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UNM prof's rape theory stirs controversy

From U-Wire
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
January 28, 2000
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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.-A University of New Mexico biology professor's controversial theory on rape has made him an overnight media sensation.

Professor Randy Thornhill has received 50 to 100 phone calls and more than 150 e-mails a day for the past week. He has also been on several national and local TV news programs, including NBC's "Today" show during the same time.

The buzz is about a book "A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion," of which Thornhill is the co-author.

The thesis of the forthcoming book is that the practice of rape has evolved over time as a psychological adaptation, or a by-product of other adaptations, for men to spread their seed. Thornhill and Craig Palmer, an anthropology instructor at the University of Colorado, argue that when other methods of attracting females fail, men may be inclined to use rape because over generations, rapists have spread their genes through rape, thus perpetuating the behavior.

"We fervently believe that, just as the leopard's spots and the giraffe's elongated neck are the result of eons of past Darwinian selection, so is rape," the authors wrote in an excerpt from their book in the journal "The Sciences."

"Furthermore, we argue, rape has evolved over millennia of human history, along with courtship, sexual attraction and other behaviors related to the production of offspring."

"We anticipated considerable controversy," Thornhill said in an interview.

However, he said the response surpassed even his expectations.

The authors admit their view conflicts with the standard explanation of rape, which is that men use rape to control and dominate their victims.

"What we're trying to do is get the plane of discussion to a higher level," Thornhill said.

He explained that the discussion of rape should be from a scientific angle, not a moral one.

"Science has no moral guidance. Science just gives us the way the world is," Thornhill said. "The science of rape does not say that rape is right. It does not say rape is wrong." Thornhill and Palmer write that their evolutionary approach to rape can help prevent it.

"Everyone has the same goal regarding rape: to end it," they wrote. "Evolutionary biology provides clear information that society can use to achieve this goal."

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