Understanding Rape Through the Consensus and Conflict Approaches

The divergent approaches of consensus and conflict and what approach is the most appropriate lens with which to understand crimes remains to be discussed today, with the debates evolving to meet more modern and complex contemporary problems. It is imperative to begin by defining the concepts. Reid (119) defined the consensus approach as one that views the emerging norms and laws of society as representative of the common feeling about what is right and proper. that is, they represent a consensus of views—a mechanism for maintaining social order. It looks at society as a homogenous whole, without factions or frictions, and making a collective determination on what is right and what is wrong. For example, taking a very recent incident, the harsh punishments meted against the London street rioters might be deemed appropriate among proponents of the consensus theorists: indeed, the destruction of private property and petty larceny go against collective values and the State must bear down heavily upon those who seek to trample those values.In contrast, the proponents of the conflict theory look at society not as a homogenous whole, but as one wracked by class fault lines. Therefore, laws are not simply collectively-agreed upon rules that establish social order and ensure the efficient and harmonious functioning of society, they are a means by which those who have wealth and power ensure that existing hierarchical arrangements are perpetuated. Whilst Karl Marx did not theorize specifically on criminal justice, his philosophies illumine the conflict theory as applied to criminal justice. Consequently, proponents of the conflict approaches would tend to look at the penalties imposed by the orthodox criminal justice system, and the general manner with which justice is dispensed, as not class-neutral but as privileging those who are in the dominant classes. If the conflict theorists were to analyze the London riots, therefore, they would look beyond the issues of law and order, and explain the incident as indicative of a bigger social malaise: poverty, inequitable access to education, health care, and other social services, and the like.