Does Religion Cause Rape?

One argument made for religion by its proponents is that it instills in its believers a sense of morality that atheists can’t possess. This argument suggests that without religion’s stick-and-carrot approach to morality (heaven if you obey, hell if you don’t), people will naturally revert to selfish, violent, animalistic behaviour.

If true, this raises a dilemma for Atheists: should we raise our children to fear a non-existent God if it makes them “better people”? Is lying to our kids acceptable in exchange for the benefits it may yield? But is religious morality the right morality anyway? After all, Deuteronomy 22:20-21 insists that women who aren’t virgins on their wedding night should be stoned to death. Which seems a little harsh, and in modern Britain wouldn’t leave society with many women suitable for marriage.

In order to prove their thesis that lack of belief leads to lack of morality, statistics are sometime used (or more accurately misused) by advocates for religion – take the following tweet for example, which came from @Eugene037:

Sweden, a country w/ most Atheist, has d most no. of rape cases n Europe accdg to UN Stats

Let’s break this down. First, is Sweden really the “country w/ most Atheist”? On the whole, Europe is less religious than any other continent, and religion is in rapid decline across the region. Wikipedia’s Demographics of atheism page breaks belief into three types: belief in a God, belief in a more general “spirit or life force”, and non-belief (Atheism). While belief in a specific God is low in Sweden, at 23%, there are countries with lower belief still: Estonia and the Czech Republic. However, Atheism in Sweden is only recorded at 23%, which is lower than Estonia, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, France, Belgium and Germany. In other words, the statement is false: Sweden is not the country with the most Atheists.

Furthermore, Sweden doesn’t deserve its reputation for liberal attitudes: it is a socially conservative country by European standards. In recent years it set the standard for European sexual conservatism, making paying for sex illegal (conversely, here in “uptight” Britain, prostitution is legal, which gives protections and benefits to sex workers that their Swedish counterparts are now lacking. I’ve interviewed sex worker activists on this subject, and will air these discussions in an upcoming podcast).

And finally, Sweden has a far broader definition of rape than most countries, making the quoted statistics suspect – free information activist Julian Assange is accused of rape, and is fighting extradition from Britain to Sweden, because he is alleged to have penetrated a woman without a condom during consensual sex. By the standards of most places, this isn’t rape.

Having dispatched @Eugene037’s claims, let’s find some statistics that might more clearly reveal any correlation between religious belief and rape. Comparing stats between different countries is suspect, as varying laws, enforcement and cultural norms make accurate comparison difficult. Instead, I’ve chosen to compare US states with each other, as the legal and cultural differences between them are smaller than between nation states. For simplicity, I’m using voting behaviour as a proxy for religiosity – Republican “red” states have higher levels of religious belief and observance than Democrat “blue” states. I combined 2008 voting behaviour from and crime statistics from and the results are interesting:

Rapes per 100,000:

  • Average in Republican-voting states: 34.96
  • Average in Democrat-voting states: 28.33
  • Average in marginal states: 29.47

(I’ve uploaded my spreadsheet as a PDF if you want to examine the data for yourself: Crime stats by US state).

In other words, a woman living in a red state is around 23% more likely to get raped than one living in a blue state. (Murder rates are closer, but slightly higher in red states, while robbery is significantly higher in blue states, probably because they are more urbanised, and most robbery takes place in cities).

If you have trouble believing these numbers, think about this: the Bible doesn’t view rape as a serious crime. While a woman who isn’t a virgin on her wedding night must be stoned to death, a man who rapes a woman must simply pay a fine to her father (women are, after all, the property of their father or husband) and marry her (Deuteronomy 22:28-29) – and in a number of other passages, the book explicitly allows the kidnap of women to take as sex slaves. Take for example, Numbers 31:14-18:

Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—who returned from the battle. “Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them. “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the LORD in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the LORD’s people. Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.

The women themselves, of course, have no say in the matter. Women have little status in any of the ancient religious texts; which perhaps explains why they are more likely to be raped if they live in a more religious society, even today.

I’ll finish by trying to answer the question posed in the title: does religion cause rape? If I were to use the dishonest reasoning techniques of proponents of religion, I could say yes, based on the above evidence. But correlation doesn’t mean causality; it’s more honest to say that high incidence of rape and high religiosity have the same root causes: poverty, illiteracy, a lack of education, and a lack of trust in authority. Fix these things, and both rape and religion go into decline.

14 thoughts on “Does Religion Cause Rape?”

  1. How do you come to the conclusion that socio-economic factors, such as poverty, cause high incidence of rape and religiosity?

  2. Call me a wanker, but when the religious preach about sexual morality I like to remind them of Genesis 38. It’s an uplifting and wholesome tale featuring a young chap named Onan, who is forced to marry his brother’s widow. Onan decides that, although he’s happy to support her and assume responsibility for her, he’d rather not actually shag his sister-in-law – an objection that seems fairly reasonable to me, as does his solution to just spank his monkey as and when the need arose.

    But no, God was so “displeased” by this discreet compromise that he killed Onan. (God also was the one who killed Onan’s brother of course, although quite why he did that we never really learn – apparently he “was wicked in the eyes of God”)!

    The hilarity continues as Onan’s dad then disowns his daughter-in-law leaving her an impoverished prostitute, but when he’s out whoring one day (no worries with God on that front), he unwittingly shags her himself! Ha! Well it would be amusing but predictably enough God kills her for tricking him into shagging her, while naturally it’s business as usual for the bloke.

    Obviously all this has little bearing on your argument about religion causing rape, which to be honest I think is *almost* as tenuous as the one that atheists cannot possess a sense of morality; however it does quite clearly demonstrate that the religious have even less of a claim to that moral high ground.

    Ezekiel 23 is also good for a laugh – or a wank, depending on your inclination! Verse 20 in particular is a belter: “There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses. So you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when in Egypt your bosom was caressed and your young breasts fondled.”

  3. I am aware of the research involving the correlation between socio-demographic variables and religious belief, however this research is along way away from the question that your article attempts to address. There does not appear to be any evidence within this article suggesting that there is relationship between socio-demographic variables, such as religiosity, and high incidence of rape. At most all I infer from your article is that there maybe a correlation between voting republican and crimes committed in the US, although there is no statistical analysis to suggest whether there is a significant correlation.

    You appear to be drawing conclusions from evidence that is not there. I would recommend that you tighten up on your research and remain objective in order to eliminate personal bias against religion.

    1. A swift look at rape by country will show you very high figures in developing countries, which also show very high religiosity. Specifically which link in the chain do you think I’ve skipped/assumed?

  4. Great article. I think you came to realistic conclusons and weren’t over the top with assumptions. I looked at the world map and I see the link. Higher education and lower instances of religion appear to be good for society. No excuses, no “forgiveness,” rather people thinking and being rational. There’s a novel concept!

  5. Well, I have spoken with many religious men and women who have informed me that “Marital Rape” is a myth. That it is impossible for a man to rape a women he is married to, because marriage gives him the right to have sex with her any time he pleases, that she has given blanket consent for the entirety of the marriage. (Not all, but many)

    All of the Atheist or Non-religious people I speak to believe (as I myself do) that consent must be given each time, whether you are married or not. I’ve also noticed that people who proclaim themselves to be religious seem to do more victim blaming than non-religious do.

  6. 1st: Rape statistics are notoriously misleading. In UK few if any women face any sanction for reporting rape. Whereas in a number of other countries a woman reporting rape may face punishment and forced marriage to the rapist. Obviously in such instances women will be reluctant to report rape. Reports of rape are not in themselves an indicator of actual rape, as unfortunately some women use the allegation of rape, with all its attached opprobrium, as a tool of revenge. There is generally no sanction for women who make false allegations of rape against men.

    2nd: As for rape in marriage being sanctioned by religions, I think that it is likely that the religion simply followed the social norm and it was in civil law that libidinous conjugal rights were conferred. In a world where women were reliant upon men’s earning power to provide them with an inalienable right to food, clothing & shelter for life, women had to be seen as offering something in return. The modern notion of marriage as a partnership between equals did not exist. The whole understanding of family and family commonwealth was different, where women and subordinate men could be effectively traded in the interests of the greater family unit. It was essential that all members of the family stayed within the structure and did nothing to endanger it. The man who denied intercourse with his wife might easily seek solace with another women and lose interest in maintaining the family unit, or use a prostitute and bring disease back, for which there was little in the way of a cure. In today’s society, the man is often described as being superfluous, and as the state provides social security funds, the departure of the man is not a disaster in the same way.
    Equally the importance of children was different. Broadly today we are not reliant upon our children in later life, but prior to WW1 adults would be. Therefore it was important for men and women that they had children. Infertility could be a catastrophe.
    But this did not mean that violence towards women was sanctioned in any way. Blackstone makes clear that in English common law assaults upon a wife by a husband were a criminal offence by the Elizabethan period, and evidence shows that men were convicted for it. Also the wife’s family would intervene to prevent assaults or take revenge. Thus in terms of rape within marriage,if accompanied by violence it would be clearly a crime.
    Blaming religion is easy, but we should not forget that religious views are not static. Religions exist in the context of current values and mutate accordingly

  7. You might want to cite historical evidence in addition to what you’ve done. Genghis Khan in the name of God raped so many girls that 80% of people in the areas he conquered now carry his genes. and what about Moses giving his armies God’s instuction to kill every man, woman, and child in neighboring cities- except those women found desirable, and whom may be taken as booty? Yes- booty! If rape is as they say more about excercising power over others then attributing its root causation in part to one’s believing in God is a very arguable hypothesis.

  8. You prove higher figures for rape in developing countries which also show high religiosity. My question is this: How do we condemn religiosity without undermining an apparent aid to rapid development- or is religion/ ignorance something opportunistic that needs not accompany development?
    Do we even want rapid development, and would a more credible and morally responsible religion become the solution to controlled growth? What do you think?

  9. The rape rate in Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries has always been an interesting argument for religious people in this case as the Scandinavian countries include the highest atheist population compared to other countries. But the basic fact the people (yes, not only the religious people) can’t see or don’t want to see is the share of non-Western immigrants in this rate. And by saying “non-Western immigrants”, I directly point the muslim immigrants.

    While structing my own argument, I’m not considering gender, age, economic situtation of the victims or the criminals. I’m basically talking about religions. So I organise the rape cases within two groups. The former is about muslim men raping muslim women, and the latter is about muslim men raping non-muslim women.

    The link is about a secretly made researcs. To summarise, they ask questions about raping their own wives to Swedish muslim religional leaders in the Swedish mosques. The term may be uncanny but I have to point out a noticed fact about rapes. %66 of rape cases happened one mile around the victim’s house or directly in the victim’s house. If your wife doesn’t want to have a sexual discourse with you but you don’t listen to her, this incident is called a rape. And guess what is their answer?

    “He went on to say that a wife should never deny her husband sex, not even if he has beaten her, or has taken another wife.”

    This is not a personal advice. This is what is adviced to the muslim people by Koran itself.

    “If you fear that your wives might rebel against you, warn them, seperate your beds and if these don’t work, beat them.” (4:34)

    Now the main point. Rape attemts and commitments against non-muslim women:

    ” In a study by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention in 1997-2001, 25% of the almost 1,520,000 offences were found to be committed by people born abroad, while almost 20% were committed by Swedish-born people with a foreign background. In the study, immigrants were found to be four times more likely to be investigated for lethal violence and robbery than ethnic Swedes. In addition, immigrants were three times more likely to be investigated for violent assault, and five times more likely to be investigated for sex crimes. ”

    I’m repeating it; “five times more likely to be investigated for sex crimes.” This is just about Sweden. What about the other Scandinavian countries?

    Look at the Norwegian crime statistics of 2007. The statistics show the etnicities. Lebanon, Yugoslavia (there used to be a country like that, now there are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and some other muslim countries), Pakistan, Marokko, Turkey, Somalia, Irak, Iran… They lead the way in the crime statistics.

    This is a news about the immigrant problem in Norway. They called it “Muslim Rape Epidemic in Norway”. Just watch it. There is a right but sad point in the video. A woman (I don’t know who she is) says something like, “Muslim women wear hijab to mark and keep themselves from being attacked”. Some may find it odd and even racist or “politically incorrect” but I am a part of that non-Western society and I live in one of these countries that I placed above. I can confidently say that even some women who aren’t religious at all wear hijab in order not to get a sexual attack. And I remember that a religious daily newspaper made a news about it, the news was a propoganda of hijab. It was about a Western woman who was raped three times and solved the problem by wearing hijab. But I will give you a concrete evidence.

    It is about a Pakistani rapist claiming right to assault. He vividly says “this was because the girls did not wear headscarves.” It might be hard to define the sexual pressure in introversive muslim communities but try to imagine. These people are alienated, not even trying to fit in the new lands they are living. They believe that they are the society of god and the non-believers or the other religion believers are “cattle” (Koran, 7:179) And with all these sexual pressure, social alienation and oppression, the get in contact with the “cattle” and it’s free women. Compared to muslim woman, “cattle” woman wears mini-skirt, make up and walks freely. Just imagine.

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