International Journal of Social Robotics

, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 465–477 | Cite as

Robots, Rape, and Representation

  • Robert SparrowEmail author


Sex robots are likely to play an important role in shaping public understandings of sex and of relations between the sexes in the future. This paper contributes to the larger project of understanding how they will do so by examining the ethics of the “rape” of robots. I argue that the design of realistic female robots that could explicitly refuse consent to sex in order to facilitate rape fantasy would be unethical because sex with robots in these circumstances is a representation of the rape of a woman, which may increase the rate of rape, expresses disrespect for women, and demonstrates a significant character defect. Even when the intention is not to facilitate rape, the design of robots that can explicitly refuse consent is problematic due to the likelihood that some users will experiment with raping them. Designing robots that lack the capacity to explicitly refuse consent may be morally problematic depending on which of two accounts of the representational content of sex with realistic humanoid robots is correct.


Robots Sex robots Ethics Rape Representation HRI 



I would like to thank Selma Sabanovic and Ana Paiva for the invitation to present a keynote lecture at the HRI 2016 conference in Auckland, which prompted me to begin writing this paper. I am grateful to Ron Arkin, Michael Flood, Catherine Mills, and Matthias Scheutz, for comments and discussion early in the development of this manuscript and to Daniel Black, Michael Flood, Rebecca Harrison, Catherine Mills, Nanette Ryan, David Simpson, and Bob Simpson for comments on various drafts. Jonathan Herington was kind enough to draw my attention to two important sources that I had, criminally, missed. I would also like to thank Mark Howard for his work as a research assistant in support of the publication of this manuscript. The research for this paper was supported under the Australian Research Council’s Centres of Excellence funding scheme (project CE140100012). The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the Australian Research Council.

Funding The research for this paper was supported under the Australian Research Council’s Centres of Excellence funding scheme (project CE140100012).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Arts, School of Philosophical, Historical, and International StudiesMonash UniversityClaytonAustralia
  2. 2.Monash Bioethics CentreMonash UniversityClaytonAustralia
  3. 3.ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials ScienceMonash UniversityClaytonAustralia

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