Pharmacotherapy to Blunt Memories of Sexual Violence: What's a Feminist to Think?




It has recently been discovered that propranolol—a beta-blocker traditionally used to treat cardiac arrhythmias and hypertension—might disrupt the formation of the emotionally disturbing memories that typically occur in the wake of traumatic events and consequently prevent the onset of trauma-induced psychological injuries such as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. One context in which the use of propranolol is generating interest in both the popular and scientific press is sexual violence. Nevertheless, feminists have so far not weighed in on propranolol. I suggest that the time is ripe for a careful feminist analysis of the moral and political implications of propranolol use in the context of sexual violence. In this paper, I map the feminist issues potentially raised by providing propranolol to victims of sexual assault, focusing in particular on the compatibility of propranolol use and availability with an understanding of the social and systematic dimensions of rape's harms. I do not deliver a final verdict on propranolol; in fact, I show that we do not yet have enough information about propranolol's effects to do so. Rather, I provide a feminist framework for evaluating the possibilities and perils opened up by therapeutic memory manipulation in the context of sexual violence against women.