The Ultimate Violation

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In the late 1970’s, Judith Rowland found herself involved in the prosecution of four rape cases through which she gradually developed a new legal tactic. She began to use expert witnesses to instruct juries in the new knowledge being developed in the study of rape. Juries heard about how rape affects its victims, especially through the resulting, recently identified, rape-trauma syndrome.

The trials in question involved cases where the occurrence of sexual relations between the accused and the alleged victim was not in question; consent, or the lack of it was the issue. Rowland reasoned that if a jury could be instructed abut rape-trauma syndrome, then shown that the alleged rape victim suffered from it, this would corroborate the claim of forced sex.

The evolution of this new strategy is made clear through detailed descriptions of the four trials involved. These sections of the book read like a novel. Rowland’s questioning of witnesses repeatedly builds to points of suspense which keep the reader enthralled. She clearly describes her actions and thought processes as she moved from an interest in rape cases to pioneering legal work in the area.

The cases described were, for the most part, upheld on appeal, but the author’s use of expert witnesses was not. Higher courts generally held that juries did not need expert advice and that issues related to rape are easily solved with common sense. Rowland demonstrates in her book, however, that this is not so, and, in the process, opens the eyes of the reader.