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Rape shield law

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Title: Rape shield law  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Rape, R v Darrach, Anti-rape movement, Article 32 hearing, Oliver Jovanovic
Collection: Canadian Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Rape, United States Criminal Law
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Rape shield law

A rape shield law is a law that limits a defendant's ability to introduce evidence or cross-examine rape complainants about their past sexual behavior. The term also refers to a law that prohibits the publication of the identity of an alleged rape victim.


  • Australia 1
  • Canada 2
  • United States 3
    • Identification of alleged rape victims by media outlets 3.1
  • References 4
  • External links 5


In Australia, all states and mainland territories have rape shield laws that limit the admission of evidence in criminal proceedings where someone is charged with a sexual offence. The principal aims of these laws are to:

  • prohibit the admission of evidence of a complainant’s sexual reputation;
  • prevent the use of sexual history evidence to establish the complainant as a ‘type’ of person who is more likely to consent to sexual activity; and
  • exclude the use of a complainant’s sexual history as an indicator of the complainant’s truthfulness.[1]


In Canada, in 1992 legislation amended the Criminal Code to re-establish a rape shield law with strict guidelines for when and how previous sexual conduct could be used by a defendant at trial. The reform came in the Parliament after the 1991 ruling, R. v. Seaboyer had struck down the previously existing rape shield law (enacted in 1982) as unconstitutional. Bill C-49 amended the Criminal Code provisions that govern the admissibility of evidence of sexual activity; refined the definition of consent to a sexual act; and restricted the defense that an accused had an honest but mistaken belief that the accuser had consented. The 1995 Supreme Court judgment in the case of British Columbia Bishop Hubert O'Connor (R. v. O'Connor) led to Bill C-46, which limited the production of a complainant's personal counselling records to the defense in sexual offence cases. Bill C-46 was tested in R. v. Mills, and upheld by the Supreme Court in 1999.[2]

In the 2000 decision of R. v. Darrach, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the law in a case involving former Ottawa resident Andrew Scott Darrach, who was convicted of sexually assaulting his ex-girlfriend. Darrach was sentenced in 1994 to nine months in jail for the assault. By a 9–0 the court found that all the rape shield provisions in the Criminal Code are constitutional. The ruling said forcing the accuser to give evidence would invade her privacy and would "discourage the reporting of crimes of sexual violence." In his appeal, Darrach had argued that he had been denied a fair trial because he was unable to raise the fact that he mistakenly thought the incident was consensual. Additionally, Darrach argued that the law unfairly required him to testify at his own trial. During the trial, Darrach refused to testify at an evidentiary hearing and the evidence was ruled inadmissible.[3]

United States

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, almost all jurisdictions in the United States adopted some form of rape shield statute. The laws in each state differ in the scope of sexual behavior shielded and time limits of the shield. Many states do not permit any evidence relating to the past sexual behavior of the victim. This encompasses evidence of specific instances of the victim's prior or subsequent sexual conduct including opinion evidence or reputation evidence.[4]

The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 created a federal rape shield law.[5] The military has incorporated the rape shield law into Military Rules of Evidence, Rule 412.[6] The military's rape shield law also applies to Article 32, pre-trial proceedings. [7] A recent news article, however, has accused defense attorneys of violating rape shield protections during a pre-trial proceeding.[8]

In 1999, in the case of People v. Jovanovic, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that a lower court had improperly ruled as inadmissible e-mails in which the plaintiff/witness in a rape case expressed her consent to, and later approval of, the encounter. The lower court ruled these e-mails inadmissible on the basis of rape shield laws; however, the Court of Appeals ruled that the previous court had misapplied those laws.

Identification of alleged rape victims by media outlets

As a matter of courtesy, most newspapers and broadcast media in the United States do not disclose the name of an alleged rape victim during the trial, and if the alleged rapist is convicted, most will continue to not identify the victim. If the case is dropped or the alleged rapist is acquitted, most media will no longer shield the name of the alleged victim. This practice was probably related to laws in some states which made it a crime to publicly reveal the name of the victim in a rape case. When such laws were challenged in court, they were routinely struck down as unconstitutional.[9]

  • In
  • In Florida Star v. B. J. F., 491 U.S. 524 (1989), the U.S. Supreme Court found a Florida statute which provided penalties for media outlets that publicized the name of an alleged rape victim unconstitutional.
  • In State of Florida v. Globe Communications Corp., 648 So.2d 110 (Fla. 1994), the Florida Supreme Court held that a Florida criminal statute that prohibited the media from identifying the names of sexual assault victims violated the First Amendment. In that case, Globe Communications Corp. twice published the name and identifying information of a sexual assault victim, violating the Florida statute. The paper had lawfully learned the victim's name through investigation. The Florida Supreme Court relied on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Florida Star v. B.J.F., finding that the Florida statute barring any media publication of a rape victim's name was unconstitutional because it was "overbroad"; that is, it punished the media even if, for example, the name of the victim was already known in the community. It also found that the statute was "underinclusive" in that it punished only media publication and not acts by a private person.


  1. ^ Australian Government: ALRC: 20. Matters Outside the Uniform Evidence Acts - Rape shield laws
  2. ^ Nicole Baer. "Striking the Balance in Sexual Assault Trials". Justice Canada 1 (1). 
  3. ^ Supreme Court upholds rape-shield law Erin Anderssen The Globe and Mail, Ottawa October 13, 2000.
  4. ^ Rape Shield Statutes March 2011—accessed at National District Attorneys Association [1] Retrieved June 19, 2011.
  5. ^ Factsheet: The Violence Against Women Act from The White House.
  6. ^ Military Rules of Evidence, Rule 412
  7. ^ Manual for Courts-Martial United States (2012), 405(i).
  8. ^  
  9. ^ New Directions from the Field: Victims Rights and Services for the 21st Century (Chapter 13), accessed October 16, 2012.

External links

  • The National Center for Victims of Crime
  • Criminal code (Department of Justice, Canada)
  • Rape shield laws aren't foolproof
  • Is the rape-shield law working?
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