Based on Carol Smart's observation that rape law reform as lobbied for by the feminist movement during the 1970s and 1980s failed to achieve any meaningful change, this article seeks to examine the nature and implications of rape law reform in the Republic of Ireland from the 1980s to the present day. During the 1980s the conceptualization of rape changed from a proprietorial crime to a violation of individual bodily integrity due to feminist lobbying efforts and the emergence of a victim-centered approach in the criminal justice system. Though this changing conceptualisation has led to significant attitudinal change, particularly surrounding the issues of acquaintance and marital rape, procedural change has failed to secure higher conviction rates. In particular, this article demonstrates that the legal reforms achieved in the 1980s potentially resulted in a 2% decrease in rape conviction rates by 2007. When compared to England/Wales, conviction rates as distinctive from prosecution rates in Ireland remain chronically low. This indicates that any legal reforms must take account of the institutional bias ingrained the Irish criminal justice system against female rape complainants, which has continuing relevance for Irish legislation pertaining to sexual violence such as the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act, 2017. Overall this article suggests that rape is an exceptional crime and needs to be reassessed as such.
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