Current DPhil in Family Law: Q and A with Suzanne Zaccour

S ZCurrent DPhil in Family Law: Suzanne Zaccour


What is the title of your research and what is your research topic about? 

My dissertation is titled ‘‘But if you can’t rape your wife, who can you rape?’ Reframing the law of sexual offences by centring partner sexual violence’. It is supervised by Profs. Jonathan Herring and Rebecca Williams.

My project aims to rethink what we see as ‘paradigmatic’ sexual violence. It proposes to place partner sexual violence, one of the most common, most underreported, and most invisible forms of sexual violence, at the forefront of our thinking about sexual violence. I suggest that despite legal reforms, we still have not successfully criminalized marital or partner rape. I argue that facing this problem head-on will reveal useful insights for the criminalization of sexual violence more generally.

Why do you think this research is important?

Very little research in the sexual violence or domestic violence fields focus on partner sexual violence. Despite important legal reforms, rape by a husband or boyfriend is still not considered ‘real rape’. This bias hinders the criminalization of partner sexual violence.

Sexual violence against women is almost always committed by someone known to the victim, very often a partner or ex-partner. I find it extremely important that we, as a society, cease to treat it as an afterthought.

What other research projects are you working on? 

Most of my published research is in family law, with a particular focus on how domestic violence is treated (or ignored) in family cases. I have published on the legal use of the theory of ‘parental alienation’, a concept commonly used by violent fathers to blame the mother for their poor relationship with their child. I have also worked on inclusive language, including how legal language perpetuates gender biases and stereotypes, and I am currently working on a project on the links between rape culture and the exploitation of non-human animals.

What stands out to you in the research you have undertaken so far?

People are generally very surprised to hear that marital exemptions—different rules that are less severe toward or prevent the criminalization of sexual violations when committed by husbands—are still very common across the world, including in many of the United States.

Turning to my family law research, I have found that women are often ignored or even punished when they report domestic violence. I have seen so many cases in which judges grant custody of the child to the father, mentioning the need to repair the father-child bond after the father has been violent!

How has your past research continued to feature in your current research interests and projects?

Whether the field is family law, criminal law, animal rights or inclusive language, violence against women is always a prominent theme in my research. I aim to combine research, activism, public speaking, sexual consent education, and whatever else will prove necessary along the way until women can live free of patriarchal violence.

Where can people find more information about your work ?

The accessibility of academic research is very important to me. You can find a video abstract of one of my family law articles on my Youtube channel:

Information about my published books and articles is also available on my website: