Last week, we began a new series to talk about rape.
We are taking a list of statements from a survey in the 1990's and comparing our answers to those of the high school students who took the survey way back when. I've offered Kossacks a choice that didn't exist back in the day, Shades of Gray. If you chose that option, please leave a comment explaining why. And know that the makers of the survey intended each answer to be truly true or false.
Below the fold you'll find the results of last week's poll. And at the end of today's diary, you'll find today's poll, the statement:
Statement #1: Most rapists commit rape for sex.
This statement is false.
The 1990 survey found that before taking a rape awareness class, only 26.8% of the students answered correctly. After the class, 55.9% answered correctly.
Here on Daily Kos and more than 20 years later, 75% answered correctly. The remaining 25% were split evenly between those who marked this statement as true and those who felt there were shades of gray. The word "most" should have covered those shades of gray. But let's take a look at the literature.
More than two decades after this study came out, there are still a healthy amount of people who believe that rape is often about sex. Fortunately, it is far from a majority but those few are often the people that we get frustrated with when trying to discuss rape. It is especially frustrating on a progressive website where we expect everyone to agree on a few basic facts. Because of the vocal few, I've done my best to look for research supporting both sides. One of the reasons I ask for you to provide links for your comments is so that we don't rely only on anecdotal evidence. Although stories are strong motivators to changing minds, we are a fact based community.
Back in 1979, Nicholas Groth published a book titled Men Who Rape. He identified three different types of rapists:
The two primary and numerically largest types identified by Groth were the “power” rapist and the “anger” rapist. The power rapist was motivated by his need to control and dominate his victim, and inversely, to avoid being controlled by her. The anger rapist was motivated by resentment and a general hostility towards women, and was more prone to inflicting gratuitous violence in the course of a rape. Not surprisingly, these types were rarely found in pure form. Most rapists were actually blends of power and anger motivations; however, a predominance of one or the other was often discernible.Groth based his findings on interviews with incarcerated rapists. Many people took issue with the fact that all the subjects were in prison and felt that the study did not fairly reflect all men who rape. They argued that there may be other motivating factors for those rapists who have never been apprehended, referred to as undetected rapists.
The third and (thankfully) numerically far smaller type was the sadistic rapist. This rapist was motivated by the sexual gratification he experienced when he inflicted pain on his victim. The sadistic rapist has become a staple of the American media, but these, once again, extremely rare cases.
from Understanding the Predatory Nature of Sexual Violence by David Lisak, Ph.D. University of Massachusetts Boston
Enter Dr. David Lisak. He decided to tackle this problem and proceeded to interview men who had raped but had never been arrested. He published his findings in 2008. If you wonder how he and other researchers managed this, you're not alone. Why would a rapist willingly answer questions about a crime? The answer is pretty simple: because he never thought he committed a crime in the first place:
Researchers discovered that it was possible to gather accurate data from these men because they did not view themselves as rapists. They shared the very widespread belief that rapists were knife-wielding men in ski masks who attacked strangers; since they did not fit that description, they were not rapists and their behavior was not rape. This has allowed researchers to study the motivations, behaviors and background characteristics of these so-called “undetected rapists.”Among Dr. Lisak's findings, the most pertinent to our current discussion is this:
Many of the motivational factors that were identified in incarcerated rapists have been shown to apply equally to undetected rapists. When compared to men who do not rape, these undetected rapists are measurably more angry at women, more motivated by the need to dominate and control women, more impulsive and disinhibited in their behavior, more hyper-masculine in their beliefs and attitudes, less empathic and more antisocial.Furthermore in more than 20 years of interviewing undetected rapists, he found some common characteristics of the modus operandi of these men:
• [undetected rapists] are extremely adept at identifying “likely” victims, and testing prospective victims’ boundaries;For those of you who are concerned that rape of this type excludes date rape at colleges, please note that Dr. Lisak focused his research on men in college environments and that the similarities between these men and incarcerated rapists were many:
• [undetected rapists] plan and premeditate their attacks, using sophisticated strategies to groom their victims for attack, and to isolate them physically;
• [undetected rapists] use “instrumental” not gratuitous violence; they exhibit strong impulse control and use only as much violence as is needed to terrify and coerce their victims into submission;
• [undetected rapists] use psychological weapons – power, control, manipulation, and threats – backed up by physical force, and almost never resort to weapons such as knives or guns;
• [undetected rapists] use alcohol deliberately to render victims more vulnerable to attack, or completely unconscious.
The implications of the research on undetected rapists – research that has largely focused on men in college environments – point to the similarity of these offenders to incarcerated rapists. They share the same motivational matrix of hostility, anger, dominance, hyper-masculinity, impulsiveness and antisocial attitudes. They have many of the same developmental antecedents. They tend to be serial offenders, and most of them commit a variety of different interpersonal offenses. They are accurately and appropriately labeled as predators.
Almost every college website now includes a page about sexual assault on campus. Many of them include a statement that looks something like this:
Myth: Rape is sex.These pages rarely include source material but now we know where that source material comes from - Groth and Lisak.
Fact: Rape is experienced by the victims as an act of violence. It is a life-threatening experience. One out of every eight adult women has been a victim of forcible rape. (National Victim Center and Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center, 1992) While sexual attraction may be influential, power, control and anger are the primary motives. Most rapists have access to a sexual partner. Gratification comes from gaining power and control and discharging anger. This gratification is only temporary, so the rapist seeks another victim.
The closest I could come to finding material that expressed the opposite view was a law class from Harvard. The professor posted a piece called Theories of Rape for his students. He lists different theories of rape that could be used in court. Of course, his theories encompass views that could be used both to defend and to prosecute a rapist:
- "Biological Theory" that proposes "Selection, or differential reproductive success among individuals due to trait differences, is the most reasonable ultimate explanation for rape in humans." He does not provide any scientific research to back this theory but gives a link to another paper written by another lawyer.
- "Commodification Theory" claims that rape is a crime of theft and sex is the item that is stolen. Again, there is not a scientific basis for this but another paper written by another lawyer.
- "Developmental Theory" is not directly opposed to the idea that power and/or anger are the main motivations for rape but ties those theories in with the biological theory above. It relies heavily on the concept of nurture, however, rather than nature, being responsible for creating the ability to rape. This theory relies on an article in the Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology.
- "Rape as a Gender-based Hate Crime" stems from the idea that "[F]orced sexual contact in the name of passion or personality may support rather than refute
a claim of gender-motivation because it shows a disrespect for women." The theory as presented seems to rely on sex as motivation. The theory as presented comes from an article on Civil Rights enforcement.
- And finally, "Control Theory" which finally addresses the concept that power and/or anger are the main motivating factors of rape. The professor weakens this theory by calling it a feminist theory and failing to mention the research of either Groth or Lisak. Instead he supports this theory with this piece, "From Stephen R. Gold's review of: Sex, Power, Conflict: Evolutionary and Feminist Perspectives."
You will probably notice when discussing rape with fellow Kossacks that many of them turn to the theories above. I mention them so that we are fully aware of the discussion. The scientific research that I can find supports the conclusion that rape is not about sex.
And I would remind all of us that the statement allows for anecdotal evidence that fits some of these theories - most rapists. We need to remind people that the odd case that does not fit the scientific research, while important to individual lawyers and their clients, should not sway the way in which we as a society approach ways to prevent rape. We need to look at the majority of cases - the power/anger cases - and use those to find better ways to prevent rape from happening.
Dr. Lisak, in fact, suggests that we are tackling this from the wrong direction:
Prevention efforts geared toward persuading men not to rape are very unlikely to be effective. Lessons can be drawn from many decades of experience in sex offender treatment, which have demonstrated that it is extremely difficult to change the behavior of a serial predator even when you incarcerate him and subject him to an intensive, multi-year program. Rather than focusing prevention efforts on the rapists, it would seem far more effective to focus those efforts on the far more numerous bystanders – men and women who are part of the social and cultural milieu in which rapes are spawned and who can be mobilized to identify perpetrators and intervene in high-risk situations.I have a feeling we have a lot to discuss in the comments below.
Diaries in the this series: