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Rape as “Torture”? Catharine MacKinnon and Questions of Feminist Strategy

McGlynn, Clare

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How can we eradicate violence against women? How, at least, can we reduce its prevalence? One possibility offered by Catharine MacKinnon is to harness international human rights norms, especially prohibitions on torture, and apply them to sexual violence with greater rigour and commitment than has hitherto been the case. This article focuses particularly on the argument that all rapes constitute torture in which states are actively complicit. It questions whether a feminist strategy to reconceptualise rape as torture should be pursued, suggesting that we retain the label 'rape' due to its gendered meaning and powerful associations. It is also claimed that we may lose sight of the commonality of rape in calling it torture, as well as obscuring the varied responses of women survivors. Finally, the article canvasses the idea that we recognise the different circumstances and contexts in which rape takes place, which may mean different criminal offences for different rapes; for example, preserving the label 'torture' for those rapes in which state officials are participants.


McGlynn, C. (2008). Rape as “Torture”? Catharine MacKinnon and Questions of Feminist Strategy. Feminist Legal Studies, 16(1), 71-85.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Apr 1, 2008
Deposit Date Aug 15, 2008
Publicly Available Date Apr 1, 2011
Journal Feminist Legal Studies
Print ISSN 0966-3622
Electronic ISSN 1572-8455
Publisher Springer
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 16
Issue 1
Pages 71-85
Keywords Catharine MacKinnon, Rape, Torture, Human rights, Feminist strategy, International criminal law, International human rights.


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