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Conceptualizing Rape as Coerced Sex

41 Pages Posted: 23 Nov 2015  

Scott Anderson

University of British Columbia (UBC) - Department of Philosophy; University of Chicago - Law School

Date Written: September 15, 2015


Philosophers, feminists, and legal theorists have long criticized the current definition of rape as it is formulated in most of the states of the U.S. because of its dual “force” and “consent” requirements. Several prominent writers have recently sought to reconceptualize rape as “non-consensual sex,” thus omitting the “force” requirement. While there are some unmistakable practical advantages to such proposals, I argue that such a conceptualization risks failing to grasp what is distinctively problematic about rape for women, and why rape has the effect it does in supporting women’s gender oppression. I suggest that one of the reasons why consent-focused reform proposals have been so popular is because the dominant accounts of coercion in recent philosophical writing have not been suited to help identify rape in terms of coercion. I offer an alternative approach to thinking about coercion which, I argue, can replace the focus on “force” in current conceptualizations of rape in order to avoid their main difficulties, especially with respect to identifying “acquaintance” rape as such. I further show how conceptualizing rape as coerced sex does help explain its distinctive badness both for the individual victims as well as for women as a group.

Keywords: Rape, Sexual Assault, Coercion, Consent, Force, Feminism

Suggested Citation

Anderson, Scott, Conceptualizing Rape as Coerced Sex (September 15, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

Scott Anderson (Contact Author)

University of British Columbia (UBC) - Department of Philosophy ( email )

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Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z1
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University of Chicago - Law School

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Chicago, IL 60637
United States

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