This research project considers how local cultures influence the application of laws such that the same legal issue can acquire very different meanings across even similar jurisdictions. Specifically, it examines the relationship of legal regimes to popular constructions of identity and the manner by which existing hierachies are re-inforced or re-constructed through legal processes. The research plan involves statistical analysis, content analysis of court documents, and interviews with attorneys. It considers these differences across divergent legal regimes.

The results of this research could facilitate a better understanding of the way that legal institutions shape, and are shaped, by everyday social meanings. As such, these results could help identify the comprehensive relationship of legal processes to the popular understandings displayed by local cultures.

Project Report

This dissertation explores two questions. First, how do legal actors apply state-level laws regarding sexual violence at the local level? Second, how are men constructed as sexual victims in the legal field? This dissertation project sought to answer these questions by comparing how legal actors make sense of allegations of adult male sexual victimization in three different states: Georgia, Michigan, and Idaho. These states write gender into their sexual assault laws in distinct ways. Interviewing prosecutors and defense attorneys and analyzing trial transcripts revealed the legal and cultural conditions under which the adult male body is recognized as sexually vulnerable. These interviews required the identification of attorneys who have worked on exceedingly rare cases. This project found that prosecutors and defense attorneys engage in boundary work to distance themselves from defendants accused of sex crimes and that they do this distancing in a classed way. Legal actors do not view perpetrators of sexual violence as monstrous so much as low-class, predatory, chaotic, and poorly regulated. This is an important finding because most of the critical research on sex offenders either (a) does not look at what legal actors actually do, or (b) argues that sex offenders are imagined as monstrous.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Program Officer
Susan Sterett
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University of Michigan Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor
United States
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