A comprehensive examination of the state-to-state changes in rape laws in the United States
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In this study, I use event history analyses to examine the spread of rape law reforms in the United States between 1970 and 2006. Specifically, I investigate the adoption of the following rape law reforms: 1) creating gender-neutral rape laws, 2) eliminating the resistance requirement, 3) redefining rape as sexual assault, and 4) passing a strong rape shield law. The main purpose of my research is to advance our theoretical understanding of the law formation process. Using conflict theory, political opportunity theory, and the diffusion framework to guide my analyses, I examine the following: 1) how state characteristics (i.e., the percent of women in the state legislature, having a liberal government ideology, the rate of reported rapes) and the interstate process of diffusion affect a state’s likelihood of passing each rape law reform; 2) if the same social factors and processes that significantly affect the adoption of non-controversial rape law reforms also affect the adoption of controversial rape law reforms; 3) how the prior adoption of partial rape law reforms affects a state’s likelihood of passing a stronger version of each rape law reform; and 4) how the adoption of other rape law reforms affects the adoption of each rape law reform. My analyses produced several important findings. First, the results indicate that women’s economic power is significantly related to a state’s passage of rape law reforms and that being in close proximity to other states that adopted the rape law reform significantly decreases a state’s likelihood of passing that particular rape law reform. Importantly, these findings are similar for both the controversial and non-controversial rape law reforms. On the other hand, the prior adoption of a weaker, partial rape law reform significantly decreases a state’s likelihood of passing the stronger version of the reform only for the two more controversial rape law reforms. Finally, although the prior adoption of other rape law reforms does not affect a state’s likelihood of passing each of the rape law reforms, there are significant associations between the different rape law reforms adopted during the same legislative session. The theoretical implications of these findings are discussed.