What Makes Non-Psychotic People Rapists

Subject: Psychology
Pages: 35
Words: 9354
Reading time:
33 min
Study level: Undergraduate


Rape is an age-old crime. However, researchers have only recently started to explore the intrigues of sexual offenses. In fact, only new pressures from feminist movements have forced many societies to start treating rape as a serious human rights violation (Jordan, 2002). Independent of this pressure, the global prevalence of rape depicts a worrisome situation. The recent death of a female Indian doctor, from rape-related complications, highlights the seriousness and gruesome nature of rape. However, the brutality against women and other victims of rape does not underscore the prevalence of this violence. A recent United Nations (UN) report (covering 65 countries) shows that the police record about 250,000 rape crimes yearly (Hewitt & Beauregard, 2012).

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Today, the most reliable statistics of rape come from the National Violence against Women survey, which shows that 14.8% of women have been victims of some form of sexual violence in their lifetime (Hewitt & Beauregard, 2012). Moreover, the survey claims that 2.8% of women have survived rape (attempted rape) while the incidence of rape is about 8.7 persons across a population of 1000 people (Hewitt & Beauregard, 2012). Mokros & Alison (2002) say in America, about one-third of women experience some type of sexual assault in their lifetime. Statistics in Canada show that about one in every 17 women may experience some type of sexual violence in their lifetime as well (Scott & Lambie, 2006). Victims of rape normally experience trauma and depression after such attacks. Others develop depression and suicidal thoughts. Mokros & Alison (2002) say about 60% of such victims suffer some type of injury during the attack. Moreover, about 9% of such victims suffer brutal beatings that result in disfigurement (Mokros & Alison, 2002).

Since most rape crimes are unreported, observers fear that the above statistics do not reflect the true incidence of rape (Jordan, 2002). A European report claims that most European authorities do not receive reports of up to 95% of rape cases (Hewitt & Beauregard, 2012). In fact, according to the American Medical Association (AMA), rape is among the most unreported forms of abuse among women (Jordan, 2002). Mokros & Alison (2002) uphold this view by highlighting a stark disparity between official and unofficial statistics about rape cases. The researchers say in some jurisdictions, authorities may make only 586 arrests when victims report more than 1,600 rape cases (Mokros & Alison, 2002). Relative to this claim, recent statistics show that the victimization rate among women may be higher than previously reported. Such statistics show that about 37% of women have experienced rape since they attained the age of 14 years (Hewitt & Beauregard, 2012). A similar finding showed that about 10% of women have been victims of attempted rape after reaching 14 years (Hewitt & Beauregard, 2012). Although most studies suggest that the female gender comprises the greatest demographic group of rape victims, observers say male victims of rape also exist (Mokros & Alison, 2002). In a similar fashion, children also fall victim to the brutality of rapists.

Purpose of Study

False misconceptions and misrepresentations of rapists have undermined efforts to detect and rehabilitate sexual offenders. Mainly, these misconceptions and misrepresentations of sexual offenders come from years of research that have unfortunately focused on the views of a few rapists (mostly incarcerated rapists) (Lisak & Miller, 2002). Most of these rapists have committed heinous acts on their victims and received widespread media coverage about their actions. Often, the media portray these culprits as armed villains who attack strangers. Therefore, whenever people hear new cases of rape, which fail to meet the criteria for sexual violence (as portrayed in the media); they believe such incidents are “unreal rapes.” Concisely, recent research has proved that most traditional perceptions of rapists are misinformed and untrue (mostly, these researches have sampled the views of undetected rapists, thereby representing a greater sample of rapists because most of them are unknown to the authorities) (Lisak & Miller, 2002).

Indeed, as Joubert (2012) observes, sexual violence is among the most commonly misunderstood subjects because several misconceptions and myths characterize the act and its perpetrators. Perhaps the greatest indicator that sexual violence is among the most misunderstood subject is the paradox that has existed regarding the most serious crimes against humanity. Some reports say sexual violence ranks second to homicide, but others say it is the most serious crime (Lisak & Miller, 2002). Underlying the myths and misconceptions about rape and its perpetrators are deep-seated beliefs people have about rape. For example, Joubert (2012) says perpetrators often believe women secretly “enjoy” rape. He also says, some women “cry rape” only when it suits them (Joubert, 2012). Besides the victims, some people paint unreal pictures of perpetrators of sexual violence as people who wear masks, hide in the bushes, and wait to pounce on their victims. This is untrue. However, many experts have proven that most rapists are multifaceted people that are difficult to understand, or even rehabilitate.

The personal and psychological characteristics of rapists have therefore made them very mysterious to authorities. Indeed, it is unsurprising for Joubert (2012) to say incarcerations do not completely rehabilitate sex offenders. The same mystery surrounding sexual offenders has made it difficult for authorities to profile rape victims. For example, Hewitt & Beauregard (2012) say there is no guarantee that a sexual offender who raped an adult would not rape a child. In fact, the odds of them attacking a child (even without prior history) would be the same as raping an adult (Hewitt & Beauregard, 2012). From this background, the most fundamental question that arises in this study is a discussion of the factors that drive people to commit such serious and inhumane acts. Moreover, it is important to ask if there is a way that the authorities can rehabilitate the offenders effectively?

By answering the above questions, the findings of this study will be useful in understanding the psychology of rapists by helping to answer basic questions about them, such as what motivates them to commit such acts, if they think they could get away with their crimes, or generally, what goes through their minds. From this background, this paper relies on the psychological understanding of rapists as the best strategy for curbing the vice and rehabilitating the offenders. Certainly, Joubert (2012) says, “Violent criminals very often have an interesting tale to tell that can help law enforcement catch other offenders before they strike again” (p. 4). Through a holistic understanding of sexual offenders, their attitudes, and psychology, the findings of this study will be useful in forensic psychology because they will help authorities to identify, arrest, and rehabilitate sexual offenders before they strike again.

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Research Aim

  • To understand what drives sexual offenders to commit rape

Research Objectives

  • To understand the psychosocial characteristics of sexual offenders
  • To evaluate the demographics of sexual offenders
  • To investigate the impact of gender socialization on sexual offenders
  • To comprehend the sexual attitudes of sexual offenders

Structure of the Paper

This study contains four chapters. Already, this paper has discussed the first chapter (above) by outlining the nature of the study and its goals. The second chapter is a descriptive analysis of the literature that the study will cover. This preliminary study sets the ground for the third chapter, which reviews existing literature regarding the research topic. In this chapter, the paper comments on existing studies by pointing out their findings, limitations, methodological issues, and comparing different research views. The last chapter is the concluding chapter, which summarises the main points of the study.

Discussion of Literature

Since rape is a type of sexual violence, many researchers have linked it with common causes of sexual crime, like “socio-economics, anger, power, sadism, sexual pleasure, psychopathy, bad attitudes toward sexual victims and evolutionary pressures” (Joubert, 2012, p. 4). Most of these issues link with the conduct of a sexual offender. Theories that have tried to explain the characteristics of these sexual offenders have mainly focused on abuse as the primary motivating factor for rapists to commit sexual violence. Some have also focused on exploring the demographic characteristics of sexual offenders (Lisak & Miller, 2002). This chapter explores these issues as part of the motivations for sexual violence. To do so, psychosocial influences, demographic observations, sexual attitudes, and male socialization explain the motivations of sexual violence.

Motivations of Sexual Violence

Psychologists say rape is not a sexual activity, but rather, a hate crime (Jordan, 2002). Analysts say most rapists do not commit the act for sexual gratification, but rather, to exert power and dominance over their victims (sex is only a tool for exercising this power and dominance) (Joubert, 2012). Mokros & Alison (2002) say rapists often strive to take something away from their victims. It may be their dignity, virginity, or honor; however, in their understanding, they seek to satisfy a personal goal (revenge, superiority, and the likes). Although many researchers believe rape is a domineering act, some of them believe sexual gratification is the primary motivator (Mokros & Alison, 2002). For example, in 1994, Richard Felson (cited in Scott & Lambie, 2006) argued that sexually gratifying feelings motivate most rapists to commit sexual offenses. Felson (cited in Scott & Lambie, 2006) therefore argues that rape is a type of sexual coercion aimed at gratifying the perpetrator.

Despite the credibility of both sides of the argument, Scott & Lambie (2006) say that most rapists are sociopaths because they are mainly concerned about gratifying themselves, at the expense of other people. In fact, they do not care if their actions may hurt other people, or not. Although there has been an attempt to classify all rapists as sociopaths, Joubert (2012) says not all rapists are the same. The main area of difference is their technique and motivations for carrying out rape. Their psychosocial backgrounds however outline an interesting insight into their psychological backgrounds.

Psychosocial Factors in Sexual offenses

Mokros & Alison (2002) say rapists often harbor deep issues about women. Fawole & Ajuwon (2005) trace these issues to parenting. They say, while many researchers say most sexual offenders have issues with their mothers, undetected rapists harbor even greater issues with their fathers (Fawole & Ajuwon, 2005). In fact, Fawole & Ajuwon (2005) believe that the damaged relationships (disappointment with their fathers) that most offenders experienced in their childhoods encourage them to portray traits of hyper-masculinity. The damaged relationships with their fathers also motivate them to believe in stereotyped beliefs and behaviors that degrade women. Although many researchers have not delved deeper into these parental issues (father/mother relationships), they agree that child abuse could be a potential trigger for sexually violent behaviors among men. This view draws its credibility from research studies that have shown a higher incidence of child abuse among sexual offenders, as opposed to ordinary people (Fawole & Ajuwon, 2005).

Thus, turbulent childhoods and emotional deprivations emerge as notable contributors to sexual deviances. Evidence also shows that the perpetrators may be victims of sexual violence as well. Thus, sexual offenders may be trying to fill an emotional void caused by years of neglect or abuse. Although there may be some doubt regarding the relationship between sexual abuse history and sexual offenses, observers express little doubt regarding the fact that most sexual offenders experienced some form of social disadvantage at some point in their lives.

The focus on social disadvantage explains why many researchers focus on peer and family factors in understanding the psychosocial processes that make ordinary people rapists. For example, Mokros & Alison (2002) have focused on explaining the effect of early childhood environments on the psychosocial development process of rapists. Joubert (2012) says an analysis of the psychosexual background of rapists shows that they may have experienced some type of violence in their childhood years. Through such analyzes (and the contribution of socialization factors to explain how the social conditions boys to be hypersexual males), it is correct to say most sexual offenders develop an attitude of sexual violence through the development of unhealthy attitudes about sexuality (the impacts of emotionally unsatisfying environments have taken center-stage in such analyzes). Unsupportive and violent environments have also featured prominently in such studies. Researchers who have advanced these factors to explain the psychosocial states of minds of rapists have also focused on explaining the impacts of family honor and sexual purity on rapists (Mokros & Alison, 2002). Such researchers have highlighted the need for preserving family honor as an impediment to the criminal justice system.

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Since many studies associate rape with human developmental processes, it is important to conceive it through the pillars of the developmental theory. This theory suggests that sexual offenders are often victims of harsh developmental backgrounds (characterized by emotional and manipulative social conditions) (Montgomery, 2009). Although the theory uses cognitive development models to explain how sexual offenders use structures to adjust their experiences and fit them in their personal experiences (schemata and positions), few researchers have used this theory to explain the main motivations behind sexual offenses. Nonetheless, proponents of the developmental theory suggest that long periods of exposure to complex childhood experiences distort people’s cognitive development processes by predisposing them to similarly complex cognitive outcomes regarding sex and sexual relationships (Montgomery, 2009). Di Zio (2010) says these changes occur when young men assimilate and accommodate the intrigues of their environments into their cognitive thought processes. However, Di Zio (2010) also says there is a caveat in this understanding because assimilation and accommodation need to strike an equilibrium. The process of assimilation involves the acceptance and integration of new information into the cognitive process to create new experiences and adaptations to stimuli. Included in this analysis is how people make moral decisions and use them for their benefit, or for the benefit of other people.

The developmental theory shares a close relationship with the evolutionary theory, which suggests that the propensity to rape stems from the reproductive needs of men (Montgomery, 2009). This theory further postulates that rape provides adaptive benefits for men, which allows them to preserve their offspring through natural selection. Rape, in this view, provides phenotypic benefits to sexual offenders, including morphological and physiological benefits (Montgomery, 2009).

The idea that psychosocial traits of sexual offenders have a strong relationship with human personality has a common footing in criminology studies. The popular media have also borrowed from these studies by suggesting that people’s behaviors reflect their personalities. The works of current and former criminal researchers such as Douglas and Olshaker (cited in Godwin & Canter, 1997), McCrary, and Ramsland (cited in Joubert, 2012) affirm this view. Such researchers have mainly focused on analyzing behavioral evidence, particularly for criminals who have committed multiple sexual crimes. At the core of this analysis is the homology hypothesis, which suggests that sexual offenders who share similar personalities commit almost similar offenses (Scott & Lambie, 2006). This view stems from the psychoanalytic formulation of human behavior, which presupposes that most people “act out” because of unresolved emotional and social problems. An extrapolation of this finding shows that the choice of victims and the approach used by attackers mostly reflect problems associated with their psychosexual and social development problems. From this trail of thought, Godwin & Canter (1997) say a developmental-relational understanding of the activities of sex offenders would be useful in understanding sexual offenses and the motivations of the perpetrators. The reliance on psychological determinism is an old approach adopted by many researchers, but it has still attracted a lot of criticism from pundits who believe this approach fails to capture the contextual factors (like the influence of environmental and social factors) that affect the actions of sexual perpetrators (Godwin & Canter, 1997). Perhaps, it is unsurprising that most studies linking sexual offenses to the personalities of sexual offenders have reported mixed results.

Several thematic underpinnings of sexual offenses have mostly arisen from studies that focus on sexual offenses. These thematic underpinnings of sexual offenses split into two factions that investigate sexual offenses that are motivated by instrumental forms of aggression and those that are motivated by expressive-affective factors (Mokros & Alison, 2002). Other researchers, such as Scott & Lambie (2006) have also classified sexual offenses into two groups – emotionally driven offenses and instrumental acquisitive offenses. Although these distinctions have failed to explain the link between the patterns of behaviors of sexual offenders and their specific personalities or characteristics, most studies that have tried to understand the homology of sexual offenses and the behavioral characteristics of offenders have emerged with interesting (albeit conflicting) findings.

For example, a study by Mokros & Alison (2002) that investigated the link between the characteristics of sexual offenders and their crimes, by sampling 395 rapists, affirmed a behavioral consistency among rapists. Particularly, the research found that most of the rapists expressed a consistent sense of sadism. The same findings linked the emotionally motivating factors between crime scene indicators (like slashing of clothes) with the expressive aggressions of the offenders (Mokros & Alison, 2002). However, a strong criticism leveled against Mokros & Alison (2002) was their reliance on variable-centered analyzes, as opposed to person-centered analyzes.

Scott & Lambie (2006) established a link between the thematic dimensions of rape and the anti-social behaviors of sexual offenders by analyzing the offenses and characteristics of a small sample of undetected rapists. They found that the relationship between thematic dimensions of rape and the anti-social components of the sexual offenders was true for about 88.9% of the sampled respondents (Scott & Lambie, 2006). In fact, for offenders who showed a strong sign of pseudo-intimacy, their rates of convictions were very high. Interestingly, offenders who showed a strong sense of sadistic and aggressive behaviors showed a relatively lower level of convictions. Observers have criticized the above findings because the researchers used a small sample of respondents. They also say the use of simplistic indexes to evaluate the characteristics of the sexual offenders undermine the credibility of the above arguments (Scott & Lambie, 2006).

Sexual Attitudes

There is little doubt regarding the fact that most undetected rapists are more sexually active than ordinary people are. Furthermore, Lisak & Miller (2002) say this group of sexual offenders engage in consensual and coercive sex more than other groups of men. In fact, some of these men have inculcated hyper-sexuality into their identities. Thus, as opposed to becoming a product of their sexual urges, they tend to believe that if they are not hypersexual, they will be unsuccessful men (Lisak & Miller, 2002). Feelings of adequacy, therefore, trace to their sexual nature.

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The feelings of inadequacy premise on the view that all women are sexual objects that ought to be conquered. They, therefore, see no problem with coercing women into having sex with them or using women as objects of sexual gratification. Joubert (2012) says most undetected rapists are more likely to hold on to traditional roles of women as subordinates of men. They also express a strong rigidity regarding such beliefs. Such myths and attitudes distort their perceptions of victim behavior and enable them to justify their actions. For example, Joubert (2012) says it is common for such people to interpret women’s terror and fear (during rape) as “normal” since they believe women would still refute sex, even if they wanted it.

Underlying these attitudes and beliefs are deep-seated beliefs of anger and hostility towards women. In fact, Lisak & Miller (2002) say it is common to see such people being easily slighted by women and holding on to many grudges against the female gender. For this group of people, it is very easy to evoke negative feelings against women. Such people also believe women deserve sexual violence. It is therefore also unsurprising for Lisak & Miller (2002) to say these men are often fearful of being under the control of a woman and would rather exert their control on them. To them, women are therefore potential targets for conquering. Consistent with their sadistic traits, Joubert (2012) says undetected rapists experience more emotional constriction than normal people do. This weakness also inhibits them from relating to the experiences of other people, thereby making them less empathic than ordinary people.

Contrary to the belief that most rapists are unable to control their sexual urges, an independent study by Barbaree & Marshall (1979) suggests that most rapists commit sexual violence because they can get away with it. This view supports the opinion of other researchers who believe rapists do not necessarily have psychological and personality disorders (Baxter & Barbaree, 1986). However, many studies conducted in North America and South Africa have relied on psychological profiling to understand why men commit sexual violence by suggesting that childhood abuses force many rapists to commit sexual violence (Baxter & Barbaree, 1986). Studies conducted in New Delhi, India, after sampling more than 240 inmates, showed that many of the convicted rapists were repeat offenders (Hewitt & Beauregard, 2012). The same study revealed that most of these offenders often attacked women with high confidence because they believed they could get away with it (Hewitt & Beauregard, 2012). This notion explains why most of the convicted rapists had committed at least four rapes before authorities arrested them.

An Indian doctor, Sunil Mittal (cited in Hewitt & Beauregard, 2012), believes that most rapists are sexual perverts that thrive on the idea that they can get away with their crimes. He adds, “Their motivation is violence and aggression along with sex. They feel powerful with sexual assault” (Hewitt & Beauregard, 2012, p. 835). Although some researchers refute this claim, Dr. Mittal believes rapists are people who cannot have a normal sexual relationship (or relationships with women); instead, they choose to be aggressive towards women. Some researchers are hesitant to use psychological and psychiatric characteristics to explain the actions of rapists because they say people who have psychiatric problems cannot commit rape in the first place (Barbaree & Marshall, 1979; Baxter & Barbaree, 1986). Therefore, they believe that only people who have a criminal mind can rape women. In their view, people could understand the actions of rapists through criminology rather than psychiatry.

Researchers who have adopted this school of thought also believe that most rapists are just part of a wider societal problem that undermines women (Barbaree & Marshall, 1979; Baxter & Barbaree, 1986). For example, Hewitt & Beauregard (2012) believe a high incidence of rape in India is a reflection of the country’s chronic disaster syndrome. Relative to this view, they say, “There are rising costs of living, insecurity at the workplace, loss of faith in the system, but at the same time one sees famous personalities getting away big crimes” (Hewitt & Beauregard, 2012, p. 836). This assertion informs the view that most rapists commit sexual violence because they can get away with it. Albeit this view may be misinformed, some researchers see it as the best explanation for why men commit rape. Nonetheless, the intrigues highlighted above largely stem from cognitive distortions about how men should treat women. A discussion of these cognitive distortions appears below

Cognitive Distortions

Experts who have investigated the characteristics and behaviors of sexual offenders agree that most sexual offenders see molestation and rape as unacceptable behaviors (Parker & Mohr, 2004). However, they still engage in these acts. The disconnect between thought and action has prompted many researchers to investigate why sexual offenders still engage in rape and molestation when they know these acts are harmful to their victims. Many of them have found out that this disconnect arises from cognitive distortions (Scott & Lambie, 2006; Lisak & Miller, 2002). Essentially, sexual offenders often convince themselves that these acts are not harmful, or are not serious. Sometimes, such culprits may claim their victims enjoyed the sex and did not have any objections during sex. Other perpetrators believe that their victims deserve aggressive treatment (Parker & Mohr, 2004). Through such cognitive distortions, the sexual offenders give themselves permission to commit sexual offenses. Therefore, the main difference between them and other people who believe rape and molestation are wrong is that sexual offenders feel less guilty when committing such acts.

Maxwell (2006) says the reality with most people (not just sexual offenders) is the fact that everybody has some form of cognitive distortion. For example, it is common to hear people making excuses for bad habits, such as smoking, overspeeding and such acts, although they understand the ramifications of their actions. Through excuses, people convince themselves that whatever action they choose to do is not serious. This way, people develop acceptable justifications for committing wrong acts (Parker & Mohr, 2004). Sexual offenders are the same. Stated differently, cognitive distortions are not unique to the habits of sexual offenders alone. However, the types of cognitive distortions that attribute to sexual offenders usually fall within the realms of their sexual habits (including the propagation of antisocial behaviors and the continuance of sexually deviant behaviors).

Researchers often associate cognitive distortions with the development of social, interpersonal, and intimacy deficits (Scott & Lambie, 2006; Lisak & Miller, 2002). Such defects often include ineffective communication skills and the development of antisocial behaviors. Analysts have linked the same characteristics with intimacy problems and the development of unhealthy sexual behaviors (sexual abuse) (Parker & Mohr, 2004). These characteristics are also frequently associated with increased incidences of sexual recidivism. Sexual offenders who have a link with these issues often exhibit a lack of empathy to their victims (here, the ability to show empathy often symbolizes an attempt by a sexual offender to put himself in the victim’s situation and to show remorse for what the victim is going through). Previous research often showed that sexual offenders lacked remorse for anybody around them, but recent research suggests that the lack of remorse may only be specific to their victims (Scott & Lambie, 2006). The ability, or lack thereof, of victims to show remorse to a victim plays a huge role in predicting the ability of a person to engage in sexually abusive behaviors. However, surprisingly, researchers have found it difficult to use this characteristic to predict the level of recidivism among sexual offenders.

Poor cognitive abilities and unhealthy psychosocial traits have also been associated with poor coping and self-management skills. For example, some offenders have trouble managing their emotions (Scott & Lambie, 2006). Therefore, they act in an impulsive manner, regardless of the consequences of their actions. Analysts have made this observation with the realization that many people occasionally act impulsively, regardless of the consequences of their actions (Parker & Mohr, 2004). Therefore, this unique trait is not exclusive to sexual offenders only. Although poor coping and self-management skills may occur in an ordinary person, researchers say its presence in a sexual offender contributes to his degeneration into sexual abuse. Similarly, Parker & Mohr (2004) say the presence of such a quality associated with multiple offenses.

A broad assessment of the predictors of sexual offenses manifest in an article by Godwin & Canter (1997), which explores the characteristics of people associated with sexual recidivism. Indeed, most of these characteristics largely explain why people engage in sexual abuse. To have an accurate assessment of these factors, Godwin & Canter (1997) categorised these factors into three categories that explain constant factors related to recidivism, changeable factors associated with recidivism, and factors that have the potential to change.

Static factors associated with recidivism include the involvement of sexually offending behaviors at a young age, having prior convictions of sexual offenses, and having unfamiliar and unrelated victims, as the three top predictors of sexual recidivism. The presence of deviant sexual interests, being unmarried (or in a stable relationship), and the presence of psychopathic behaviors constitutes other predictors of sexual recidivism as well (Godwin & Canter, 1997). The second category involves having factors that have the potential to change over time. The top three issues that have the potential to change and influence sexual recidivism include intimacy problems, increased hostilities towards women, emotional identification with children, and non-compliance with supervision and treatment regimens. Emotional identification with children, lifestyle instabilities, self-regulation difficulties, and increased preoccupation with other children are also factors that may change over time and influence sexual recidivism (Godwin & Canter, 1997).

Based on an assessment of the above factors, it is difficult to establish one profile of factors that most people could use to identify sexual offenders or understand why they participate in such acts in the first place. Although some of the factors identified in this paper show some similarities in the characters of sexual offenders, it is crucial to point out that the existence of variability within this group is greater than the potential for similarities within the same group. Certainly, the potential for variability is what makes it difficult for psychologists and members of the criminal justice system to manage sexual offenses. Therefore, although there is a greater push to identify one “magic pill” for solving sexual offense cases and understanding the psychology behind the perpetrators, the diversity of sexual offenders makes it impossible to do so.

Male Socialisation

Some researchers have argued that male socialization has a significant role to play in explaining how men become rapists (Watts & Zimmerman, 2002). Indeed, some studies explore the view that male socialisations about sexuality have contributed to the development of attitudes, beliefs, and views regarding rape in society. One researcher that has explored this view is Catharine MacKinnon (cited in Watts & Zimmerman, 2002) who says men rape, “for reasons that they share in common – masculinity and their identification with masculine norms and in particular, being the people who start sex and being the people who socially experience themselves as being affirmed by aggressive sexual interaction” (p. 1232). From this assertion, MacKinnon says the socialization of boys to be masculine and aggressive contributes to the creation of aggressive sexual attitudes towards women (Watts & Zimmerman, 2002). According to Langdon & Marshall (2001), the society socialises boys to take sexual initiative and persist in sexual encounters, while the society socialises women to believe they are weaker than men and their main job (sexually) is to set the limits of sex and satisfy men while at it.

The commodification theory largely explains why sexual offenders see women as objects because it postulates that sexual offenders see sex as a commodity that they can take from a woman (Langdon & Marshall, 2001). This view contradicts the conventional construct of sex as an intimate and personal experience that two people share. Indeed, as Bekteshi & Gjermeni (2012) posit, society rarely discusses sex as a commodity; however, across time, society has transformed and objectified women as sexual objects that provide men with physical gratification. Indeed, it is common to see large corporations using women to sell products and brands. Montgomery (2009) says this trend largely creates the perception that a woman could be a “product” to be bought. Thus, the commodification of women largely fuels a culture where society socializes men to believe they can easily “buy” sex and women.

The commodification theory also proposes the view that the cultural endorsement of sex as a commodity makes many men believe that even though sex should occur when people consent to it, the lack of consent is not necessarily bad. For example, studies that have investigated the use of alcohol and drug abuse show that substance abuse reduces people’s inhibitions into taking what is not theirs (Di Zio, 2010; Paoline & Sloan, 2003). This analysis has a direct relation to how the commodification theory explains people’s perceptions of rape because studies show that when people take alcohol, they commit rape, as they would commit other “small” crimes. For example, Paoline & Sloan (2003) say studies that investigated the incidence of rape among college women showed that about 75% of male students who have raped women in college were under the influence of alcohol. Interestingly, Paoline & Sloan (2003) also say the victims of rape were unable to describe their ordeal as “rape,” when they were also under the influence of alcohol. These studies show that sexual offenders who are under the influence of drugs and alcohol find some sort of comfort in their intoxication, and the society excuses them for their behavior (Di Zio, 2010; Paoline & Sloan, 2003). Similar studies show that most teenagers take alcohol and commit gang rape (or date rape) because alcohol diminishes their inhibitions to commit sexual offenses (Di Zio, 2010). Concisely, Paoline & Sloan (2003) say the sampled respondents do not take alcohol and commit serious crimes, like robbing a bank or killing someone; instead, they engage in rape, the same way they would shop lift. This analogy affirms the ideas of the commodification theory because the perception of sex as a commodity has reduced its value, such that rape is no longer a serious crime, but a “small” issue.

Modern films and popular cinema have greatly played a role in reinforcing the above views because instances of men making sexual advances on women, women resisting sexual advances, and later falling in love with the men, or having sex with them, have saturated the media. Langdon & Marshall (2001) say the implication of such messaging is the reinforcement of the idea that most men should not relent in their sexual advances, even when a woman says no. Indeed, through the same analysis, Watts & Zimmerman (2002) say boys learn that they should persist in their sexual advances, possibly into coercion, because this is the female “language of sex.” Certainly, it is unsurprising to hear young boys say that most girls do not mean “no” even when they say it. Unfortunately, the society patronises boys who think otherwise because their peers consider them as effeminate (Watts & Zimmerman, 2002). Many studies have shown merit for this argument because Hewitt & Beauregard (2012) report several studies, conducted in Mexico, Peru, and other cities in South America, which show that most young men engage in gang rape so that their peers could accept them. They, therefore, find the “need to belong” to be so compelling that they cannot accommodate the idea of being rejected by their peers.

Although reports show that many rape cases are unreported and many sexual offenders are undetected, evidence shows that the main motivations informing convicted and undetected offenders are the same (Watts & Zimmerman, 2002). For example, Scott & Lambie (2006) say most rapists are angrier with women than normal people are. They also say most rapists exhibit impulsive and uninhibited behaviors (Scott & Lambie, 2006). Furthermore, their likelihood to exude hyper-masculine and dominative behaviors is high. The observation that the same people are antisocial and lack empathy is also common among scientific studies.

Joubert (2012) used his immense knowledge about rapists (gathered from over 20 years of interviewing rapists) to outline the behavioral characteristics of rapists. For example, he says sexual offenders have an in-depth understanding of their victims’ prospective boundaries. He also says some perpetrators exhibit sophisticated planning skills to isolate their victims and attack them (Joubert, 2012). There is also little contention regarding the fact that most of these sex offenders are intellectually smart not to use too much force or violence on their victims. In fact, as Mokros & Alison (2002) say, they only use enough force to intimidate their victims and force them into submission. It is therefore unsurprising that a few rapists use deadly weapons, such as guns or knives, to intimidate their victims.

Rapist Profiling

Demographic Factors

The demographics of most rapists have intrigued several researchers, such as Steven Holmes (cited in Joubert, 2012), who says most rapists are often young people (below 25 years). Similar researchers say most sexual offense victims are usually women aged between 16 and 24 years (mentally handicapped and disabled people form a highly vulnerable group) (Jordan, 2002). They also say rapists often come from minority groups and like to choose victims from their racial backgrounds (Joubert, 2012). Such perpetrators also tend to come from low-socioeconomic backgrounds and exhibit anti-social behaviors. One notable characteristic is their lack of knowledge regarding how to relate with women. Such dynamics have opened a floodgate of investigations to understand the psychosocial factors that contribute to transforming “ordinary” people into rapists.

Mokros & Alison (2002) conducted one study to evaluate the relationship between crime scene indicators and the demographic characteristics of sexual offenders by sampling 100 rapists. The researchers were unable to establish a link between the two variables. Thus, they suggested that it was unwise to use the homology between crime scene patterns and the characteristics of sexual offenders as a reliable predictor of sexual violence in investigative practice (Mokros & Alison, 2002). A similar study by Scott & Lambie (2006) also affirmed the lack of relationship between the criminal history of sexual offenders and their characteristics after evaluating the conduct of 96 sexual offenders in New Zealand. There was however a large correlation between the criminal history indicators of the sampled respondents. This made it difficult for the researchers to predict their behaviors/conduct.

Joubert (2012) used a more clinical framework to evaluate the above relationship. The researcher found out that an offender’s predisposition to avoid violence reflected his level of organization. The offender’s level of organization when committing the violence was also reflective of his emotional status at the time of committing the offense. Joubert (2012) also used a high affinity to pornography to analyze an offender’s level of crime organization and found out that a high affinity to pornography causes decreased organization of the offender’s acts. The researcher also established that pornography was associated with reduced use of force and victim harm (Joubert, 2012). Analysts have used these findings to understand the influence of intra-psychic factors to predict and understand the behaviors of sexual offenders. Purposefully, the findings are beneficial in understanding the relationship between sexual interests and the characteristics of the crime scene. However, it is crucial to say that the above findings were dependent on intra-personal factors. For instance, Scott & Lambie (2006) say the use of alcohol among sexual offenders is closely associated with anti-social behaviors and excessive aggression by sexual perpetrators. Furthermore, it is crucial to explain that the above findings only analyzed individual offenses and not serial offenses. It was, therefore, difficult to extrapolate the findings and understand the evolution of the offenses across different crimes committed by one offender.

Differences with Ordinary People

Jordan (2002) was concerned about the justification for efforts to develop a typology for rapists because evidence showed that any man could be a rapist. Moreover, the same evidence showed that sexual offenders are not a homogenous group. In fact, no physical characteristics distinguish a rapist from an ordinary person (Jordan, 2002). Nonetheless, many conventional pieces of literature portray rapists as sadistic and evil-minded people who share little characteristics with ordinary people. Just as society depicts rapists as inhuman people, the media have played an instrumental role in reinforcing this perception. However, people who have sought to understand the minds of sadistic rapists acknowledge the fact that they suffer from a personality disorder. Experts describe this disorder as consisting, of “sociopathy, psychopathy, and anti-social personalities” (Joubert, 2012, p. 4).

Closer examinations into this description show that many rapists may not necessarily exude all these characteristics to act on their sexual impulses. For example, Lisak & Miller (2002) say rapists do not necessarily have to be antisocial. In fact, many researchers believe rapists are just like normal people, except that sometimes they may overcome their conscience by victimizing women. To investigate further the differences between rapists and ordinary people, Lisak & Miller (2002) say that most characteristics attributed to rapists easily overlap with the characteristics that ordinary people share. Indeed, Ajuwon & Oladapo (2004) say the distinguishing characteristics that most people use to describe the personalities of rapists are hardly distinguishing because millions of people also share the same qualities. Relative to this assertion, they say, “Certain characteristics associated with sociopathy and found in sadistic serial killers may be profoundly modified in the presence of sexual sadism. In particular, their empathy may be heightened, as opposed to reducing” (Ajuwon & Oladapo, 2004, p. 8).

One aspect that shows how rapists do not differ much from “ordinary people” is the presentation of self. While many people believe that most rapists are disorganised and unable to approach women, the contrary is true. Certainly, Ajuwon & Oladapo (2004) say most rapists are very skilful at how they approach women. For example, Joubert (2012) says most rapists attack their victims without any weapons. It is also common to find that at least a third of rapists have had a prior record of violence, or crime because they have been able to avoid detection for a long time. Statistics also show that about 25% of them faced similar charges (rape) in a court of law (Joubert, 2012). Similar statistics also show acquaintances of the victims perpetrate most rape cases.

Besides careful pre-planning, Ajuwon & Oladapo (2004) describes most rapists as being very skillful in impression management. Maxwell (2006) also says they are highly capable of living their lives without arousing any suspicion, or neighbors detecting them. In fact, Maxwell (2006) says such rapists may appear to be more innocent than the average person is. Moreover, they have the charm to lure victims to their homes. For example, a 34-year-old rapist, Derick Lee (cited in Maxwell, 2006), was able to evade suspicion from neighbors and authorities for a long time before he was arrested because he blended very well with society. In fact, often, neighbors and friends defended him as a very friendly and charming person (Joubert, 2012). Contrary to the expectations of the authorities, Lee led a bible study group and often held neighborhood barbecues. People who knew him informally did not believe he was a rapist and killer because they perceived him more as a servant of God than a rapist. Another 33-year-old rapist, John Gacy, also exuded the same qualities as Lee because he was a friendly person who used to act as a clown at birthday parties (Joubert, 2012). Moreover, he used to organise social events for people within his neighbourhood. He also had a construction company, which provided him with an opportunity to lure most of his victims when they came for interviews.

Comprehensively, although most rapists have strong impression management skills, which attract victims to them, they are just like other people. Erving Goffman (cited in Joubert, 2012), a well-known sociologist, said portraying a positive image in our surroundings is normal human behavior. In fact, he further says that most successful people exude a strong understanding of impression management skills that help them to achieve their goals. For example, politicians give the impression that they are “typical” people who understand the ordinary needs of the electorate, but in the real sense, they want to secure public support. Salespeople also have a knack for portraying a positive image when they interact with their customers to give the impression that they care for the well-being of their customers. Therefore, the difference between rapists and other people is not their ability to convey impressionable skills, but their ability to use the same skills to harm other people. Relative to this claim, Joubert (2012) says,

“When individuals use techniques of self-presentation for benign purposes in everyday life, it escapes our attention; or we might characterize our friends and family members in a complimentary way, emphasizing their polite manners, attractive smile, or charming style. When a serial killer is polite and charming (to lure his victims), we characterize him as inordinately manipulative and devious” (p. 6).

Based on the above understanding, it is correct to say rapists are similar to other people because there is no difference between a person who uses impressionable skills to rape a person and a sales clerk who uses the same skills to encourage a person to buy goods from him/her. Therefore, while rapists may use social skills to commit crimes, they do not differ much from normal people.

Critique of Literature

While researchers may know the characteristics, psychosocial backgrounds, and sexual attitudes of sexual offenders, a critique of the above articles shows that most psychologists contradict their findings by discrediting normal and abnormal behaviors among sexual offenders. These behaviors have a significant role to play in understanding what makes non-psychotic people rapists because they explain people’s capabilities to commit rape (Jordan, 2002; Mokros & Alison, 2002). The contradictions between normal and abnormal behaviors stem from the failure of psychologists to define what these behaviors are.

For example, an analysis of the psychosocial backgrounds and male socialization show more similarities between sexual offenders and ordinary people, as opposed to the differences that would distinguish the two groups of people. Most of the behaviors identified to explain the characteristics of sexual offenders are therefore replicated among ordinary people. For example, child abuse is not exclusive to sexual offenders only; many people have experienced some form of child abuse, or had parental issues as well, but still never committed any sexual crimes. Therefore, while there is a strong attempt by researchers to explain unique psychosocial backgrounds that make non-psychotic people rapists, they end up neutralizing their arguments by saying the characteristics of sexual offenders still mirror the characteristics of ordinary people.

The validity of the arguments advanced in this paper largely holds true for convicted rapists because most of the empirical results highlighted in this paper relate to studies that occurred in correctional facilities. Moreover, some of the statistics used to come up with the above findings come from government reports and organization studies which also rely on data from convicted rapists. However, as observed in this study, most rapists are undetected. Therefore, a greater sample of rapists exists out there. Through this lens of analysis, Mokros & Alison (2002) say, it is crucial to acknowledge that most sexual offenders are undetected by authorities and society. Therefore, the evidence provided in this paper largely refers to the characteristics and behaviors of convicted sexual offenders. Although Joubert (2012) believes there may be some slight differences in outcomes if the evidence provided in this paper referred to undetected sexual offenders; the possibility that the findings of the analyzed articles would be different if undetected rapists were interviewed is however unknown.

Lastly, based on an assessment of the factors contributing to the development of sexual deviances among non-psychotic people, it is crucial to point out the failure of most researchers to associate the characteristics of sexual offenders to specific interventions. Certainly, most of the predictable findings described in this paper concentrate on static factors, which are not amenable to specific interventions. For example, the demographics of sexual offenders, narrated by Joubert (2012), do not relate to a specific intervention. Similarly, the possession of psychopathic traits and the history of violence do not relate to a specific intervention.

In an unrelated lens of analysis, the focus on environmental factors, as possible contributors to sexual deviance, contradicts the idea that sexual offenses are products of persistent deviances or criminality. Particularly, this analogy offers some fairness and consistency for sexual offenders because it shows that punishment is inappropriate. Indeed, this is true, from a pragmatic and human rights point of view. This analogy shows the importance of understanding the unique dynamics of sexual offenders and specific interventions that would rehabilitate them (based on their unique circumstances and environment). This analogy also shows that among the greatest problem associated with rehabilitating a sex offender is assuming that general interventions may work. Therefore, eliminating the motivating factors that lead them to be sexual offenders would be a more effective approach to rehabilitating sexual offenders.

Unlike past works of literature and media perceptions of rapists that have always portrayed them as angry villains, evidence from this paper show that most of the rapists are in control of their anger. In fact, excerpts from the work of Di Zio (2010) show that most undetected rapists can control their anger. Through the same lens of analysis, Di Zio (2010) also says incarcerated criminals have a lesser control, of their anger than undetected rapists do. One finding that emerges in this analysis is the ability of these undetected rapists to invest a lot of time planning and premeditating their attacks. Evidence also shows that most of these rapists may be serial offenders and would easily commit other acts of abuse, such as child abuse. Efforts to understand the differences between undetected and detected rapists help to improve the efficiency of the criminal justice system in addressing rape cases.

Despite the merit of arguments highlighting the link between intra-psychic factors and the nature of sexual offenses, there is a strong need for researchers to examine patterns of association between intra-psychic factors and crime scene characteristics across a wide variety of sexual offenses committed by rapists. Therefore, the evidence presented in this paper is only limited to explaining the latent structure underlying sexual offenses and established developmental factors that affect the conduct of sexual offenders. Across the general analysis of findings proposed by these researches, there is little doubt regarding the fact that sex offenders are among the most violent and sophisticated criminals. Indeed, Mokros & Alison (2002) say it may be very difficult to detect rapists because they look like “ordinary” people. However, they possess a lot of psychotic intelligence that enables them to commit several acts of sexual violence before the authorities catch up with them.


After weighing the findings of this paper, it is important to acknowledge the ambiguity that surrounds the identification of sexual offenders and the psychological background that informs sexual abuses. Evidence shows that several psychosocial factors affect the motives and behaviors of sexual offenders. Particularly, this paper identifies male socialisation, sexual attitudes, and psychosocial factors as the most promising indicators for predicting future sexual offenders. These three main issues explain the motivations for aggressive sexual behaviors. An assessment of the structure of this paper shows that these three main issues also inform the framework used to profile sexual offenders. Therefore, through the inclusion of male socialisation, sexual attitudes, and psychosocial factors as the main motivations of sexual abuse, it is easier to understand the differences and similarities between sexual offenders and ordinary people. Through an assessment of these three issues, it is also easy to establish the demographic characteristics of sexual offenders. The demographic characteristics of sexual offenders described in this paper largely strive to explain the context of the psychosocial factors describing the behaviors of sexual offenders. Conversely, the psychosocial characteristics highlighted in this paper explain the cognitive influences of childhood growth on the psychological state of sexual offenders. Here, evidence gathered from years of studying the influence of childhood experiences on the development of sexual attitudes and perceptions of sexual offenders show that adverse childhood experiences have a negative effect on the cognitive development of rapists. Consequently, these negative exposures cause sexual offenders to have a distorted understanding of sexuality. Particularly, it causes them to develop a negative perception of women as sexual objects.

Nonetheless, this paper criticises the universality and diversity of these psychosocial processes (of aggressive sexual behaviors) by outlining their failure to associate with specific interventions. This analogy is important because understanding the nature of a sexual offender is one way of understanding how to intervene and treat him. Therefore, by failing to show how these psychosocial factors associate with specific interventions, the purpose of understanding these psychosocial factors is lost.

Concerning the difference between sexual offenders and ordinary people, this paper shows no significant differences between both groups of people. In fact, excerpts of this paper highlight the difficulties in distinguishing ordinary people and rapists. This is the same reasoning behind the criticisms levelled against researchers who strive to describe sexual offenders as a special group of people. This paper makes this observation with the understanding that most people often want to understand the nature and characteristics of sexual offenders. Understandably, most people would want to know the demographics, personalities, and other variables to use to spot sexual offenders and protect themselves from harm. This need often makes people to operate under myths and misconceptions about sexual offenders and their characteristics. The greatest misconception is that most sexual offenders are the same. This misconception also falsely misleads people to believe that sexual offenders fit a specific profile that would make it easy for people to spot them.

Unfortunately, some practitioners in the criminal justice system may use such criteria to identify sexual offenders. Understandably, such members of the criminal justice system would want a predetermined profile of sexual offenders to exist to make it easier for them to identify and prosecute such criminals (easy decision-making). Furthermore, some members of the same group of criminal justice practitioners would want to believe there is a typical profile of sexual offenders to make it easier for them to treat and rehabilitate such people. The same group of people would want to believe a typical profile of sexual offenders exist to make it easy to identify potential sexual offenders and “save” them from such an eventuality. However, this paper does not show a single profile that most people could use to identify existing or potential sexual offenders. This is because, despite the existence of several attempts to find unique characteristics to identify sexual offenders, researchers have found more evidence that sexual offenders are a heterogeneous group of people. Therefore, while the term, “sexual offender,” may suggest that sexual offenders have the same profile, this is untrue. In fact, because they are highly heterogeneous, it is difficult to understand how sexual offenders differ with other people, except for the fact that they have committed a sexual offense.

Although sexual offenders do not have a specific profile or characteristic that would easily identify them as such, this paper highlights unique demographic characteristics, psychosocial traits, and sexual attitudes that are common with sexual offenders. However, it is crucial to understand that not all these traits are common for all sexual offenders. Comparatively, these variables are important in understanding the behaviors of sexual offenders. Similarly, the presence of these variables does not automatically mean that most people that show, or have experienced, these characteristics are automatic sexual offenders. Indeed, some of the variables identified in this paper (to understand the behaviors of sexual offenders) could easily exist in other groups of people as well (including other criminals and the public). Therefore, considering previous research establishes the presence of these variables among sexual offenders, there could be a potential relation between these variables and the affinity to commit sexual offenses. This is especially true when some of these variables interact with other variables that help to develop distorted sexual behaviors and attitudes among sexual offenders.

Although a broad assessment of the characteristics and variables surrounding the behaviors of sexual offenders shows that they share many similarities with the ordinary person, it is important to highlight that sexual offenders are often interested in some issues that fall outside the realm of healthy and appropriate sexual behaviors. For example, this paper shows that sexual offenders may be unaffected by the lack of sexual consent, when having sex with another person. Similarly, they may inflict physical pain on their victims, especially when they deem it important to do so. These issues largely fall within the cognitive distortions experienced by such sexual offenders.

Lastly, based on the similarities between sexual offenders and the public, the most significant question that most studies have failed to answer is if sexual offenders are more similar to the general population than they are different. In this analysis, most people may find it difficult to discern the idea that sexual offenders are more similar to ordinary people, than they are different. However, it is important to acknowledge what research evidences have shown – sexual offenders are usually people close to their victims (family members and relatives). The legitimacy of victimisation data therefore shows that sexual offenders may be more similar to the public than was previously thought. However, this statement is only an indicative assessment of this relationship; researchers need to do more research to ascertain if this is true.


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