Until the 1970s, rape was a generic term that usually was typified by a stranger attacking a female and demanding forced sex from the victim. Spouse and acquaintance rape were often met with skepticism by the public and there was a reluctance on the part of the victim and law enforcement to pursue the problem. The issue was of great importance as indicated in a 2000 report by Fisher, Cullen, and Turner that stated 90% of all college women raped or sexually assaulted knew their attacker prior to the criminal act (as cited in Statistics about sexual violence, 2003). Feminism brought the crime of acquaintance and spousal rape into the public arena and elevated the discussion to a national social issue. In the process, it brought about more accurate reporting and a more realistic view of the crime.
Feminism has been at the forefront of the movement to redefine and de-stigmatize sexual assault against women in an effort to create a more accurate appraisal of the crime of rape. Crime and the definition of criminal behavior change over time and is therefore a "social construction and part of the political process" (Burke, 2005, p.5). The 1970s were the beginning of a decades long rape reform movement that would see feminists working with law enforcement and the justice system to sharpen the definition of rape and alter the methods of conducting sexual assault trials (Sable, Danis, Mauzy, & Gallagher, 2006, p.157). Rape would be sub defined as spousal rape, date rape, acquaintance rape, and stranger rape. Prior to the movement, rape was often unreported when the perpetrator was a spouse or an acquaintance. During the 1970s and the 1980s there was marked increase in the reporting of rapes that were committed by an acquaintance or spouse (Baumer, Fellson, & Messner, 2003, p.863). By removing the ambiguous controversy that defined rape, the feminist inspired rape reform movement was able to bring the new definition into the public awareness and alter the legal and cultural context of sexual assault. The main reasons for non-reporting of an acquaintance rape are shame, fear of recriminations, self-blame, and fear of being stereotyped (Sable, Danis, Mauzy, & Gallagher, 2006, p.160). While these fears still exist, feminism has been successful in removing the stigma of acquaintance rape and was responsible for the increase in the reporting on non-stranger rape in recent decades.
Feminist advocates in the UK have made a significant impact on the criminology of sexual specific crimes. They were instrumental in getting the 1975 Sexual Offences Act enacted that provided anonymity for the victim and limited the testimony used against a rape victim in court (Are we there yet, 2005). Further efforts by feminists drew public attention to domestic violence and its treatment as a serious crime. In 1991 spousal rape within a marriage was recognized as a crime in the UK (Are we there yet, 2005). These efforts by the feminist movement have resulted in a more accurate reporting of the crime of acquaintance rape and has enabled researchers to design and implement more reliable methods of prevention and more effective victim assistance programs.
Along with removing the stigma of being a rape victim, feminism also redefined the victim of