A Round-up of Rapists

The Aroused, The Conqueror, The Angry, The Abused

ASK A FEMINIST WHY men rape and she'll tell you that they are angry and take it out on women. Ask a behavioral researchers why men rape and he says they just get turned on by the wrong stimuli. The answer to the question, however, now looks far more complex.

"For a long time, these two approaches dominated the thinking on why men rape, which is understandable; it would be great to be able to pin sexual aggression on a single cause:' says Gordon Nagayama Hall, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Kent State, who recently coordinated a national forum on rape. "But neither of these models explains all types of rape or rapists. As our research has become more sophisticated, other explanations have evolved ."

Disturbing ones at that. Hall and his colleagues have concluded, for example, that more people should be considered potential rapists than previously thought. "Among recent studies, there are varying percentages of men who could be considered potential rapists; one researcher has illustrated that as many as 25 percent of all male college students have engaged in some level of sexually coercive or aggressive behavior."

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Hall's own work delineates four major types of rapist.

  • Type 1 is influenced by deviant sexual arousal, which occurs when he has thoughts of violence against women. This type is likely to be extremely impulsive.
  • Type 2 is motivated by cognitive distortions, or thinking errors; he mistakenly interprets events or information differently than other men would. He believes that some women enjoy being raped, or want to be raped. For this type, rape is part of a conquest, a way of demonstrating masculinity. Most date rapists are Type 2s.
  • Type 3, says Hall, is motivated by anger or emotional discontrol. These men are so angry, especially at women, that the only way for them to deal with their anger is to act out sexually toward women. Not surprisingly, this type is the most violent and most dangerous.
  • Type 4 is the repeat offender. He is most likely to have been physically or sexually abused as a child. He has difficulty establishing enduring relationships, and a history of chronic problems in schools or in his family. Type 4 men break a variety of rules, both sexual and nonsexual.

Hall doesn't regard his research-based typology as definitive in identifying who will rape and in treating rapists, particularly repeat offenders. "Rape is much more complex than we've thought. In fact, we don't even have a very good definition of the crime itself. The strict approach is that rape is simply forced intercourse. But rapists engage in other sexually aggressive acts like harassing and fondling that don't incorporate intercourse," Hall explains. He believes that by viewing rape and rapists as multi-determined, "we will not only be able to design more effective treatments, but may be able to help prevent sexual aggression from occurring so frequently."

The bottom line: "We know that sexual aggression can take place between people who are acquaintances, friends, married couples. Men and women need to be very, very clear in their communication with one another exactly what is and isn't okay," Hall says. "Many rapists aren't just dirty old men who offend against strangers; they are often people with whom we share parts of our lives."

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