Correcting the Record on “Rape Racks”

Vegans and anti-vegans have disputed the origin of the term “rape rack” (see e.g. here) – animal torture/murder apologists claim vegan and animal rights activists invented the term “rape rack” out of thin air (Lindquist 2020), while many vegan activists claim it is colloquially used in the industry (Humane Myth, n.d., Shuchat 2016).

For example, Lindquist (id.) says:

Did you know that the only sources which I found the term “rape rack” to be so freely used? That’s right, vegan animal activist websites, vegan animal activist blogs, and social media posts

The term rape rack did not originate in the vegan community or from animal activists smearing the dairy industry, but rather by comparative psychologists, specifically Harry Harlow (Harlow & Soumi 1970) studying monkeys.

We wanted to test the effect of social isolation on maternal behavior, but no one can study maternal behavior unless someone has babies. Actually, for about 50 percent of our isolated females we eventually found ways to breed them under controlled conditions. The technique we devised in desperation was a rape rack.

When motherless monkeys that had been raised in total isolation for 6 to 9 months became mothers, at least twothirds of them turned out to be inadequate or evil mothers. They tended to show one of two syndromes. One pattern of the motherless mothers was to pay no attention to their infants. (Any normal monkey mother hearing one cry from its baby would have clasped the baby to its breast in no time flat.) The other mothers were brutal or lethal. One of their favorite tricks was to crush the infant’s skull with their teeth. But their really sickening behavior pattern was that of smashing the infant’s face to the floor, then rubbing it back and forth.

Harlow & Soumi 1970, above, page 10

(see also Stephens 1986, VeganRabbit n.d.)

The earliest application in print of the term to the animal agriculture industry that I can find is David Coats 1989’s book Old MacDonald’s Factory Farm: The Myth of the Traditional Farm and the Shocking Truth about Animal Suffering in Today’s Agribusiness, on page 34:

Sometimes a boar is let loose among the tethered sows, the so-called rape rack, but most larger operators consider artificial insemination a ….

And soon after, the term saw widespread use in academic animal rights publications, particularly feminist and ecofeminist works (e.g. Adams 1991, Francione 1991, Slicer 1991).

I am not a dairy farmer (for good reason). I have no clue whether it’s used in the industry – it could have been used once. But the term “rape rack” was first used by psychologists who abused monkeys for scientific gain – the extension of the term “rape rack” to the devices used in the dairy industry is not a stretch at all and to accuse vegans of being dishonest for this language reeks of half-baked ideology.