Katrina L. Sifferd, J.D. Ph.D.

Professor and Chair of Philosophy, Elmhurst University

Genevieve Staudt Endowed Chair

Co-Editor in Chief, Neuroethics


Photo by Marcela Rafea

I'm a philosopher researching responsibility, punishment, and neuroethics/neurolaw. 

I have a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of London, King’s College where I worked with philosopher David Papineau. After finishing my Ph.D., I held a post-doctoral position as Rockefeller Fellow in Law and Public Policy and Visiting Professor at Dartmouth College. Before becoming a philosopher, I earned a Juris Doctorate and worked as a senior research analyst on criminal justice projects for the U.S. National Institute of Justice.

Currently I’m on sabbatical doing work on rape. I’ve completed a paper arguing that many rape cases may sit in a moral blindspot and one articulating the reasons rapists deserve criminal treatment (forthcoming in the Palgrave Handbook on Philosophy of Punishment). I am now working on two additional papers. The first, which I am writing with philosopher Anneli Jefferson (Cardiff), explores whether moral culpability can justify criminal verdicts and punishment in cases of reckless rape, where recklessness is widely construed as “couldn’t care less” whether a person consents. Although clearly such rapes constitute moral wrongdoing, moral culpability is less than it is for a crime committed “purposely” or “knowingly.” It looks like instrumental ends, including making the norms regarding sexual conduct more salient, may justify criminal verdicts and punishment in reckless rape.

The second paper, which I will present at the Injustice, Resistance, and Complicity conference in Groningen in June, discusses the impacts of rape victims understanding their assault as something less than rape. Rape survivors are often stigmatized and feel a keen loss of agency and control. Given this, we might feel a victim’s wellbeing outweighs reasons to name and report a rape, especially as this rarely results in a rapist getting his just deserts. But a failure to hold the rapist accountable is not the only negative outcome. Ecological accounts of responsibility highlight the way in which moral agency relies on a shared and public understanding of moral norms (Vargas 2013; McGeer and Pettit 2015). On such theories societal moral feedback is essential to agents’ sensitivity to moral reasons – we learn certain behaviors are unacceptable because our moral audience tells us so. Victims are in a unique position to motivate and shape societal moral discourse regarding rape. Making the harmful outcomes of immoral behavior salient is important to generating moral blame and censure (Kumar 2019). Naming events as rape, highlighting the harm caused, and calling out a perpetrator may be vital to a societal understanding of what behaviors constitute rape and are morally forbidden. By failing to name themselves as victims, rape survivors may be complicit in future failures to name, report, and prosecute rape.