In a recent blog post, University of Rochester economics professor Steven Landsburg poses three questions related to public policy. The first deals with censorship of pornography, the second with oil drilling and the third with rape when the victim is unconscious. It is the third question I wish to address.
“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. (Note: The Steubenville rape victim, according to all the accounts I’ve read, was not even aware that she’d been sexually assaulted until she learned about it from the Internet some days later.) Despite the lack of physical damage, we are shocked, appalled and horrified at the thought of being treated in this way, and suffer deep trauma as a result. Ought the law discourage such acts of rape? Should they be illegal?”
This is really some top-notch trolling. Is Landsburg seriously asking whether rape should be allowed if the victim won’t remember it?
Landsburg is a self-described “hardcore libertarian” so it should be clear to him that rape is a violation of a person’s right to their body. But Landsburg dismisses that argument:
“Some commenters have suggested that Question 3, unlike Questions 1 and 2, involves a violation of property rights. This seems entirely wrong to me; in each case, there is a disputed property right — a dispute over who controls my computer, a dispute over who controls the wilderness, a dispute about who controls my body. To appeal to a “respect for property rights” solves nothing, since in each case the entire dispute is about what the property rights should be in the first place.”
While statists of both the left and the right may believe that the State owns women’s bodies (although they would never say it outright), no one would assert that a rapist has any sort of property right to his victim’s body!
The principle that each person owns his or her own body–self ownership–is the bedrock of libertarianism. That Landsburg, a so-called “libertarian”, can so casually dismiss it is disturbing to say the least.
Regarding the issue of consciousness, there is nothing in libertarian theory to suggest that a victim’s lack of awareness of a crime absolves the perpetrator of any legal culpability.
Say that a strange man enters my house while I’m away–sleeps in my bed, uses my shower and checks his Facebook account on my laptop–but doesn’t steal anything or damage my property in any visible way. Has he violated my property rights? Yes!
According to any coherent view of property rights, the mere fact that this man has “penetrated” my house without permission constitutes an invasion of my rights. Similarly, if a man penetrates a woman without her consent–regardless of whether she is aware of it or not–he has violated her rights.
Landsburg is at best severely misguided and at worst an apologist for rapists. Whatever he is, though, his views on rape are not remotely libertarian, and are in fact a negation of libertarian principles.
Libertarians hold self ownership to be an absolute, and I can imagine few violations of self ownership more heinous than sexually penetrating an unconscious woman–precisely because perpetrators of such crimes are exploiting the victim’s lack of awareness.