Friday, March 4, 2011

Is there such a thing as excusable rape?

Many crimes are punished far less harshly by the law because they are committed under passion. Consider the classic examples: A father kills his child's molester. A Husband kills his wife after catching her in bed with another man. A wife kills her husband after years of abuse in cases where this is not a case of self-defense (such as in some states where there is a battered wife law). Other kinds of excuses such as temporary insanity and other kinds of mental conditions also are taken into account in many legal matters and our intuitions seem to coincide that much as well when we excuse people of their behavior when we learn of their relevant mental disorders which had a contributing factor to their behavior.

The law recognizes extenuating excuses such as these and often hands out much lighter sentences, sometimes replacing jail terms with long parole combined with psychological counseling. Our reactive attitudes of blame, indignation, anger etc towards these people also seem greatly attenuated.

But would we feel the same if we found out that many rapist may also rape because of uncontrollable passions? To my understanding, the psychological literature on rape is undecided at this point whether many who do rape do so because of uncontrollable urges and "passions" of this kind. If there are such cases, would we be justified in excusing partially or fully those who rape under such excuses? Some cases of rape such as some cases of statutory rape, the law recognizes as excusable for obvious reasons such as when it is reasonable that the rapist believed at the time the victim is of age. I'm not of course, talking about these obvious instances of excusable rape.

But also consider this: many Iraqi men were imprisoned (often without any evidence of wrongdoing) in abu Ghreib. Many of those men were tortured by female soldiers some of whom were trained psyops to sexually humiliate their victims. It is understandable that some of these men will believe that the only way they will regain their dignity is by raping their captor-torturers. I will not discuss the justifiability of that belief but the excusability of that belief. It seems at least reasonable that if they happened on the opportunity to rape their former torturers, they could be justifiably excused for it legally and morally.