Rape is the taking of sexual intimacy with an unwilling person by force or without consent. Historically, rape was regarded as an offense that could be committed only against a woman not married to the defendant, and it was seen both as a crime of violence against her and as a property crime against her husband or father. Today, the law recognizes that rape can be committed against females and males, and it is viewed both as a crime of violence and as violating an individual's basic right to decide with whom to have sex.
Probably no crime has been more sharply affected by contemporary society's rapidly changing attitudes. Influenced by the newly arrived voices of women in the law, legislatures have enacted sweeping changes in the statutory definitions of rape and the evidentiary rules for trying rape cases. That this law reform has been controversial is not surprising. It reflects shifting perceptions about our most intimate human activity, appropriate sexual behavior by males and females, the relative status and power of men and women in society, the proper balance between convicting the guilty but not the innocent, and the legal consequences of the marriage relationship.