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‘LEGITIMATE RAPE’, MORAL COHERENCE, AND DEGREES OF SEXUAL HARM

Abstract

In 2012, the politician Todd Akin caused a firestorm by suggesting, in the context of an argument about the moral permissibility of abortion, that some forms of rape were ‘legitimate’ (i.e., carried out with great force or violence). This seemed to imply that other forms of rape must not be legitimate (i.e., carried out with less force or violence). In response, several commentators pointed out that rape is a ‘heinous crime’ and that there are ‘no varying degrees of rape’. While the intention of these commentators was clear, I argue that they may – inadvertently – have played into the very stereotype of rape (implicitly) endorsed by Akin. Such a response, I claim, actually obscures a range of sexual harms, including some that may not rise to the level of being a crime. I also offer some thoughts on the moral psychology behind anti-abortion arguments of the kind advanced by Akin.

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Notes

2 Clancy, K. (2012, August 20). Here is some legitimate science on pregnancy and rape. Scientific American. Available at http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/context-and-variation/2012/08/20/here-is-some-legitimate-science-on-pregnancy-and-rape/.

3 See statement by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists at http://www.acog.org/About_ACOG/News_Room/News_Releases/2012/Statement_on_Rape_and_Pregnancy.

4 By ‘rape’ I mean any penetrative act done without consent; and here I'm calling attention to the sub-set of such acts that result in conception.

5 Liu, B. S. (2012, August 22). Fitting factual beliefs to moral evaluations: How moral coherence explains Todd Akin's ‘legitimate rape’ position. YourMorals (blog). Available at http://www.yourmorals.org/blog/2012/08/moral_coherence/.

6 Liu B. S., & Ditto P. H. (2013). What dilemma? Moral evaluation shapes factual belief. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 4(3), 316323.

7 See note 5.

8 Festinger, L. (1962). A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance, Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.

9 See note 3.

11 ‘Pregnant woman relieved to learn her rape was illegitimate’ (2012). The Onion, August 20. Available at http://www.theonion.com/articles/pregnant-woman-relieved-to-learn-her-rape-was-ille,29258/?ref=auto.

12 Rathus, S. A., Nevid, J. S., & Fichner-Rathus, L. (1997). Human sexuality in a world of diversity. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

13 This paper is adapted from material that was originally posted by the author at the Practical Ethics weblog hosted by the University of Oxford. See http://blog.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk/2012/08/legitimate-rape-moral-consistency-and-degrees-of-sexual-harm/. Thanks are due to Julian Savulescu for helpful feedback during revisions.

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Think
  • ISSN: 1477-1756
  • EISSN: 1755-1196
  • URL: /core/journals/think
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