Rape Trauma, the State, and the Art of Tracey Emin
81 Pages Posted: 16 Feb 2020
Date Written: March 21, 2012
Prosecutors use “rape trauma syndrome” evidence at rape trials to explain victims’ “counterintuitive” behaviors and demeanors, such as their late reporting, rape denials, returning to the scenes of their attacks, and lack of emotional affect. Courts and experts, in instructions and testimony, usually describe victim reticence as a product of “shame” or “trauma.” Feminist critics of R.T.S. evidence posit that the syndrome’s profile is based on incomplete evidence, because most rapes are unreported. Furthermore, they object to its condescending, sexist, and colonial construction of rape victims and their emotions.
In this Article, I respond to feminist critics by studying the work of Tracey Emin. Emin is a British-Turkish artist who suffered an unreported rape at the age of 13, and who has been commenting on that rape through her art ever since. Expanding and innovating upon the work of law and humanities scholars, I apply the insights found in art – or, what I describe as “artifacts,” with a deliberate play on the word – to rape law. Through my study of the facts limned in art, I show how the complexities of Emin’s reactions to rape challenge the too-streamlined and often confusing stories of victims told by prosecutors, experts, and courts. Emin’s art demonstrates that she harbors suspicions of the state, a skepticism based in part on her failure to correspond to “real rape” victim stereotypes. Her critique adds much needed insight into problems of the R.T.S. model. Based on the lessons learned, I make suggestions for rape law reform, and for changes to be made to the administration of rape prosecutions in the U.S. and U.K.
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