Sexual Assault: Past Reflections

By Kayleene Wopershall, Trending Writer

Within the past few years, the topic of sexual assault has become less of a taboo subject. With more awareness, advocates are fighting for more justice to be served towards the perpetrators of various forms of sexual assault.

The first laws having to do with sexual assault, specifically rape, were written as property crimes – the male head of household or the family/tribal unit were the victims, not the woman. Over time, these laws changed and evolved in many cultures. In the United States, it shifted from a civil matter to a crime against the state. In the 1980s, the Washington State rape laws changed to make a law against rape child-based only depending on the age of both the child and abuser. The laws that had exempted rape in marriage began in 1976 with Nebraska and finished in 1993 with North Carolina – Washington State still has this law today.

The first women to speak out about rape were actually African American women – it used to be legal for the white slaveholders to rape their slaves. Even after slavery was abolished, those same white men used rape as a fear tactic to control the African American women and their communities. The first women to speak out were African American women, who had been gang raped by a group of white men during the Memphis Riot of May 1866. They testified before Congress. While there were no laws to protect them, there were laws justifying lynching of African American men who were accused of raping white women.

In the present we have had some serious success regarding justice for sexual assault, like: a rape survivor’s sexual history cannot be used to discredit her or him in court, acquaintance rape has gained greater visibility as rape crisis centers are still standing, laws continue to change in favor of survivors, the assumption of men’s power over women has been challenged, survivors have greater resources, and sexual assault rates have declined in recent years, among other improvements. Even with all of these improvements, women are still being blamed for their sexual assaults – not the perpetrators. Women are still being asked questions inflicting blame such as, “What was she wearing?” instead of asking, “Why did he rape her?”

Although these changes have brought on a new sense of security about sexual assault, there is still a long way to go before this problem is truly taken care of, for both female and male victims.


A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, November 7th print edition.

Contact Kayleene at


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