The story of seventeenth-century painter Artemisia Gentileshchi has generated several books and one truly awful movie. Her art alone would be enough for her to be remembered, but her life has also drawn considerable interest. In particular, the story of her mistreatment at the hands of an older male artist and by the court that did eventually convict him sheds light on the way rape victims are regarded today. [...]This was likely the best case scenario for a rape allegation in that time and place (Florence) since Gentileshchi had strong family connections, was from a respected family and her family patriarch clearly believed her.
Technically, she was not on trial. Agostino Tassi, an artist her father had hired to teach her perspective, stood accused of raping her. Artemisia, however, was the one who was tortured to see if her story would remain consistent. The authorities used thumbscrews, tied cords around her hands and pulled them tight, which would be agonizing for anyone to go through but for a painter held a special horror. Tassi was not tortured, though his testimony was so contradictory that the judge told him repeatedly to stop lying. Artemisia was also subjected to a public examination to determine whether she had in fact been a virgin before the rape.
Since one of the elements of this case involved experts trying to prove whether or not she was a virgin when she was raped, the legal view of rape at that time was for the law to view proven rapists as law abiding citizens as long as they selected female victims who were no longer virgins or who would have a tough time proving this status to a court's satisfaction.
Like in current times, the official system of justice caused the majority of rape victims to decide that reporting their rape was an unsafe option.
Many of those who currently decry the work of feminists related to sexual violence make references to the good old days before feminists watered down the rape laws. Because most people who hear these types of statements don't know the history of rape laws or the history of rape law enforcement this nostalgia may seem harmless, but it is not.
Those who want to roll back the rape laws and enforcement often talk about real rape, but this historic case highlights how easily a real rape from those good old days could be dismissed as not qualifying under their rape laws.
Real rape is usually defined by which rapes the person or system is willing to recognize and punish.
Unfortunately, the element of needing to prove virginity which has been eliminated from most criminal statutes persists in how many people continue to talk about rape and/or rape prevention. Whenever someone says, "It's not like she was a virgin," or, "What did she expect when she went out dressed like a slut?" that person is expressing a historic mindset where the only crime in rape was taking someone's virginity.
In the second statement there is an acceptance of forcible rape when the rapist believes he has raped a non-virgin. Those girls and women who go out looking or acting like non-virgins are viewed as ignoring the consequences of their own actions. But again this goes back to the idea that to be considered a real rape victim that rape victim must pass a purity test.
This perspective provides practical and emotional support for most rapists -- as long as they select the appropriate victim and commit rape under appropriate circumstances. The selection of victim and the circumstances of the rape can determine whether a particular rapist is championed as falsely accused due to consent, dismissed as a jerk who shouldn't be treated like a real rapist or if that particular rapist will be viewed as a monster.