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  • Writer's pictureSusana Aikin


In my novel, We Shall See the Sky Sparkling, Lily is an actress working in London at the end of the 19th century, who gets sexually abused by her co-actor and employer, but finds it impossible to report, not just because of shame but for fear that her professional status as actor will render her claim dubious.

Read further on the history of rape culture and how women have always been suspect of some degree of acquiescence, and how rape trials have focused on the victims having to prove their innocence and lack of consent, more than determining the accountability of perpetrators.



Rape of Leda by George Hulewicz

The rape of women was a common theme throughout Greek mythology. The God Zeus himself was part of many rape stories – in which he ‘sexually violated’ Antiope, Europa and Leda the Nymph, among others. Medusa was raped by Poseidon and was subsequently also punished for being raped in Athena’s temple, and turned into a monster.



Rape of the Sabine Women by John Ilg 2003

In Latin the word Raptus –where rape comes from-- literally means “seized," and in ancient Roman law, the term was used for several crimes against property, women being also considered the property of men.

Tarquin & Lucretia by Titian

In Roman Law, rape could be committed only against a citizen in good standing. The rape of a slave could be prosecuted only as damage to the owner's property. People who worked as prostitutes or entertainers, even if they were technically free, suffered infamia, the loss of legal and social standing. A person who made his or her body available for public use or pleasure had in effect surrendered the right to be protected from sexual abuse or physical violence.

The Rape by Picasso

The first Christian emperor Constantine redefined rape as a public offense and ordered that if a woman had provided consent, she should be punished with her male abductor by being burnt alive. But even if she had not provided consent, she would be still convicted as an accomplice. The burden of proving lack of consent and innocence was put on the woman.

Medusa turned into a Monster as punishment after being raped by Poseidon, by Lorenzo Bernini, 1636

In many cultures, rape was not considered a sexual crime against a particular woman but as a theft/insult against her “owner” or against her chastity. The rape of a virgin girl was considered a more serious crime than that of a non-virgin. And the rape of a sex worker, slave or an “unchaste” woman was in some laws not considered a crime because it was believed that she had no chastity that could be damaged.

Centuries later it was still believed by many that women who expose their body image publicly, as is the case of dancers, models, performers and actresses, have no chastity or decency left to be defended by the law.

We Shall See the Sky Sparkling
We Shall See the Sky Sparkling



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