Test Cover Image of:  Up Against a Wall

Up Against a Wall

Rape Reform and the Failure of Success

Rape law reform has long been hailed as one of the most successful projects of second-wave feminism. Yet forty years after the anti-rape movement emerged, legal and medical institutions continue to resist implementing reforms intended to provide more just and compassionate legal and medical responses to victims of sexual violence. In Up Against a Wall, Rose Corrigan draws on interviews with over 150 local rape care advocates in communities across the United States to explore how and why mainstream systems continue to resist feminist reforms.

In a series of richly detailed case studies, the book weaves together scholarship on law and social movements, feminist theory, policy formation and implementation, and criminal justice to show how the innovative legal strategies employed by anti-rape advocates actually undermined some of their central claims. But even as its more radical elements were thwarted, pieces of the rape law reform project were seized upon by conservative policy-makers and used to justify new initiatives that often prioritize the interests and rights of criminal justice actors or medical providers over the needs of victims.

Author Information


Rose Corrigan is Associate Professor of Law and Politics at Drexel University. In addition to holding degrees from Bryn Mawr College and Rutgers University—New Brunswick, she was a direct service provider in the fields of sexual and domestic violence for more than ten years.


Elizabeth M. Schneider,Rose L. Hoffer Professor of Law, Brooklyn Law School:

"Rose Corrigan has made a major contribution to our understanding of the way in which law reform efforts in theory can be subverted 'on the ground.' The book is thoughtful, well-written and has important insights for a variety of fields.

Frederika E. Schmitt:
This research is an eye opening tale of how social movements can be partially co-opted by the state. There is a lesson here not only for anti rape advocates and those concerned with gender equality, but for all of us concerned with civil rights more generally.

Patricia Yancey Martin,Professor of Sociology Emerita, Florida State University:
This book, by socio-legal scholar Rose Corrigan, offers an insightful analysis of both lingering and new challenges to reforms in how rape and rape victims are defined and treated. . . . Corrigan did not miss a single key study on the issues. Furthermore, her narrative is written so that experts and non-experts alike can enjoy and learn from it. Her use of quotes from rape care worker interviews makes fascinating reading. . . . This book is an invaluable resource . . . Finally, the book offers an excellent example of the use of organizational and community informants as 'human periscopes' in order to gain purchase on rape work and politics in today's world. This approach is under-utilized in organizational and community studies and I hope Corrigan's use of it inspires others to adopt it as well.

Lynne Henderson,Professor Emerita, University of Nevada Las Vegas:
Professor Corrigan's book, Up Against a Wall: Rape Reform and the Failure of Success,is indispensable reading for anyone who cares about sexual violence and the failure of law reform to live up to the promise it once held for victims of sexual violence. It is also an invaluable tool for anyone concerned about the dynamics of law reform and legal consciousness. Using an empirical, qualitative study of Rape Crises Centers and counsellors in six diverse states as her framework, Corrigan engages in a multi-layered, nuanced examination of the history of rape law reform to demonstrate that reliance on the criminal justice system led to the loss of original feminist goals. She argues rape and sexual assault issues were abandoned by feminists who lost sight of the relationship of sexual assault to gender inequality as they moved on to other projects. She then turns to current issues that have produced perverse effects for victims. She challenges us to look for creative solutions outside the criminal law as well as within to problems she identifies and for a return to an emphasis on gender equality and real rights and protections for victims in this important book.

Mary Hawkesworth,Professor of Political Science and Women’s and Gender Studies, Rutgers University:
In an era when gender mainstreaming is hailed globally as the primary tactic to achieve gender equality, Rose Corrigan offers a cautionary tale. By focusing on rape law reform over four decades, she demonstrates how feminist policy objectives are systemically undercut by bureaucratic intransigence and standard operating procedures within gendered state institutions. From legislatures and law enforcement agencies to rape crisis centers, she traces the evisceration of feminist transformative efforts as the law is deployed with little concern for the well-being of those who have been raped. This vital contribution to feminist theory and practice should be read by all concerned with social change in the 21st century.

R. A. Cramer:
Corrigan's examination of the impact of rape law reform convincingly argues that such reform has often been weakened, modified, and co-opted, all in ways that dilute the impact promised by far-reaching, woman-centered policy. Drawing on deeply textured case studies, extensive interview data, and a clear reading of the laws in various US jurisdictions, Corrigan offers an analysis of legal implementation from the ground up.

Carrie N. Baker:
Corrigan convincingly argues that medical and legal professionals do not take rape seriously. . . . The strongest parts of the book are her assessments of the SANE programs, EC in the ER, and the sex offender registration and notification statutes. She quotes voluminously from her interviews . . . giving a richly textured picture of the implementation and impact of these recent initiatives. Her analysis of differences across states is particularly illuminating.

Sally J. Kenney,Tulane University:
At last, a comprehensive and scholarly account of the antirape movement that should sound the alarm at how little law in action has changed, despite policy successes with rape law on the books. Corrigans searing analysis makes a major contribution to political science, sociology, law, and public policy. Following Patricia Yancey Martins organizational analysis of why rape policy reforms have so little effect on priorities, the treatment of victims, prosecutions, convictions, and public attitudes, Corrigan reveals how a social movement has lost its ability to advocate effectively. This must read for all who care about womens equality should sound the alarm to turn our attention to policy implementation and social movement mobilization.


Price including VAT
Audience: Professional and scholarly;