A Developing Legal System Grapples with an Ancient Problem: Rape in Nicaragua
Rutgers School of Law-Camden
January 15, 1990
12 Women’s Rts. L. Rep. 69 (1990)
Demands for rape law reform and debate about the incidence of rape burst onto the national stage in Nicaragua in 1988 and 1989. Initially ignited by newspaper accounts of a father who had raped his eight-month-old daughter, a series of equally brutal rapes kept alive what soon became a wide-ranging discussion of the causes of violence against women and possible responses.
The debate in Nicaragua was influenced by the unique history of this small Central American nation. The 1979 overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship brought many traditional institutions and practices under scrutiny. In order to understand the current discussion in Nicaragua, rape must be viewed in the context of changing attitudes toward sex roles and sexuality.
Despite the very different context, however, the debate in Nicaragua had much in common with the ongoing debate in the United States, which gained strength in the 1970s as a product of the women’s movement. At that time U.S. feminists presented a broad analysis of rape, insisting that it be understood not as the sexual aberration of a few men, but as a violent crime that reflects societal views of sex roles and men’s often violent oppression of women. The feminist critique has had some success in challenging the treatment of rape cases by the criminal justice system and has led to revisions of rape legislation in many jurisdictions.
Social science research in Nicaragua is hampered by a lack “hard” data about attitudes and values. Most analysis and debate takes place in the newspapers, on the radio, and in conferences and roundtable discussions. My six-year stay in Nicaragua gave me a unique opportunity to follow these discussions closely; to talk with and interview dozens of Nicaraguans participating in the nationwide debates; and to review numerous unpublished papers and studies. This article is based on that research, on my firsthand observation of the process as it has unfolded over the years, and on my analysis of the complex and often archaic Nicaraguan legal system.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 20
Keywords: rape, Nicaragua, sexual violence, Latin America, sex rolesAccepted Paper Series
Date posted: July 17, 2012
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