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Rape as a public health issue

Some people may be surprised that I
am discussing rape on a bioethics blog because they do not think that sexual
violence is a bioethics issue. However, rape is a public health matter that
raises serious ethical concerns, especially regarding justice and equality. The
goal of public health is to protect and improve the lives of the public. Rape
harms many people especially women: 1 out of 6 women and 1 out of 33 men in the
United States will experience a rape or attempted rape (Esposito 2006).

The act of rape can cause various
immediate health concerns such as general body trauma (e.g. bruises,
lacerations, broken bones, etc.), STI exposure, and unintentional pregnancy. Rape
also has long-term health consequences
for survivors both psychologically and physiologically. Rape
survivors frequently experience depression, anxiety, PTSD, and negative
sexuality issues. Furthermore, sexual violence has been connected to health problems
for survivors across almost all body systems (e.g. gastrointestinal,
cardiopulmonary, etc.)

Rape is not only harmful to its
victims, but rape culture has a toxic effect on women as a group. Rape culture perpetuates
an oppressive patriarchal system in which women are sexually objectified and
devalued. Furthermore, rape culture leads women to live in constant fear about
their physical safety because they are worried that they will be victims of
sexual assault. Feelings of objectification and devaluation as well as anxiety
regarding one’s safety are clearly not good for women’s health.

Despite the deleterious effects
rape has on its victims, women as a group, public health, and society at large,
as we have seen with the
Brock Turner case, as
well as other cases, unfortunately our legal system frequently does not treat
rape as a serious crime. In a recent publication, “
Rape as a Hate
Crime: An Analysis of New York Law
,” I argue that the punishment for rape
should carry more serious consequences. Specifically, I claim that in most
cases rape should be considered a hate crime since the rapist chooses the
victim based on gender, gender identity, and/or sexual orientation. Recognizing
rape as a hate crime would not only qualify it for sentencing enhancements, but
it would also acknowledge that rape reinforces the patriarchal and
heteronormative hegemony.






Esposito, N. (2006). Women with a history of sexual assault.
Health care visits can be reminders of a sexual assault.
Am J Nurs, 106(3), 69-71, 73.


S. M. (2003). Conceptualizing the harm done by rape: applications of trauma
theory to experiences of sexual assault.
Violence Abuse, 4
(4), 309-322.

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