The raping of women is a crime on the increase in the United States. It is a crime that is often misunderstood and surrounded by myths. It is our goal to dissect some aspects of this insidious act and share some of the more recently discovered facts.
One commonly believed myth is that rape is primarily a sexual act. Persons with this belief often unintentionally place the victim on trial. Her motives, her dress and her actions become suspect not only to law enforcement officials but also to her family and friends. The woman’s credibility may be questioned and her sexual activity and private life may be made public. Perhaps because of the guilt, embarrassment and humiliation, rape has been a highly underreported crime. However, throughout the past 20 years a variety of psychologists and sociologists have begun to study the psychology of rape and rapists. Their findings have shown that rape is a crime of violence, often regarded by the woman as a life-threatening act in which fear and humiliation are her dominant emotions. Sexual desire is less a motivation for the man than violent aggression.
Rape as a crime of violence is perhaps best understood by examining studies of the rapist, who he is and why he does it. However, it is somewhat disconcerting. Research by Amir in the 60’s and 70’s indicates that rapists are not the psychopathic, antisocial men one would think them to be.
There are of course the extreme individuals, but most rapists blend well into their own communities. In fact, there may be more similarities between rapists and ourselves then there are differences. However, research on the rapist is subject to serious questions. The sampling of subjects are often full of bias. Most rape arrests still do not result in conviction. Therefore the men who are interviewed represent a very small percentage of the entire rapist population. Since the sampling pool is so limited, the conclusions drawn from such studies must be viewed cautiously. With that in mind, the findings of research by Dr. Menachiam Amir, an Israeli criminologist, and the National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice will be presented.
Dr. Amir studied rape and rapists in Philadelphia between 1958 and 1960. He found the median age of the Philadelphia rapist was 23 but the largest age group among rapists was the 15-19 year olds. Amir found most rapists were unmarried, however that could be due to their young age. He also found that the older the rapist the younger the victim. According to Amir most rapists were at the lower end of the economic scale and about half had previous arrest records. However, few of their prior arrests were for sex offenses. Amir also found that more than half the rapes took place on the weekends with Saturday being the peak day. Again almost half were committed between 8:00 P.M. and 2:00 A.M. Further, approximately 71% of the rapes were planned. The choice of victim was often left to chance and circumstance, but the rapist set out to rape someone. Planning is even more prevalent in pair or gang rapes.
The National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice examined the characteristics and behaviors of rapists in 5 cities during the mid 1980s: Seattle, Detroit, Kansas City, New Orleans and Phoenix. There were several similarities between their findings and Amir’s. Both found minority males were overrepresented; that most victims tended to be under 30 years old; and most rapists did some planning before the rape occurred, Amir however found 43% of the rapes involved more than one offender. The Institute found an overwhelming majority of rapes were committed by a single individual. The use of weapons varied from city to city but were used in approximately half the assaults.
Offenders interviewed by members of the Institute at a maximum security state mental hospital believed that the prevention or avoidance of rape was the responsibility of the women. Their advice, perhaps sexist, nonetheless advised women not to go out alone, not to hitchhike, not to drink alone and to learn self defense.
In conclusion, most of what is currently known about rape and the rapist has been found in police blotter statistics. The whys of the crime are still being investigated. Amir theorized rapists fell into 2 categories which he labeled “criminal” and “psychiatric”. The criminal rapist he viewed as a poorly educated man from the lower socioeconomic level who had a criminal record of offenses such as exhibitionism, fetishism, etc. He saw him as generally antisocial and easily influenced by his peers. The psychiatric rapist was viewed as a well educated man from a higher economic bracket. He was believed to rape because of some personal problems or inadequacy and he may feel remorse after the assault. However, these are not generally accepted theories but are considered a stepping stone to more indepth research. A more widely accepted theory is that most rapists seem to come from a subculture of violence whose values may be different from those of the dominant culture. Therefore these adolescents and young men may be demonstrating their toughness and masculinity in a more violent and antisocial manner.