Illegible Allegations

Navigating the Meanings of Rape in Colonial Algeria

in French Politics, Culture & Society
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  • 1 Concordia University, Montreal, Canada
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Abstract

Laws that shield men from punishment if they marry their victims are so ubiquitous that their genesis is impossible to identify. Rather than attempting to trace the colonial or pre-colonial “origins” of so-called marry-your-rapist laws in Algeria, this article examines particular moments within this thick history. It posits that Algerian colonial courts were sites of confrontation, misrecognition, and occasional confluence between local remedies for unlawful sex and modern legal conceptions of rape inextricable from medicalized methods of detection. Algerian litigants approached French courts in rape cases demanding forms of redress based in vernacular ontologies of equitable restitution and social cohesion. In turn, colonial authorities inferred equivalences between indigenous normative codes, Islamic textual prescriptions, and the French Code Pénal that reshaped the legal and social meaning of rape.

Contributor Notes

Sarah Ghabrial is Assistant Professor of History at Concordia University, Montreal. She is currently completing a book manuscript that explores the social history of legal “modernization” in colonial Algeria (1870–1930). This research reveals how the Algerian legal field was constituted through local subjects’ strategic engagements with vernacular, imported, and transimperial temporalities of law.