Civil actions for rape and sexual assault have recently been undergoing significant changes in both quantity and quality. Quantitatively, the number of these kinds of cases has increased dramatically since the 1970s. Qualitatively, the litigation has shifted from a woman versus man paradigm to a triangulated tort claim involving a female plaintiff, a male defendant, and a corporate or institutional third party entity that either facilitated or somehow failed to prevent the sexual harm. While it may seem odd to think of sexual assault as involving three parties, the legal forms of rape have traditionally been triangulated. Historically, rape was a legal wrong between two men regarding one’s proprietary interest in a woman: one man’s rape of another man’s wife, daughter, or servant would be legally constructed as a wrong done to him. Then, as this triangulation faded and the criminal justice system became the main forum for rape redress, the criminal triangulation of state versus male defendant, regarding the wrong to a woman, became the dominant structure of rape law.
Despite the fact that the criminal regime has been demonstrably unsuccessful in addressing or deterring sexual harms, it remains the primary forum for their adjudication, and many cultural, legal, and political pressures encourage women to rely solely on this system. This article argues against those pressures, and asserts that triangulated claims in private law represent a potentially promising avenue of redress for sexual harms. These civil suits can function as “crimtorts” (private civil actions which target public harms). Although they must overcome some significant obstacles, triangulated civil suits can serve as an important tool in targeting the social realities that contribute to sexual assault.
Swan, Sarah Lynnda, Triangulating Rape (April 25, 2013). New York University Review of Law & Social Change, Forthcoming.