Stephen Landsburg: Libertarian Economics Professor Thinks Rape Is a 'Thought Experiment'

Recently, the nation was shocked when out of the small town of Steubenville, Ohio, news came that the sexual assault of a high school girl was filmed and posted on social media networks. While there has been an outpouring of sympathy toward the victim, the guilty verdict for the two young men who assaulted the drunk and unconscious girl has also given rape apologists a rather unwarranted spot at the table discussion of this horrible crime. 

Looking past the unwillingness of some in Steubenville to see the crime for what it is as they defend the guilty football players, or even the media’s lamenting that the boys’ guilty verdict is the end of “such promising futures,” a recent blog post from University of Rochester professor Steve Landsburg proposes the ludicrous notion that if the young girl was not aware at the time what was happening to her, was it really a crime? 

Shockingly, the libertarian Landsburg tosses out the idea that if the young girl had no idea what was happening to her at the time, and was not even aware of the assault until footage began surfacing of what really happened, then it couldn’t really be that bad. Landsburg even unknowingly brandishes his argument with his privilege of being an outsider looking in with the unbelievably crass and insensitive question, “As long as I’m safely unconscious and therefore shielded from the costs of an assault, why shouldn’t the rest of the world (or more specifically my attackers) be allowed to reap the benefits?” 

As a follow up to his asinine question, Landsburg likens the assault of the Steubenville victim to turning on a porch light. Landsburg almost comically (if it weren’t so blatantly ignorant of what rape is) states that when someone on his block turns on their porch light, he is robbed of consenting to have trillions of photons penetrate his body. So because Landsburg is so concerned with the effects of light pollution on the human body, we cannot possibly make rape illegal when the victim is not aware of what is happening to her until after the fact. To do so would be an act of censorship. 

Landsburg’s comparison of sexual assault to turning on a porch light or even controlling someone’s computer perpetuates the notion that women are merely objects to be controlled and managed. Writing for Huffington Post about misogyny and objectification following the Steubenville rape case, Kimberly Tan aptly noted that “rape culture doesn't just occur when someone commits rape or condones violence; it occurs every time we entrench the notion that women are objects undeserving of equal respect and dignity.” 

As long as the media sympathizes with rapists, and as long as we are forgiving of rape if it is committed by a beloved football player, the issue of rape and violence against women won’t go away. As long as privileged onlookers like Landsburg casually wave off the serious effects and consequences that follow a sexual assault, we will continue to see women afraid to report the violence they endure. 

Our country has a daunting task, but it has a simple beginning. We must begin to teach our children, first, that women are not objects and that they too are human beings with hopes, dreams, and feelings. Second, we must not fall into the trap of thinking that men are self-indulgent creatures who cannot control themselves when they are aroused. Men, as well as women, are born inherently good and loving and were never meant to use violence to assert their strength. Until we see men and women as equals, in strength and yes, even in our weaknesses, we will not see an end to cases like that of the Steubenville assault.