Real Women, Real Rape

58 Pages Posted: 25 Sep 2012 Last revised: 8 May 2013

I. Bennett Capers

Brooklyn Law School

Date Written: May 8, 2013


There are several reasons to find rape shield laws troubling. From the point of view of many defense lawyers and civil libertarians, rape shield laws, by curtailing a defendant’s ability to offer evidence of an accuser’s prior sexual conduct, unfairly circumscribe a defendant’s right to confront witnesses and present relevant evidence in his defense. By contrast, rape shield proponents argue that rape shield laws are too weak, and are so riddled with exceptions that they amount to little more than sieves. “Real Women, Real Rape” calls attention to two other problems with rape shield laws, problems which can be traced to the very enactment of rape shield laws, but for the most part have remained hidden, unnoticed, and unremarked upon. The first problem concerns the expressive message implicitly communicated by rape shield laws: that jurors should assume the complainant is a “good girl” and thus deserving of the law’s protection. Because of rape shield laws, any suggestion that women may lead healthy sexual lives is quietly pushed to the side and corseted. In short, the concern is that in pushing for rape shield laws, feminists, victim rights advocates, and prosecutors have reinscribed the very chastity requirement they hoped to abolish. The second problem is what I term expressive message failure, and occurs when a rape shield’s message conflicts with pre-existing rape scripts, those assumptions we have about what rapists look like, what constitutes rape, and most importantly here, what rape victims look like. The article sketches out solutions to these specific problems, and gestures towards a broader solution to tackle other flaws with rape shield laws.

Keywords: Rape, rape shield laws, expressive message, Rule 412, Rule 413

Suggested Citation

Capers, I. Bennett, Real Women, Real Rape (May 8, 2013). 60 UCLA L. Rev. 826 (2013); Brooklyn Law School, Legal Studies Paper No. 295. Available at SSRN:

I. Bennett Capers (Contact Author)

Brooklyn Law School ( email )

250 Joralemon Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
United States


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