter six explores various states laws surrounding the distribution of emergency contraception in the emergency room, so called EC in the ER programs. Corrigan reports a clear disparity between the states studied in terms of compliance with emergency contraception for rape victims. Victims certainly confront barriers in hospitals run by religious organizations. Despite various religious and moral beliefs, [*183] Corrigan noted that most advocates believed it to be an “empowerment philosophy” with emergency contraception being a means of giving individuals the full range of choices available to them (p.168). When pressed, advocates simply did not see validity in forcing hospitals to comply with emergency contraception laws and chose not to focus on the rape victims’ “right” to emergency contraception therefore displaying almost non-existent legal consciousness. Indeed, Corrigan notes “legal tactics are never considered as a possible source of leverage against recalcitrant institutions” (p.197, emphasis in original). Instead, the language of empowerment and individual choice was used frequently by advocates.

Chapter seven focuses on sex offender registration and community notification (SORCN) laws and the impact these laws have on the work of the police and prosecutors along with the impact on rape victims. Corrigan calls the consequences of these laws “draconian” having significant consequences for both the individual and the surrounding community (p.218). One advocate in Kansas particularly struck me as important for showing some of the institutionalized barriers facing victims of sexual assault. This advocate reported that prosecutors rarely, if ever, file rape cases but “DAs and prosecuting attorneys in Kansas … love sex offender registries. They love putting restrictions on sex offenders” (p.228). Overall, however, advocates expressed a clear dissatisfaction with the SORCN laws as politically motivated rather than serving the needs of the community. Indeed, one of the factors that prevent individuals from mobilizing in this particular area is the perception that their efforts will be for naught.

The final chapter of the book, chapter eight, concludes the study providing feminists who may be reading this a discussion of the advocate’s views on feminism. Perhaps a surprising conclusion is that advocates do not identify themselves as feminists thus illustrating as Corrigan aptly notes the difficult tension between law and feminism. Indeed a common theme running through the accounts of individual advocates is their distinct lack of understanding that the law could be mobilized. It seems from the discussions throughout the book that advocates simply did not see legal mobilization as a tactic available to them. Reform in the law came during the early anti- rape movement without widespread litigation, therefore it did not seem a necessary tactic for those seeking to reform policies and procedures in later decades. Overall, RCC advocates see themselves as just that: advocates for the rape victim and they do not attempt to change either the legal or the criminal justice systems’ responses to rape. They are there to serve the victim of rape, and only the victim. The thought of mobilizing the law simply did not cross their minds in nearly all aspects of the study.

Overall this work is exceptionally researched and well written. It is clear Corrigan has a passion for this subject as evidenced by the note of possible biases. The book should be welcomed into the field of law and courts as informative for three sets of scholars. First, the methodological contributions in terms of its focus on comparative case studies is important for a field that traditionally focuses qualitative work on single states [*184] or transnational comparisons. Second, socio-legal scholars will find this book of use as an examination of the intersection of law, society and social movements for an understanding of when the law does not translate into successes for individuals and social movement organizations. Third, feminist scholars should take notice of this work to understand the complex and perhaps contingent nature of what it means to identify with feminist goals.


Copyright 2013 by the Author, Natalie Kapur Johnson.