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The last decade has seen a dramatic increase in the use, in criminal cases, both by the prosecution and the defense, of evidence of psychiatric or psychological "syndromes." One of the most important of these syndromes, and one that has been the subject of substantial litigation during the last three years, is "rape trauma syndrome."

"Rape trauma syndrome" is a term that was coined in 1974 by a psychiatric nurse and a social scientist as a result of a research project studying women who sought treatment claiming to have been raped. During the ensuing eleven year period this syndrome has been the subject of extensive social science and medical research. Basically, behavioral scientists' assert that there exists a set of physical and emotional symptoms experienced by rape victims which arc so prevalent and consistent that they constitute a "syndrome" that most rape victims can be expected to experience. Researchers claim that the symptoms are distinctive enough that diagnosis of the syndrome is possible. After the syndrome is diagnosed, treatment can then proceed.

This article will begin examination of the admissibility of evidence concerning rape trauma syndrome by exploring research results of behavioral scientists. Next, the judicial precedents that existed with respect to similar evidence before behavioral scientists coined the term "rape trauma syndrome" will be outlined. Against this background, the article will scrutinize the "first generation" of cases dealing with rape trauma syndrome evidence, Slate v. Marks and Slate v. Saldanda. The article will then study the progress of rape trauma syndrome in behavioral scientific circles, and in the courts, since Marks and Saldana. Next, an analysis of the various evidentiary objections that have been raised to the use of such evidence and suggestions as to the resolution of such objections will be presented. Finally, the article will explore the relatively new concept of the use of rape trauma syndrome evidence by a criminal defendant. The article will conclude that expert testimony regarding rape trauma syndrome should, in most cases, be admissible because it is reliable evidence tending to prove the element of lack of consent in a rape case, it may be helpful to a jury in overcoming certain prevalent misconceptions that can stand in the way of rational decisionmaking, and it is not violative of any rule of evidence.


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6 Sep 2022
4.16 MB



  • Subject
    • Evidence

    • Psychology and Psychiatry

    • Sex Crimes

  • Journal title
    • Boston College Law Review

  • Volume
    • 26

  • Issue
    • 5

  • Pagination
    • 1143

  • Date submitted

    6 September 2022