The Geography of Rape: Shaming Narratives in Norwegian Rape Cases

Article written by Anne Bitsch, published in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 44.4 (2019).


This article discusses how perpetrators and victims are constructed in legal rape cases and how these constructions are informed by notions of gender, sexuality, race, and nation. It presents an in-depth frame analysis of two legal cases that were processed by Norwegian appellate courts in 2012. In so doing, I show how the allocation of shame and sympathy for victims and perpetrators is connected to citizenship through gender and race discrimination. The analysis suggests that whereas the perpetrator with a majority racial background was subject to so-called reintegrative shaming, the perpetrator with a minority racial background was subject to stigmatic shaming. The politics of shame in the context of rape thus manifests as an attribution of guilt (but to a lesser extent shame and stigmatization) to the majority perpetrator, whereas the minority perpetrator was constructed as a deviant outlaw deserving of public shame. Prior relationship with the perpetrator, sexually “risk-taking” behavior, and alcohol consumption were associated with negative stereotyping of victims. Moreover, the court regarded violence committed by the perpetrator from a racial-majority group as a deviation from the civilized and gender-equal mainstream culture. I therefore argue that geography constitutes a specific element in the legal processing of rape cases. With the prosecution of rape as a medium, the courts produce and reproduce a moral community in which some sexual citizens are admitted a share and others are not, while the legal process simultaneously manages the sexual rights of citizens in different physical and social spaces.

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Published May 28, 2019 3:11 PM - Last modified May 28, 2019 3:33 PM