Date of Award

Spring 8-28-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Joanne E. Belknap

Second Advisor

Christina Sue

Third Advisor

Janet Jacobs

Fourth Advisor

Rebekah Campbell

Fifth Advisor

Amanda Stevenson


This dissertation examines the State and cultural responses to sexual assault in two cultures: Ireland and the United States. As two former colonies of the United Kingdom, the U.S. and Ireland exemplify the complicated dynamic between post-colonial religious nationalism and sexual assault response. My data includes ethnographic research conducted over four years at two rape crisis centers (RCCs), including participant observation and sixty interviews with RCC management and advocates. I examine how governmental structures maintain economic control over anti-rape movements, which neutralizes the social threat posed by such activism. In both countries, RCC’s dependence on State complexes promotes a limiting definition of victimization that is dependent on institutional involvement. While previous research has attributed the homogenization of the anti-rape movement to neoliberal ideologies, using a transnational approach I find that gendered nationalism is a more appropriate framework from which to understand formal sexual assault response across cultures. The neoliberal U.S. Sexual Assault Response Complex (SARC) uses gender-neutrality and color-blind views of race within criminal-legal and medicalized models. The Irish welfare-capitalist SARC employs essentialized views of gender and race within an apolitical scheme. When rape is viewed as an individual rather than a gendered social problem, sexual abuse and rape culture proliferates within RCCs, taking nationalist patriarchal forms.

Previous research conceptualized RCC institutionalization as a reluctant concession requisite to the continuation of services and the anti-rape movement. I find that centers utilize rhetoric of intersectionality and inclusiveness without examining the consequences of oppression within their organizational structures. State solutions for sexual assault require involvement with institutions that have been historically oppressive for people of Color, and ignore the legacy of racialized false accusations upon which U.S. nationalism is built. In Ireland, client-centered services function to maintain the cultural boundaries between who is a client to be served and who is not, which perpetuates racial and citizenship status hierarchies while reifying hegemonic constructions of violence. Diversity marginalizes clients and advocates alike, while supporting narratives of perpetration that protect the State. Rather than changing their organizational missions to align with the SARC transformations, both centers maintained their claims to anti-rape movement work. In so doing, the centers occupy the space of a social movement while marginalizing the possibilities for social change. As a result, expansions of State power move beyond surveillance into the prosecution of victims of sexual assault. I propose the development of transnational anti-rape justice models to address the complexity of the eradication of sexual abuse.

Included in

Criminology Commons