Unconscious Rape Victims Can’t Complain

3373924077_842726be39_o[1]A rape victim should not complain about being raped if she was unconscious at the time of the assault. She wasn’t really harmed.

So says University of Rochester professor, libertarian and former Slate contributor, Steven Landsburg, who is oddly popular. (With whom?)

He explains,

Let’s suppose that you, or I, or someone we love, or someone we care about from afar, is raped while unconscious in a way that causes no direct physical harm—no injury, no pregnancy, no disease transmission…

As long as I (the victim) am safely unconscious and therefore shielded from the costs of an assault, why shouldn’t (my attackers) be allowed to reap the benefits?

Prof. Landsburg began by musing, “Let’s suppose that you or I,” but has he really put himself in the victim’s place? Would he really be okay waking to find that he had been anally assaulted?

But then, libertarians appear to have low levels of empathy so maybe he hasn’t.

Prof. Landsburg seems to think that harm only counts when it is “directly physical.” What about emotional wreckage?

Jim Crow laws caused no physical harm to Blacks in Michigan. Even Mississippi Blacks were not physically harmed by separate drinking fountains and bathrooms or by sitting at the back of the bus.

Yet those laws said something disturbing about Black humanity and created emotional injury in the North and South, alike.

Racism and rape, among many other things, wreck emotional violence even without physical harm.

The intention of rape is to demean the victim and prove that the perpetrator has power, allowing him to feel his so-called “manhood” (defined by the rapist as powerful, domineering, violent, superior).

He defiles another to raise himself up.

Rape victims are too often, in turn, demeaned by the community. That’s what happened with the Steubenville rape – the assault that Prof. Landsburg refers to in his illustration. Kids made fun of the sixteen-year-old victim, sharing gossip and pictures. They recognized the denigration and spread it further.

Prof. Landsburg, even if a woman was not beaten and did not get an STD or a pregnancy, she was still harmed. And she has every right to complain.

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I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on April 12, 2013, in feminism, psychology, rape and sexual assault, sexism, violence against women, women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.

  1. I completely disagree with Steven Landsburg. Just because a victim did not feel physical pain or was unconscious during an assault, there is still a good chance that they will still be affected. There will probably be physical injures that they will have to recover from, but also they might suffer from emotional trauma. Just because someone is not conscious, does not mean that their subconscious is not working, and there is a possibility that some details from the assault will stick in their mind and come back to haunt them later. Landsburg poses the question “Would he really be okay waking to find that he had been anally assaulted?” For some instances, I agree with the saying “what you don’t know won’t hurt you”, but I don’t think it should apply here. If someone was physically violated, I think they deserve to know.

  2. wow. It is incredibly disturbing to think that there is someone out there who believes in this crap. Let alone an assumingly acredited professor at a University. I was raped unconscious so therefore I should get over it? How does that justify the rapist and the fact that he did one of the most cowardly things a man can do to a women? This really makes me wonder about what this professor does with his down-time or whether or not he may have some psychological issues of his own. I would never wish evil upon another human being but Im curious about how he would feel if someone wiped out his bank accounts one day with only a note left behind “I figured since you werent concious to my decison to rob you, you would just get over it!” Its not exactley on the same par as rape but surely he would have an opinion.

  3. I completely agree with your opinion. Rape is an act of violence that harms people and should not be allowed. Saying that a woman cannot be raped if she is unconscious is giving men more power over women. It would also be a way of muting the woman and turning her into an object. If a woman can’t be raped when she is unconscious she is nothing more than a tool to help a man get sexual pleasure. If Landsburg had actually experienced the trauma of rape I’m sure he would think differently. Rape isn’t something that can be approved. There should be no way to get around the consequences of rape. Thinking that a woman is just an object and “can’t complain” about rape is very objectifying and offensive. To also say that women reporting rape is complaining is also highly offensive. Rape is a very traumatic event and to say that when a woman reports it that she is complaining and to say that it shouldn’t be declared as rape is demeaning to women by taking away their power to protect themselves and their bodies. Thank you so much for posting this, I think this is a very important topic that more people should learn about.

  4. Oh my. It’s scary to think that there’s someone out there who thinks in that way. Unconscious or not, if she didn’t consent it. It’s rape. How emotionally damaging is it to know that you got raped and don’t even remember it happening! When my car got broken into, even though I wasn’t physically there, the feeling of some stranger in my car made me feel violated and gross. I can hardly imagine how I would feel if my body was violated. He disgusts me.

  5. I am almost repulsed to even tempted not to read or respond to this man’s comment. But I have to, only to point out the obvious and seems to be the majority of thoughts about this statement. Whether or not you are conscious or unconscious when you are violated by some sick, sadistic man, it makes no difference. You still have to go through all the same process of conscious RAPE. Your visit to the ER, your excruciating questioning by the police, ER personnel, your re violation of the RAPE Exam. Having to tell your family, who love you that you have been RAPED. Living with the shame that somehow you are responsible. The dirty feeling left behind. I have a family member that is a victim of RAPE and went first hand through all this with her. She was not unconscious when accosted by the man, but knocked unconscious eventually by some chemical applied to her mouth. She remembers the accosting, the inability to scream, the being dragged into a dark garage and waking up miles away from where the assault occurred and not knowing how she got there and what happened in between… The Professor might think that is all good since she doesn’t have to remember that, but it makes no difference. I cant believe that he really thinks his statement is true.

  6. I do not know what this professor is talking about. I guess he just want to be famous. As the reader says, rape is rape, there is no difference between aware or unaware. I only can say, there are many kinds of people in the world. So it was not so surprised to hear what this professor said.

  7. As long as situation is like it is I am glad there are articles like this – we have to talk about that and we have to do something! And seeing more and more people understand and as first to see these problems is a small but very needed little step… thank you for doing that!!

  8. Rape is rape. It doesn’t matter whether the victim was aware or unaware. The fact that someone forced themselves upon another human being without their consent is wrong and whoever commits this atrocious act should be put to death in my eyes. It doesn’t matter if they used physical force or not you still violated someone’s personal space in one of the cruelest of manners and left permanent emotional scarring for the rest of their days no matter how many years of therapy or outreach programs they attend. Once a human being manages to reach that certain degree of mental sickness they don’t deserve to live and I personally wouldn’t mind pulling their card. As for the professor who wrote this, you’re stupidity and ignorance amazes me and I’m not easily amazed.

  9. From my understanding, it seems as though Professor Landsburg is basically stating that it is alright for someone to be raped as long as they have no physical harm done to them. Who would want to keep him as a professor after learning about his view of rape victims? His opinion of rape victims is basically the same as your neighbor walking into your home after you have fallen asleep and turning on all your lights. No physical harm has come to you from this, but it’s still illegal and in no means makes it okay.

  10. After reading the article, I felt like sick. the professor Steven Landsburg, who is popular or whatever, his opinion is just against my justice. At first sight what he says sound right or make sence, but how come women who are the victim cannot complain after the worst disgusting occurence in the world happend? Not only biological, but he should think in ethical way. Let’s say when they were suffering rape, they were unconcsious. Even so, suffering is suffering, I mean the fact never changes and raping is seriously the worst atrocity that happend on women’s life. The victimes are highly possible to have trauma and they will have mentally issue afterwards. I don’t care how the proffesor is famous or popular, I just can’t believe there is a person who can let the worst wrong thing to be nothing harm and stated such a injustice in public.

  11. Erik, I would counsel you that your reaction is almost certainly what Landburg is aiming for. If he had something worthwhile to say, people would listen to him. He doesn’t, so in order to court attention and controversy he is making statements of this kind.

    There is an overwhelming body of academic and humanist opinion ranged against him. He has nowhere to take this argument- and he knows it. Outrage and anger to him will be oxygen. Instead, he should be treated with indifference, pity, and silent contempt.


  12. I feel like this is a joke. Just to mess with us. This so so ridiculously ridiculous, that I don’t know how to express myself, but I’ll try. I just don’t understand how, in 2013, we are…here. If this is the true opinion of a person who has enough popularity to be listened to, then I don’t want to live on this planet anymore. I feel like it would be redundant to explain why it’s wrong, but I’ll do it anyway. The attacker doing this to an unconscious person is desensitized already and becoming worse. Over time what if this person decides to forcefully rape someone who is completely sober and conscious and fighting back, because there weren’t any unconscious women around for a while. And I really like the point about this guy waking up and finding out that he had been raped anally, I really don’t think that he would be alright with it. Even if there weren’t any pictures or other people knowing. I don’t want to write anymore because it’s just too damn ridiculous to respond to.

  13. In terms of ethics, let alone medical ethics, Landsburg’s statements are nonsense. He is following an ancient and noble tradition of senior academics making confident pronouncements which a first-year student can see the flaws in.

    One of my teachers, some years ago, asked me if it is OK to inflict pain on a conscious human being, even if they won’t remember it afterwards. (He had himself undergone a painful medical procedure under sedation which he cannot recall). I told him that I do not consider it ethical to deliberately inflict pain on a conscious human being at any time. Whether they remember it afterwards is immaterial. (It isn’t the same where the pain is unavoidable; dragging someone out of a burning car to save their life is ethically OK).

    By extension, we might reasonably ask: is it ethical to perform an act (e.g. a sexual act) on another human being against their consent? (I argue no). But what if they won’t remember it afterwards? That is immaterial. But what if they are not aware of it at the time? That doesn’t matter either; the fact that they are unconscious does not change their consent, which remains withheld. The ethical transgression begins with overriding that consent, and then extends to the physical assault.

    (Unless you know exactly what you are doing, the act of rendering someone unconscious is not harmless and is potentially murderous. Michael Jackson’s doctor was acting with Jackson’s consent and accidentally killed him trying to help him sleep. Rendering someone unconscious against their consent is very difficult and therefore very dangerous. For the record, a handkerchief soaked in chloroform is a fictional device with little science to back it up. Far more dangerous are powerful benzodiazepines slipped into someone’s food or drink without their knowledge).


  14. Reblogged this on A Wordless Blogger and commented:
    According to this professor from the University of Rochester called Steven Landsburg, women who are unconcious when raped and don’t suffer from any from of physical consequence (i.e STDs, pregnancy, bruising), they shouldn’t complain. He supposes that as women are ‘shielded’ from the assault by their unconsciousness, they shouldn’t suffer from any trauma. And really.. they shouldn’t complain about it. What’s even more, if a man happened across an unconscious girl in the street, whether it be from drunkenness or any other reason, he should ‘be allowed to reap the benefits’.

    This just goes beyond anything I have ever read. It’s disgusting.

    In the recent Steubenville rape case we have all seen that this society has escalated to the point of sympathizing with the rapists. The lives of these ‘upstanding young boys with promising football careers’ had been ‘ruined’ because of their ‘mistake’, or something like that. All the while the girl is being harassed for being a slut, blamed for being drunk. She’s being told that she deserved it because she was irresponsible.

    It seems like instead of going in the right direction, we’re moving in the wrong direction. People are trying to justify rape nowadays more often than condemning it. The news focuses on the ‘ruined’ lives of the offenders, instead of the victim, politicians talk about ‘legitimate rape’ as though not all forms of rape are legit, and now this professor who seemingly thinks that rape is no big deal as long as the girl is unconscious and that men should be allowed to enjoy the opportunity so to speak.

    I am completely and utterly disgusted.

    Don’t teach your children how to prevent rape, teach your children not to rape.

    See beneath for original article.

  15. Rohan 7 Things

    Wow, fucking (pardon) morons. Guess this “professor” has never heard about trauma acquired during routine surgery while people (particularly children) are unconscious. These guys are justifying drugging and raping people. Just blows my mind.

    Thanks for sharing!


  16. I read the source article and when put in that context his comments are less blatantly offensive then when read here. Yet I still find it to be an overly complicated argument of physical versus emotional harm which isn’t the first issue that needs to be dealt with. An atrocious crime was committed where the victim instead of the perpetrators became the target of public scrutiny. After hearing about the Saratoga High case as well my blood boiled to think that the girl in that case felt like she had nowhere to go but to take her own life. It’s not a matter of if they were aware of the crime at the time. This isn’t some analogy of “if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, did it still make a sound?” It happened and situations similar to it have been and keep happening and in too many cases the immediate fallout for the victims is greater than for those who committed the crimes.

    In my opinion there is no grey area, and Landsburg poked a hole in his own argument(that the crime is victimless because they’re unconscious) in that what he is defending “will create an incentive to render people unconscious” and to walk around with a rag of chloroform.

    • If someone were preaching this with hellfire over the pulpit more people will be offended and the idea would have less of an effect. If a professor makes this argument in reasoned tones, to make some other point, people are less likely to be offended and more likely to accept his words, lending them greater effect. So the professor’s less offensive presentation is actually more dangerous.

      I am, however, glad that you see the emotional violence that was done to an unconscious girl.

      Here is a quote from today’s San Jose Mercury News, front-page story on the Saratoga case you mention:

      “Three 16-year-old boys were arrested Thursday in the sexual battery of an intoxicated and unconscious 15-year-old Saratoga high school student, who killed herself last fall after photos of the assault went viral.

      “When digital photos showing what had happened spread like wildfire, the aftermath was so humiliating and torturous the gifted and well-loved Audrie Potts could no longer take it.”

      • I entirely agree with your comparison. If the individual who made these statements came from a less reputable source this article would have been quickly dismissed. What I intended to say was that after reading the source article(and his attempt at a clarification) is that the only thing that bears any weight in the article, are his credentials. The article itself is poorly written, his statement obscure and as you mentioned his inability to empathize with the topic makes it more of an inflammatory piece than a catalyst for academic debate. It’s evident in his clarification(link: http://www.thebigquestions.com/ces.html) that he was not prepared and is rather shy to delve into any real subject matter. He basically throws his hands in the air and throws his thesis to the wolves.
        Yet I do not believe that he wrote this article with the intent to incite anger. This is obvious when you read his edits and responses that it was a “thought experiment” and not a deliberately inflammatory piece.
        I believe that his 3 hypothetical situations are intended to display the inability of the law to deal in areas where tangible(physical, discernible) harm is difficult to prove. As well as blending a laissez-faire policy with “out of sight, out of mind”. I’ll quote Erik’s wording in that it is “ridiculously ridiculous”. with His choice of using rape and the Steubenville crime was just a very poor choice on his part because of how extreme an example(and being the only example) it is compared to the other two situations.

        I’m curious to ask Landsburg what his opinion is on therapy involving the recovery of repressed memories. If they’re not conscious of those memories, is it healthier for them to lay buried in the subconscious? I believe we all know the answer to that is a flat no. Though there are always more factors to consider.

        For the record when I mentioned chloroform I was using a literary device. I did not feel it was necessary to turn my post into a wiki of all the 21st century date-rape drugs of choice where Benzodiazepines(tranquillizers such as Valium or Xanax) are just the tip of the iceberg.
        I would counsel as well that everyone has a right to an opinion and to express it as they think best, and that silence is futile. Speaking and reaching out could have saved Audrie Pott’s life.

      • I agree with everything you say. I’m just saying that the fact that he wasn’t trying to be inflammatory can be more dangerous because that with communicating can be more persuasive. It’s a perspective I think a lot of people would miss, but I’m not saying you did.

  17. This is a very interesting take and has far reaching consequenses for other criminal behavior as it would be impossible to prosecute a burglar who steals from your home when you are away because your awareness of the crime until after the fact and no harm or physical damage. Also it opens the door to all other types of white collar crime and fraud not being prosecuted because of physical awareness being the main requirement. Many people do not realize they have been defrauded, have been victims of identity theft. This remark demonstrates why he should have nothing to do with policy and law making as he is unable to critically think and be aware of what he is actually proposing.

    • Yes. Plus it’s interesting that when someone’s home is robbed they tend to be more upset about having their home “violated” – entering without consent, than being upset about the stuff that’s been stolen.

  18. He’s a professor? Of what? Where does he teach these opinions?

    This guy’s opinion really creeps me out. It also makes me feel WAY less safe. Perhaps this is his point, to perform a kind of mental rape to remind women of how little we amount to and how vulnerable we are. To keep us in our place. Like the separate water fountains did.

  19. I want to knock that idiot out and shove a candle up his a** while he is blissfully unaware.

  1. Pingback: Women who are unconscious when raped shouldn’t complain | A Wordless Blogger

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