U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Deadly Force Self-Defense Against Rape

NCJ Number
University of California Davis Law Review Volume: 15 Dated: (1982) Pages: 873-906
D B Kates; N J Engberg
Date Published
34 pages

Noting the paucity of judicial analysis of the common law privilege to use deadly force in self-defense against rape, this article clarifies the principles which justify the use of deadly force to repel rape.


To be legally justified in killing an attacker, a rape victim must reasonably believe that the rapist intends to kill or grievously injure her. In many rape situations, the threat of severe physical harm is clear; the rapist is armed or threatens death or grievous injury. Situations where a rapist does not explicitly or implicitly threaten physical harm beyond forcible intercourse are less clear regarding the victim's right to use deadly force against the rapist. Current law does not clearly articulate a basis for the right to use deadly self-defense when a person reasonably believes that harm will be limited to forcible intercourse. One factor which can justify the use of deadly force against a rapist who does not threaten the victim with death or grievous physical harm is the high frequency of murder and serious injury incident to rape. This could properly lead any rape victim to assume that her life and health are in serious danger. A second factor that could justify the use of deadly force is the high rate of physical injury and psychological trauma attending rape. The threat of venereal disease, an unwanted pregnancy, and psychological debilitation can be taken together as a threat of serious harm. Overall, rape can be viewed as a grievous physical and psychological attack that may be resisted by any and all means. 136 footnotes.