[Via H-Law, we have the following news of the ASLH’s Sutherland Prize, announced last week at the Society’s annual meeting.]
The Sutherland Prize, named in honor of the late Donald W. Sutherland, a distinguished historian of the law of medieval England and a mentor of many students, is awarded annually, on the recommendation of the Sutherland Prize Committee, to the person or persons who wrote the best article on English legal history published in the previous year. This year's committee, which was composed of Dan Klerman, James Oldham, and Joshua Tate, unanimously chose as the winner, Garthine Walker, "Rape, Acquittal and Culpability in Popular Crime Reports in England, c. 1670-c1750," Past & Present, 220:115-142.
Garthine Walker's article explores rape prosecutions in early modern England through reports in the popular press. The article's findings upend much of the conventional wisdom about the relationship between law and society in the context of rape prosecutions. Accounts in newspapers and similar sources do not generally doubt the veracity of the victim's account. They do not blame the victim for provoking the crime, nor do they suggest that she "asked for it" or enjoyed it. Low conviction rates, therefore, cannot be explained as reflecting misogynistic attitudes towards women or societal refusal to believe women's testimony. This article thus encourages legal historians to rethink rape law so as to understand why legal standards and popular attitudes diverged.