Frank et al — Criminal Regulation of Sexuality

David Frank just passed on some terrific news.  His paper on worldwide trends in the regulation of sex (with Bayliss Camp and Steve Boutcher) just got accepted at ASR!!!!!!!

Congratulations!  It is a great paper.  Moreover, I’ve seen first hand the incredible amount of labor that David has put into this project.  David usually goes for ambitious data collection efforts, but this project was just insane.  (Really, really insane.)  It is great to see all the hard work paying off.

And, it is great news for Bayliss Camp and Steve Boutcher.  Steve is just starting a new position at UMass, Amherst.  How auspicious to hit ASR shortly after starting a tenure track job!

The paper looks at global trends in the criminal regulation of sexuality — specifically, laws regarding adultery, sodomy, rape, and incest — from 1945 to 2005.  How does David know about legal changes in every country for 60 years?  Well, that’s the insane data collection…

The empirical story is very clear:  The scope of adultery and sodomy laws tends to shrink over time, while the scope of rape and incest laws greatly expands.  The paper masterfully explains these dual trends as deriving from a global cultural shift toward individualism.  Here’s an over-simplified version:  Traditional familial/corporatist societies (think Feudalism) organize law in terms of crimes against the family (or patriarch).  In that kind of system adultery is considered really bad.  Wives were viewed as property, and adultery was essentially a crime against the family.  But, that culture is increasingly displaced by a modern “individualistic” culture… wives are no longer property, but independent individuals.  Modern laws are now oriented to protect individuals, not the family.  In the newer framework, adultery isn’t so bad — but other things, like rape, very much are.  (David — correct me if I’m simplifying too much.)

Anyhow, the actual argument is better and more sophisticated than my brief summary.  If you haven’t seen it, check out the paper:

Frank Camp Boutcher World Trends Regulation of Sex 8.27.2010.doc


One thought on “Frank et al — Criminal Regulation of Sexuality

  1. Thank you for those kind words and great summary, Evan! We’re thrilled to see the paper move forward. Schematically, the argument’s really simple. Over the post-WW II period:
    -models of “society” grow increasingly individualized (e.g., the rise of human rights)
    -models of “sex” grow increasingly individualized (e.g., the rise of contraception)
    -the legitimacy of sex regulations aimed at protecting collective orders (families, nations, races, etc.) declines, and the legitimacy of sex regulations aimed at protecting individuals rise. The cardinal rule of consent replaces the procreation imperative.

    The global trends are really striking. Now it’s time for a serious analysis of cross-national variations. (We briefly consider x-n vars in the global-trends paper. One little nugget is that there’s no Islam religion effect. It’s a Middle East regional effect.)

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