Shielding the Victim: Litigating Rape Shield Motions

Rape shield laws provide prosecutors with a powerful tool to counter defense attempts to introduce irrelevant and highly prejudicial evidence of a victim’s sexual history at trial. First codified into law in 1974 in the state of Michigan, rape shield provisions now exist in every jurisdiction in the United States. They seek to eliminate the influence of an archaic and dangerous body of law that protected only the chaste, perpetuated overly broad notions of consent, and left victims without justice. All rape shield laws require exclusion of the victim’s prior sexual conduct unless the evidence falls within a specified exception. However, these laws have not stopped defense attempts to stretch the limits of codified exceptions in order to admit evidence of the victim’s sexual behavior. Marginalized communities, in particular, have been negatively affected by rulings under these laws. Prosecutors must be vigilant in their efforts to safeguard victims’ privacy to ensure they are not humiliated, silenced, and blamed for their own assaults.

This presentation discusses the history and foundation of rape shield laws, identifies and discusses the most frequent areas of appellate litigation, and provides prosecutors with the tools to effectively litigate rape shield motions. Presenters also discuss trial strategies to employ if efforts to preclude information about a victim’s prior sexual conduct are unsuccessful.

As a result of this presentation, participants will be able to:
-Litigate rape shield motions to protect victim privacy
-Prosecute cases using an offender-focused approach
-Employ strategies to mitigate harm to the victim and the case when evidence of victim’s prior sexual conduct is admitted

This project was supported by Grant No. 15JOVW-22-GK-03987-MUMU awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication/program/exhibition are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.