Rape Trauma, the State, and the Art of Tracey Emin
Prosecutors use rape trauma syndrome evidence at rape trials to explain victims’ “counterintuitive” behaviors and demeanors, such as their late reporting, rape denials, returns to the scenes of their attacks, and lack of emotional affect. Courts and experts, in instructions and testimony, usually describe victim reticence as a product of shame or trauma. But feminist critics of Rape Trauma Syndrome evidence posit that the syndrome is based on incomplete evidence because most rapes are unreported. Furthermore, they object to its condescending, sexist, and colonial construction of rape victims and their emotions
In this Essay, I respond to feminist critics by studying the work of Tracey Emin. Emin is an English-Turkish artist who suffered an unreported rape at the age of thirteen and who has been commenting on that rape through her art ever since. Expanding and innovating upon the work of law and humanities scholars, I apply the insights found in art–or, what I describe as artifacts, with a deliberate play on words–to rape law. Through my study of her art, I show how the complexities of Emin’s reactions to rape challenge the simplistic and often confusing stories that prosecutors, experts, and courts tell about victims during trials. Emin’s art demonstrates that she harbors suspicions of the state, a skepticism based in part on her failure to correspond to “real rape” victim stereotypes. Her artistic critique, which includes audacious acts of what I deem worldbuilding and imaginary justice, adds much needed insight into problems of the Rape Trauma Syndrome model. From these insights, I make suggestions for rape law reform and adumbrate constitutional challenges to U.S. and English handling of rape cases.
Please note that reproduction, including downloading, of Tracey Emin works without the express written permission of Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, is prohibited by copyright laws and international conventions.