Can rape be committed under duress?

A disturbing tale on many levels from today’s news: When duress is no argument for rape

The assaulted girl in this account was obviously traumatised terribly, and there appears to be no doubt that she was raped and assaulted by several men at the instigation of one man. Not having been on the jury, I don’t know whether they simply disbelieved the defendants that they were forced by the other man to assault the girl or be killed, or whether the jury thought that even if there was coercion that they should have refused anyway.

And rape from across the world –
Film award forces Serbs to face spectre of Bosnia’s rape babies

No doubt some of the soldiers in any war who rape civilian women are acting under duress from their commanders and troopmates, but the precedent set at Nuremberg is that to obey an illegal order is no defense against a criminal charge. Thus, soldiers who rape commit war crimes.

Should men who are not soldiers be held to the same standards? It’s tempting when one feels oppressed by our rape culture to say yes, always. But is it ethically defensible, in either the war crime situation or the gang leader coercing rape situation, to demand that someone die to save another from assault?

After all, the bank manager who is coerced at gunpoint to open the safe for the armed robbers is not considered to be an accomplice to the crime, let alone charged with the crime itself.

My own gut reaction to rapists is to grab the blunt butter knife and fantasise about castration. In terms of social order I feel that even men who are coerced into rape should be punished for the greater good of women’s safety in society. It’s entirely justified pragmatically, but that’s not always the same thing as ethical.

Categories: ethics & philosophy, law & order, violence

Tags: ,

2 replies

  1. I would like to think that even under threat of death, I wouldn’t rape anyone. That said, I don’t think that it would be ethical to punish men coerced into rape (ignoring the question of whether this punishment truly would have any diminishing effect on man-on-woman violence, and I do think there’s a question there). Your bank manager example is the reason why. We consider him to have been “forced” to act as he did, and the law extends the same understanding to rapists and (I believe) even murderers. Not that the law can’t be wrong, but I don’t think it is in this case. It’s the whole “free will” thing, where it’s unjust to punish people for offences that they were forced to commit. (Whether it would be ethical to commit those crimes even when under the threat of death is another issue entirely, and it seems to me that such coerced action would still be immoral.)

  2. OK, I thought about it a little more and wrote an expanded response at my blog.

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