Privacy and Control

their role in sexual assault

The concept of rape as a violation of privacy

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A rape victim is more than the sum of his or her parts.

The concept of rape victims being "damaged property" has a historical basis dating back to when women were literally owned by a member of their family.

"The origin of rape laws can be traced to the once-widespread belief that women were the property of men. A female was considered first the property of her father. Because her virginity was valued as her principal asset, rape was considered a theft. Once a woman was married, she belonged to her husband. Rape then was treated as a crime against the husband's exclusive sexual rights to her. Because marriage gave these rights to the husband, legally, it was not possible for him to rape his own wife." Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia

This is what is known as an underlying cultural assumption. They are incredibly difficult to even notice much less change. One way in which society can circumnavigate this 'subconscious' idea is to begin looking at sexual assault as a violation of rights rather than a violation of the flesh. It is a violation of the body but the person inside the body is more important. The physical wounds will heal but the psychological ones will take a lifetime. Women and men both have the right to control who has access to them and their bodies. Privacy is one of the rights of the rape victim which have been violated.

"Though a rape victim may not sustain substantial physical tissue damage, rapists may inflict significant psychological trauma by asserting uninvited domination, control, and power over the unwilling other"(Schneider et. al., 1994)

Women are not property- Crimes against the person v/s crimes against property

"A fundamental categorization of crime is based on criminological theory and is commonly used to detect patterns in the crime rate. This classification divides crime broadly into two categories: crimes against the person and crimes against property. Crimes against the person are predatory in nature: the offender intends, threatens, or commits physical harm against the victim. Such crimes include homicide, rape, and armed robbery. Crimes against property involve no physical threat to the victim and include arson, burglary, larceny, and motor-vehicle theft." Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia


The correlation between the psychological effects of violation of privacy and the principles of both eating disorders and sexual assault are noteworthy.


One of the key aspects of the definition of privacy according to psychological analysis literature is the following:

Privacy is not the absence of other people from one's presence but the control over the contact one has with them. (Pedersen, D. 1997)

“Selective control of access to the self” (Margulis, S. 2003)

Control over or regulation of or, more narrowly, limitations on or exemption from scrutiny, surveillance, or unwanted access.” (Margulis, S. 2003)


Control is a key feature in most definitions of privacy in current literature. It is also a key aspect of sexual assault and the resulting psychological traumas. Many sexual assault survivors suffer from eating dissorders which also center around control issues. This page discusses the concept of rape as a violation of privacy rather than as damage of property.

Some of the key reasons control is important are that it provides what we need for normal psychological functioning, stable interpersonal relationships and personal development.(Pedersen, D. 1997)

It is a boundary issue in that people need to regulate who, how often and what type of contact they have with each other. It is important that individuals be able to regulate contact by both increasing and decreasing contact.(Pedersen, D. 1997) “Schoeman rightly argues that privacy… is not generally in order to isolate people but to enable them to relate intimately.” (Ben-Ze'ev, A. 2003)

Westin determined that privacy provides opportunity for self assessment and experimentation. Privacy is also the basis for development of individuality, protects personal autonomy and supports health by providing opportunities to relax, be one's self, vent, escape stress, and cope with loss, shock and sorrow. (Pedersen, D. 1997)

The negative effects of loss of privacy


-Loss of opportunities due to failure to psychologically control privacy related behaviors in situations in which more powerful people seek to control others. (Margulis, 2003)

-Some theories suggest that loss of privacy results in loss of control and resulting disorders. (Margulis, 2003)

-A potential long term consequence is coming to “believe that certain opportunities for privacy are simply not available.”(Margulis, 2003)

-Learning the limits of autonomy.

-When privacy is violated it is lost. “Invasions occur when initial conditions for privacy are not achieved. Examples include being surreptitiously over heard or being unable to prevent physical access to self.” (Margulis, 2003)

-Failure to meet privacy needs has also been linked to anti social and aggressive behaviors. (Pedersen, D. 1997)

-Stigmas result in the person being devalued, lowered in status, stereotyped and victimized by prejudice and discrimination. (Margulis, 2003) They also result in further breaches of privacy because the unstigmatized treat them as objects of curiosity. If the subject is unable to handle these social interactions they feel embarrassed and unwanted. (Margulis, 2003)

Control and Sexual Assault

Violations of privacy come in many forms. Sexual assault is one of the most explicit forms of invasion of privacy. Control issues are key to current theories on why privacy and its loss have negative effects on humanity. Rape has been regarded since the 1970’s to be a crime of violence and control as well as sex.

"Rape is not about sex to the rapist; it has to do with control and power." “Experts say that rape is an expression of sexual aggression rather than an expression of sexuality. Rape is rooted in nonsexual motivation in the psychology of the offender; it is tied to hostility and anger and the need to exert power and control.” 3

In some ways it makes more sense to look at the issue of sexual assault as an invasion of privacy.

“The more comfortable a person is with talking about invasion of privacy and in insisting that he or she has privacy that deserves respect, the clearer that person’s understanding of rape will be…” It is important to be aware of the approach of this subject through the concept of privacy because of the historical background and the need to bypass certain stigmas.

The word ‘rape’ has a long history of sexual property implications. Originally the rape of a woman meant she was damaged property of either the father or the husband (of whom she was the legal property). No one would want to purchase damaged goods.

Because of these factors it was in the best interest of women to keep this information to themselves. This is also the reason that in some countries it is impossible for a husband to be convicted of raping his wife. A man cannot steal his own property.

It is therefore a valid and useful approach to view the concept of rape as a violation of privacy rather than as damage of property.

"Though a rape victim may not sustain substantial physical tissue damage, rapists may inflict significant psychological trauma by asserting uninvited domination, control, and power over the unwilling other (e.g., Brownsmiller, 1975)."(Schneider et. al., 1994) It is important that society be aware of it’s boundaries regarding privacy. “An environment that tolerates rape will also tolerate a range of invasions of one’s own privacy…” and perhaps the other way around. The feeling of being “soiled” experienced in rape is linked to that of personal disclosures of an unpleasant nature. Rape is a crime of “sex, violence, power, and an invasion of privacy… in a rape, power is asserted by invading privacy through sexual means with violence implied or threatened. All elements are there together.” (Mclean, D. 1995) Violation of privacy is an abuse of power. “Often the motive for invading privacy is to exert power over the person whose privacy is invaded…this is a motive to not merely control another person’s behavior but to also break his or her heart or spirit so that one’s dominator can approach completeness.” (Mclean, D. 1995)



"Privacy of Rape Victims Clashes With Trial Rights"

"If she is looking for counsel and letting out her feelings to someone," she said of her granddaughter, "she would hope it would be kept confidential."


Sedney, Mary Anne, "rape (crime)." Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. Scholastic Library Publishing, 2006 <> (January 6, 2006).

Vito, Gennaro F., "crime." Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. Scholastic Library Publishing, 2006 <> (January 6, 2006).


Further definitions of control:

Altman’s definition of privacy emphasized “the selective control of access to the self.” 16 The psychological analysis of privacy yields the following definition: “Privacy, as a whole or in part, represents control over the transactions between the person(s) and other(s), the ultimate aim of which is to enhance autonomy and / or to minimize vulnerability… as well as regulation of access to self.” 17 Most concepts concerning privacy are derived from A. F. Westin’s literature on the subject. Altman is another prominent figure in the field. 16 Privacy has also been described as that which is of legitimate concern only to the self (not of others). 5 Privacy is an individual’s claim to determine what information should be known to others as well as when and what uses will be made of it. 29 The difference between privacy and solitude is that the later is the wish to be alone. Privacy involves control over that situation in either direction. 5 Altman had a very large influence on how researchers understand privacy.

The four types (or states) of privacy according to Westin are:
Solitude - Freedom from the observation of others.
Intimacy - Being alone with others.
Anonymity – Being among others but without personal surveillance by them.
Reserve – Unwillingness to disclose personal aspects of the self to others. 22, 16

Privacy diagram


Resources to research this subject:

Journals and articles

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Finding books at the library

Online Libraries on sexual assault

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Rape, Control and Privacy

a bibliography

1 (2003). What Causes Eating Disorders. Retrieved Dec. 12, 2003,
2 (2003). What causes eating disorders?. Retrieved Dec. 12, 2003,
3 (1997). The truth about date rape. Ebony, 52 (11).
4 Alderman, E., & Kennedy, C. (1995). The Right to Privacy. New York: Knopf Publishing Group.
5 Ben-Ze'Ev, A. (2003) "Privacy, emotional closeness and openness in cyberspace." Computers in Human Behavior, 19, 451-67.
6 Cate, F. (2001). Privacy In Perspective. Washington D.C., : The AEI Press.
7 Desmond, R. (2002). Big Brother Is Watching: Reasonable Expectations of Privacy in the Technological Age. . Reporter, 29, 3-5.
8 Hanson, R. (2002). Adolescent dating violence: prevalence and psychological outcomes. Child Abuse & Neglect , 26(5).
9 Hendricks, E., & Hayden, T. (1990). Your Right to Privacy the Basic Guide to Legal Rights in an Information Society. Illinois, Il: Southern Illinois University Press.
10 Heymann, P. (2002). Civil liberties and human rights in the aftermath of september 11. Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, 25. 441.
11 Kateb, G. (2001). 0n being watched and known. Social Research, 68.
12 Kupferman, T. (1990). Privacy and Publicity. Westport, London, : Mecklermedia.
13 Laws, Ami; Golding, Jacqueline M , . (1996). Sexual assault history and eating disorder symptoms among White, Hispanic, and African-American women and men. Journal of Public Health, 86,(4). 579.
14 Leino-Kilpi, H. (2001). Privacy: a review of the literature. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 38(6):663-71.
15 Lugli-Rivero, Z. (2001). Eating disorders and behavioral personal control. Salud Publica Mex 43:9-16.
16 Margulis, S. (2003). On the status and contribution of westin's and altman's theories of privacy. Journal of Social Issues, 59 (2) 411-429.
17 Margulis, S. (2003). Privacy as a social issue and behavioral concept. Journal of Social Issues, 59.
18 Mayer, M. (1972). Rights of Privacy. New York: Law-Arts publishers, Inc.
19 Mclean, D. (1995). Privacy and its invasion. , CT: Praeger.
20 McWhirter, D., & Bible, J. (1992). Privacy As A Constitutional Right . New York, Westport, Connecticut, London, : Quorum Books.
21 Nagel, T. (2002). Concealment and Exposure. New York: Oxford University Press.
22 Pedersen, D. (1997). Psychological functions of privacy. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 17, 147-156.
23 Post, R. (1989). The social foundations of privacy: community and self in the common law tort. California Law Review, 77, 957.
24 Rosen, J. (2000). the Unwanted Gaze The Destruction of Privacy in America. New York: Random House.
25 Schoeman, Ferdinand (1984) Philosophical Dimensions of Privacy: An Anthology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
26 Scoglio, S. (1998). Transforming Privacy a Transpersonal Philosophy of Rights.
27 Scott, G.G. (1995). Mind Your Own Business: The Battle for Personal Privacy. New York: Insight Books.
28 Shapiro, J. (1993). A psychological `sense-of-control' profile of patients with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Psychological Reports, 73.
29 Westin, A. (2003). Social and political dimensions of privacy. Journal of Social Issues, 59.
30 Wonderlich, S. (2000). Eating disturbance and sexual trauma in childhood and adulthood. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 3, 401.
31 Zweig, D. , Webster, J. (2002). Where is the line between benign and invasive? an examination of psychological barriers to the acceptance of awareness monitoring systems. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 23, 605-633.





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