Evolutionary Psychology and Rape

April 13, 2006 at 9:32 pm (Crime, Science, Society)

I just found the following article on the site of the centre for evolutionary psychology:

Is rape an adaptation?

No one knows, nor is there currently enough evidence to decide the question either way. A better question is whether or not a rape adaptation in humans is conceivable. Here, I think the answer is clearly yes. That rape might be an adaptation is a reasonable hypothesis to pursue, and the proper framework is intersexual conflict. Nature is rife with violent conflict–conflict between members of different species (such as predators and prey), conflict between members of the same species (such as males competing for females), and conflict between males and females (such as the killing of offspring by unrelated males during harem takeovers). Further, many organisms clearly possess adaptations to successfully engage in violent strategies (e.g., fangs and claws). There is no principled reason why animal nervous systems could not be specialized for coercive mating, including rape. In humans, the benefits of rape for males may have outweighed the costs during the EEA in the following circumstances:

High status males may be have been able to coerce matings with little fear of reprisal.

Low status women (e.g., orphans) may have been particularly vulnerable to being raped
because males need not have feared reprisals from the woman's family.

During war, raping enemy women may have had few negative repercussions.

Men who were low status, who were likely to remain low status, and who had few
opportunities to invest in kin may have realized reproductive benefits that outweighed the
considerable costs (e.g., reprisal by the woman's family).

Whether human males possess psychological adaptations for rape will only be answered by careful studies seeking evidence for such cognitive specializations. To not seek such evidence is like failing to search a suspect for a concealed weapon. It is extremely likely that human males, like males of many other species, have both physiological as well as psychological adaptations for successfully engaging in violent strategies. Rape may well be one such strategy. However–and this is important–adaptations provide organisms with special abilities. Rape is a behavior. It could easily result (for example) from the ability of individuals to use physical aggression to achieve any one of a number of goals, including sex; it may not require any cognitive specializations whatsoever. In order for a rape adaptation to evolve, there would have to have been cognitive problems involved in successfully raping someone in the EEA that were specific to rape, and did not generally occur in other aggressive encounters. It is not entirely obvious what these problems might have been. Perhaps identifying circumstances that were propitious for rape, as outlined above, would be one example.

More generally, the human sciences may be forced to consider that individuals are innately capable of doing bad things.

First things first, i was surprised that the term "habituation" was not used in this article.

The "benefits" of raping:
Primarily they talk about mating: A man rapes a woman and impregnates her thereby so that the "rape-gene" is given to the child. Reproduction's successful.

But I'm not convinced. The chance of becoming pregnant after one sexual intercourse is very low (i didn't find any figures but who would disagree?) and the rapist probably doesn't know about the woman's menstrual cycle. If pack raping comes to your mind – the chance of the woman being impregnated rises with the number of rapists but the chance for every single rapist remains the same. Ok, if you consider the rape-gene to be impetus then this may even make a bit of sense. Some kind of altruism would be involved because what's the benefit of the guys who participate but aren't those fathers to-be? It would be better for them to rape alone because there's no competition (you're reminded of the text: such as the killing of offspring by unrelated males during harem takeovers). And there would still be no explanation for any other rape than pack rape. The other problem would be the mother's relationship to the child and the chances of surviving would probably be lower (look at circumstance Nr.2). A woman who suffers from a trauma and with no father to care for the child… A stable relationship is by far a more successful strategy than raping could ever be. The development in medical science which led to abortions not being kind of a butchery anymore should have had a major impact on the success of an alleged rape-gene also.

Rape is a way of wielding power and this shows that there's an intention so the mating being a benefit of rape becomes even more unlikely. They provide us with another possible reason – a violent intersexual conflict. Using rape to domineer the women? This idea is not new (Susan Brownmiller's "Against our will: Men, women and rape" or Buchwald's, Fletcher's and Roth's "Transforming a rape culture" perhaps) but linking it to evolutionary psychology is just speculation. I don't think that this needs a subconscious instigation to be case.



  1. A Reader said,

    Unpunished rape is clearly an adaptive strategy in Western society, as it increases, however slightly, reproductive success of the prepetrator. Therefore, unless prosecution of rape is almost 100% successful, it’s reasonable to expect that the percentage of individuals genetically-predisposed to rape will rise.

  2. Vito Corleone said,

    You’d have to prove a genetic disposition for rape first, of course. But sadly you don’t provide a source for this claim.

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