Sex, Rape and Shame

Posted: 29 Oct 1998

See all articles by Katharine K. Baker

Katharine K. Baker

Chicago-Kent College of Law - Illinois Institute of Technology

Date Written: June 1998


This article explores how shame sanctions may be able to change the social meaning and decrease the prevalence of date rape. Arguing that men's tendency to date rape is fostered by social norms that treat sex as an accomplishment and, importantly, an accomplishment that enhances a man's masculinity status, the article suggests that one way to curb date rape is to curb the extent to which it is associated with masculine behavior. This strategy is necessary because the high premium society places on masculinity and the cultural confusion about when date rape is morally wrong and how it is different than consensual sex make it particularly difficult to secure convictions for date rapists. Because date rape so often goes unpunished, people fail to internalize the wrong implicit in the crime.

Shame sanctions, which are likely to emasculate the perpetrator better than can traditional criminal punishments, and public apologies, which will make the perpetrator vulnerable and likely to empathize with his victim, should help men internalize the wrong of rape. By making date rape something that is associated more with the menial and the pathetic and less with the macho, communities may be able to alter the social norms that lead to date rape.

Suggested Citation

Baker, Katharine K., Sex, Rape and Shame (June 1998). Available at SSRN:

Katharine K. Baker (Contact Author)

Chicago-Kent College of Law - Illinois Institute of Technology ( email )

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Chicago, IL 60661-3691
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