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Rape and the Corrupt Judicial System of Colonial America

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The definition and consequences of rape have evolved throughout the history of America to suit the mindset of the time. Records indicate that a man in the seventeenth century was convicted of attempted rape if "he used enticement and then force [toward a woman], driven by the sinful lusts that raged within him...and he allowed scare or fight him off"(Dayton 238). Unfortunately, this definition was not always taken at face value. The leading men of the seventeenth century, presumably white men, altered this definition in a variety of ways to work in their favor when accused of rape. It can be concluded from research of historical data that the reason there are fewer reported rapes against white males in the seventeenth century and more against non-white males was because women gave in to a society driven by the manipulation and dominance of white males in the judicial system. This notion is exemplified through a look into the outcome of a number of rape cases against both white men and non-white men, through an understanding of the helpless position of women, and through a look at the source of the white man's anger toward the non-white male: their view of the non-white male as the "other."

The justice system of the colonial times refrained from punishing white males but did not waver from finding fault with the actions of females, causing women to hesitate at reporting rape against white men. Two famous cases in history, those of Martha Richardson and Goodwife Fancy, exemplify this notion. Martha Richardson had gotten pregnant before her wedding with a man other than her fiancé. Upon this surprise, Martha recalled fainting at her master's house some time ago in the presence of two white males and concluded th...

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...ietal pressures invoked upon women by these leading white men had forced them to surrender their pride and give in to the corrupt judicial system under whose ultimate power their fates depended.

Works Cited

Axtell, James. Beyond 1492: Encounters in Colonial North America. Oxford University Press, 1992.

Dayton, Cornelia Hughes. Women Before the Bar: Gender, Law, And Society In Connecticut, 1639-1789. University of North Carolina Press, 1995.

Hartog, Hendrik. "The Public law of a County Court: Judicial Government in Eighteenth Century Massachusetts." American Journal of Legal History, XX (1976), 282-329

Rowlandson, Mary. The Sovereignty and Goodness of God. Ed. Neal Salisbury. Bedford Books, 1997.

Vilbert, Elizabeth. Traders' Tales: Narratives of Cultural Encounters in the Columbia Plateau, 1807-1846. University of Oklahoma Press, 1997.

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