Catherine O. Jacquet: College Students Today Continuing a Long Tradition of Antirape Activism

Today we welcome a guest post from Catherine O. Jacquet, author of The Injustices of Rape: How Activists Responded to Sexual Violence, 1950-1980, out now from UNC Press.

From 1950 to 1980, activists in the black freedom and women’s liberation movements mounted significant campaigns in response to the injustices of rape. These activists challenged the dominant legal and social discourses of the day and redefined the political agenda on sexual violence for over three decades. In The Injustices of Rape, Catherine O. Jacquet is the first to examine these two movement responses together, explaining when and why they were in conflict, when and why they converged, and how activists both upheld and challenged them.

The Injustices of Rape is now available in print and ebook editions.


College Students Today Continuing a Long Tradition of Antirape Activism

On November 21, 2019, a group of six students marched into the classroom of University of Texas-Austin philosophy professor Sahorta Sarkar to protest both his sexual harassment of students and the university’s inadequate response to his behavior. “We’re here to tell you that sexual predators and abusers must be held accountable,” one of the protestors declared. The bold action of these students serves as the latest in a long tradition of resistance by activists who have stood up and spoken out in support of victims of gender-based harassment and violence. As I was reading the news coverage of the protest at UT-Austin, I was reminded of feminist antirape activists in the 1970s (many of whom were on college campuses) who took matters into their own hands and demanded that institutions—particularly the law and medicine—dramatically alter their response to rape and rape victims. These feminist activists organized a nationwide antirape movement—a movement which continues to this day and is visible through grassroots campaigns like SlutWalk, End Rape on Campus, #MeToo, and protests like those of the students at UT-Austin.

Beginning in the early 1970s, feminist activists nationwide demanded change. They stormed city halls and district attorney’s offices; they demonstrated in the streets, and held speak-outs, conferences, and workshops; in cities and towns across the country they organized “women against rape,” or WAR, groups; and they created the first rape crisis centers and hotlines to assist survivors of sexual violence. Early grassroots mobilization often took the form of direct action, confrontational protests. In August 1970 a group of women organized as the Contra Costa Antirape Squad #14 picketed the wedding of an alleged rapist.[1] As reported in the feminist newspaper It Ain’t Me Babe, the Contra Costa squad learned that the groom had raped a hired dancer who had performed at the bachelor party a week before the wedding. In response, members of the Contra Costa squad showed up at the wedding and reception and leafletted the cars of the friends and family of the bride and groom. Seeking to hold the groom accountable, their leaflet read: “Women’s Liberation thinks that relatives and friends should be the first to know there’s a rapist in their midst, not the last. A week ago Saturday a young woman was raped by a man who sits among you today. He’s the bridegroom… We tried to warn Nancy [the bride] about the kind of pig she’s marrying, but she didn’t want to hear. Maybe it’s still not too late.”[2]

Some feminists also sought to directly confront rapists. In response to a violent serial rapist in the city of East Lansing, Michigan, a group of women from Michigan State University Women’s Liberation announced their plan to form antirape squads during the fall of 1970. Writing in their newsletter, Pissed Off Pink, the women explained that these squads would be “groups of feminists dedicated to avenging the rape or other kinds of harassment perpetrated on our sisters by male supremacists.”[3] Fueled with indignation and frustrated with ineffective institutional response, the women of Pissed Off Pink commented that since the “Big Guns in Blue” were unable to catch the serial rapist in Lansing, women had to organize themselves. “Naturally,” they wrote in their monthly newsletter, “we should strike back.”[4] By November, readers of Pissed Off Pink learned that a group calling itself the Kitty Genovese Memorial Antirape Squad had organized in the area. “Any woman who is harassed or attacked by a man” could report the incident to the squad and “appropriate actions” would be taken.[5]

The 1970s feminist antirape movement evolved in significant ways over the course of the decade. Yet their commitment to defending victims and fighting for justice never wavered.

The students at UT-Austin, like those who came before them, are sick and tired of the terrible mishandling of sexual misconduct and sexual assault cases on their campus. Their demands for accountability and justice from their university echo the demands of feminist antirape activists who forged a movement decades ago; as we move into the future these voices will only get louder.


[1] Contra Costa County runs adjacent to Alameda County. There are dozens of town and cities sit within the borders of Alameda County including Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco.

[2] “Jack the Raper,” It Ain’t Me Babe, Sept 4-Sept 17, 1970, 5.

[3] “Jack the Raper,” Pissed Off Pink, September 1970, Special Collections, Michigan State University Library. This announcement was also printed in the October 30, 1970 issue of Iowa City Women’s Liberation newsletter, Ain’t I A Woman.

[4] “Jack the Raper,” Pissed Off Pink, September 1970, MSU special collections.

[5] “Antirape Squad,” Pissed Off Pink, November 1970, MSU special collections.


Photo by Brendan Karch

Catherine O. Jacquet is assistant professor of history and women’s and gender studies at Louisiana State University.