by Véronique LE GOAZIOU and Laurent MUCCHIELLI
Véronique LE GOAZIOU is a sociologist working as associate researcher at the CESDIP (CNRS). Laurent MUCCHIELLI, also a sociologist, is a senior researcher at the CNRS (CESDIP). The present study was conducted at the request of the DACG (Direction des Affaires Criminelles et des Grâces, The Bureau of Criminal Affairs and Pardons) of the Ministry of Justice, with support from the « Droit et Justice » (Law and Justice) Research Mission.
While homicides have declined steadily in France since the mid 1980s, convictions for rape tripled between the second half of the 1980s and the close of the 1990s, then stagnated in the 2000s (see figure 1). This makes rape by far the crime most frequently tried by Assizes Courts. It is also an increasingly severely punished crime. Whereas in 1984 only 18% of prison sentences punishing this crime exceeded 10 years, in 2008 the figure had risen to 43%. Last, there is not only increased severity, but an increasing tendency to report this crime, one which victims rarely reported in earlier times. Rape cases therefore exemplify the trend toward criminalisation so characteristic of present-day society, with its increasing intolerance and denunciation of interpersonal violence (especially when committed on women or children).
According to two major victimisation surveys conducted in 2000 and 2006, the number of rapes reported to pollsters did not increase in the meanwhile, whereas the number of rapes reported to the police did. But only 5 to 10% of victims, depending on the study, lodged a complaint with the police or the gendarmerie. The reality of the courts is a far throw from the social reality, then. The object of the present paper, based on the analysis of 425 rape cases heard by Assizes courts (see below), is to explore the variety of behaviour coming under the legal category of rape as defined by article 222-223 of the French Criminal Code and the following three articles describing specific aggravating circumstances.