At its core, rape is a legal term that encompasses a malleable and culturally determined perception of an act. Different societies define which nonconsensual sexual acts to criminalize, which to condone, and how forcefully to prosecute the former. Indeed, the history of rape consists in large part in tracking the changing narratives that define which women may charge which men with the crime of forceful, unwanted sex, and whose accounts will be believed. The meaning of rape is thus fluid, rather than transhistorical or static. In contrast to those who view rape as a natural imperative resulting from male aggression and serving evolutionary ends, historians and feminist scholars ask how its definition is continually reshaped by specific social relations and political contexts.

Estelle B. Freedman, Redefining Rape: Sexual Violence in the Era of Suffrage and Segregation