Criminalizing Spousal Rape: The Diffusion of Legal Reforms
Sociology and Criminal Justice
While efforts to criminalize spousal rape began in the 1970s, by 2002 only twenty-three states had adopted laws that allow for the full prosecution of sexual assault by a spouse. The authors present the first analysis of martial rape law reform to incorporate insights from research on diffusion. The authors find that states are more likely to criminalize spousal rape when women in the state have more economic power. Conversely, states are less likely to criminalize spousal rape when the legislature passed previous incremental reforms or when a neighboring state already criminalized spousal rape. The authors also find that states that criminalize spousal rape under a split-party government are particularly influential in the spread of such reforms and that the processes driving early diffusion are different than the processes driving later diffusion. Overall, results suggest that understanding law reforms requires greater attention to incremental change, negative effects of spatial diffusion, and the importance of time.
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