Rape Reform and the Failure of Success – by Rose Corrigan
The anti-sexual violence movement has come a long way since the initial feminist efforts to draw attention to the issue and create initial policy and systems responses to carve out supports for victims and survivors of gender-based violence. However, not every step appearing to be a victory also represents a step forward for the movement. Based on years of research and in-depth qualitative research with rape crisis center advocates doing front-line work to support victims and survivors through the aftermath of sexual violence, Corrigan reveals the ways in which best-intention policies have created additional barriers to services, resulted in poor implementation, or stagnated altogether while mired down in local political and cultural clashes. Through research focused on policy reform, legal responses, medical services, and prosecutorial trends, Corrigan details the ways in which attempts to make “the system” work for victims and survivors have led to further marginalization of feminist efforts at reform and progress. From access to emergency contraception, street-level bureaucracy, and distancing from the feminist label in favor of professionalization, the real-life implications have led to disparate outcomes dependent on local context, leaving advocates no clear path forward.
“Up Against a Wall: Rape Reform and the Failure of Success” by Rose Corrigan looks at the lived experiences of advocates across the country as they struggle to navigate the fine balance between legal reforms and collaborative partnerships. Corrigan draws on past research and her own in-depth interviews with rape crisis center staff to explore the ways in which advocates seek to have a voice throughout the legal process (police reports, DA hearings and prosecutorial decisions, sentencing outcomes, etc.) and are simultaneously constrained in holding such entities accountable when laws and procedures are implemented with broad discretion by the need to maintain partnerships and funding. Through her interviews, Corrigan draws on myriad examples of reforms that work well in some communities and fail miserably in others (she has a decent spread of experiences in her examples, having interviewed staff from a sampling of states across the country representing everything from rural to urban communities, conservative and progressive). She includes plenty of egregious examples of systems failures, largely due to individual discretion of officers, medical staff, attorneys and others that have authority to impose their own interpretation of the law. Ultimately, she concludes that there needs to be greater collaboration among theorists and front-lines staff to promote critical analysis of current difficulties to seek an effective path forward.
I appreciated Corrigan’s in-depth research into the reality and constraints that rape crisis center staff face when advocating on behalf of victims moving through the medical and legal systems. However, her research seemed to return bad news at each turn. For every example of one reform that worked, there were myriad more examples of how it didn’t, with no clear suggestions for how to actually make progress. As someone who has been in the field for a while now, I would have appreciated more attention to the importance of local context and the fact that everything must be constantly negotiated. Criticisms aside, I love that this book reflected so much of my own experience in the field. Important to read for anyone interested in this work.