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Rape is a crime where the victim is forced into sexual activity, in particular sexual penetration, against his or her will. The word originates from the Latin rapere: to seize or take by force. The Latin term for the act of rape itself is raptus.

Originally, the word rape was akin to rapine, rapture, raptor, and rapacious, and referred to the more general violations, such as looting, destruction, and capture of citizens that are inflicted upon a town or country during war, eg. the Rape of Nanking. Today, some dictionaries still define rape to include any serious and destructive assault against a person or community. This article, however, focuses primarily on sexual assault.



The concept of rape, both as an abduction and in the sexual sense, makes its first appearance in early religious texts. In Greek mythology, for example, the rape of women, as exemplified by the rape of Europa, and male rape, found in the myth of Laius and Chrysippus, were mentioned. Different values were ascribed to the two actions. The rape of Europa by Zeus is represented as an abduction followed by consensual lovemaking, similar perhaps to the rape of Ganymede by Zeus, and went unpunished. The rape of Chrysippus by Laius, however, is represented in darker terms, and was known in antiquity as "the crime of Laius", a term which came to be applied to all male rape. It was seen as an example of hubris in the original sense of the word, i.e. violent outrage, and its punishment was so severe that it destroyed not only Laius himself, but also his son, Oedipus.

In antiquity and until the late Middle Ages, rape was seen in most cultures less as a crime against a particular girl or woman than against the male figure she "belonged" to. Thus, the penalty for rape was often a fine, payable to the father or the husband whose "goods" were "damaged." That position was later replaced in many cultures by the view that the woman, as well as her lord, should share the fine equally.

Rape, in the course of warfare, also dates back to antiquity, ancient enough to have been mentioned in the Bible, which mentions the abduction of women as war trophies.

The Greek, Persian and Roman troops would routinely rape women and boys in the conquered towns. The same behaviour was observed as late as the 1990s, when the Serbian troops, targeting Bosnia and Kosovo, conducted a calculated campaign of raping women and boys in the areas they controlled.

Rape, as an adjunct to warfare, was prohibited by the military codices of Richard II and Henry V (1385 and 1419 respectively). These laws formed the basis for convicting and executing rapists during the Hundred Years War (1337-1453).

Non-sexual usage of term

In its original sense, dating back to antiquity, "to rape a person" meant to capture the person for the purpose of enslavement, and was common in ancient warfare. In this context, the willingness of the victim is irrelevant to the categorization of the act as "rape". The "Rape of the Sabine Women" was a "rape" in this context. In Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock, the word "rape" is used hyperbolically in a similar context, exaggerating a trivial violation against a person.

Though the sexual connotation is today dominant, the word "rape" is still sometimes used in a non-sexual context. For example, environmental destruction is sometimes described as "raping the earth", and the Rape of Nanking describes a violation both against a town, as well as the people. In "the rape of the Silmarils" in J. R. R. Tolkien's "The Silmarillion", the word "rape" is used with its old meaning of "seizing and taking away".

Sometimes, the word rape is used to dysphemistically describe forms of non-sexual unwelcome conduct. It is argued by some that this usage is demeaning or disempowering to the victims and survivors of real sexual rape, because it ends up by weakening the force and horror of the word. Such metaphorical and hyperbolic usages are common with other words, for example "It was absolute torture" to mean ordinary embarrassment; or "I'm starving" to mean "I'm feeling hungry". Victims and survivors of rape, and their allies, may find this type of usage, pejorative and deeply offensive, since it normalizes the term "rape" to cover mundane events. Examples include:

  • In internet culture, using the word "raped" to refer to:
    • having one's online writings voted/moderated downwards by a large number of people;
    • defeating someone in an online game, without being seen, until the action against them is taken;
  • "they raped his name in the media";
  • "I got anally raped by that class";
  • "The wood had been raped of its peace" (said of a disturbance caused by a fox-hunt in a forest);
  • "The rape of England" (A newspaper article headline with a pun, referring to the rapeseed plant self-seeding on waste ground and motorway verges).

However, these usages are not, in fact, always examples of a hyperbole. The last two examples are continuations of the original meaning of "violating" in a general sense.


Common law

In the common law of the United Kingdom and the United States, "rape" traditionally describes a man who forces a woman to have sexual intercourse with him. Until the late 20th Century, forced sex by a husband against his wife was not considered "rape", since a woman (for certain purposes) was not considered a separate legal person with the right of refusal, or sometimes were deemed to have given advanced implicit consent to a life-long sexual relationship. However, modern criminal law in most Western countries have now legislated against this exception. They now include spousal rape (vaginal intercourse), and acts of sexual violence, such as forced anal intercourse which were traditionally barred under sodomy laws, in their definitions of "rape". The term "rape" is sometimes considered "loaded", and many jurisdictions recognize, in its stead, broader categories of sexual assault or sexual battery.

English law

Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which came into force in April 2004, rape in England and Wales was redefined from non-consensual vaginal or anal intercourse, and is now defined as non-consensual penile penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth of another person. The changes also made rape punishable with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Although a woman who forces a man to have sex cannot be prosecuted for rape under English law, if she assists a man to commite a rape she can be prosecuted for the crime (see for example the conviction of Claire Marsh in 2001). A woman can also be prosecuted for causing a man to engage in sexual activity without his consent, a crime which also carries a maximum life sentence if it involves penetration of the mouth, anus or vagina. The statute also includes a new sexual crime, called "assault by penetration", which also has the same punishment as rape, and is committed when someone sexually penetrates the anus or vagina with a part of his or her body, or with an object, without that person's consent.

United States Uniform Crime Reports

In the United States, the Uniform Crime Reports use the term, "forcible rape", only to describe rapes perpetrated by men against women. The respective States, however, often independently expand the definition. Male-on-male rapes are usually recognized as such, as are female-perpetrated rapes.

Types of rape

Violent rape

"Violent rape" is when violence beyond the rape itself is a part of the assault. This may include physical force or threat of harm, including death threat or threat against a family member. People who commit violent rapes include both strangers and people whom the victim already knows. Proportionally more violent rapes are likely to be reported. (Bachman and Saltzman, 1995).

Statutory rape

Main article at: Statutory rape

National and/or regional governments, citing an interest in protecting 'young people' (variously defined but sometimes synonymous with minors), treat any sexual contact with such people as an offence (not always categorised as "rape"), even if he or she agrees to the sexual activity. The offence is often based on a presumption that people under a certain age are unable to give informed consent. The age at which individuals are considered competent to give consent is called the age of consent. The age set by each state varies in accordance with local standards, and range from 12 to 21. Sex which violates age-of-consent law, but is neither violent nor physically coerced, is sometimes described as "statutory rape", the name of a legally-recognized category in the United States.

Acquaintance ("date") rape

The term, "acquaintance rape" (or "date rape") refers to rape or non-consensual sexual activity between people who are already acquainted, or who know each other socially — friends, acquaintances, people on a date, or even people in an existing romantic relationship — where it is alleged that consent for sexual activity was not given, or was given under duress. In most jurisdictions, there is no legal distinction between rape committed by a stranger, or by an acquaintance, friend or lover.

There is often more difficulty in securing conviction against an assailant who is known by the victim at the time. This is due to the "grey" nature of the situation. In what is colloquially described as a "grey rape" case, the victim is unable to demonstrate non-consent although he or she expresses displeasure at the encounter. The expression, "grey rape", refers to the absence of information — there is nothing "grey" in the act itself: if the act was non-consensual at the time it occurred, then it is considered rape, even if not actionably so. Contributing factors to "grey" rape include poor communication by either party, misleading or (deliberately) misreading body language, or the feeling by one party of being unsure or unable to express what one wishes (which may be due to many reasons). The standard of proof required for non-consensual sexual activity is often harder to meet (or easier to deny) than when two strangers meet, or where there has been violence.

In general, some evidence suggests that rapists are far more likely to know their victims than not [1]. Other reports suggest that it can work both ways. Not only is acquaintance rape more common than previously thought, but situations of this kind can more often give rise to false allegations than had been expected (see False reporting).

Male rape

Although rape and sexual assault is usually a crime against women, men can also be raped. According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, for 2003 [2], 9.9% of rape and sexual assault victims in the United States, age 12 and older, are male; therefore, nearly 17 out of every 100,000 males are victims. According to the data for 2004 [3], this number has fallen to 2.95%; therefore, slightly more than 5 out of every 100,000 males are victims. Many of these male victims are likely children and there may be many more male victims under age 12 (not included in BJS figures).

While statistics are non-existent regarding the gender of rapist compared to that of victim, male rape victims are commonly victimized by other men, although women can certainly commit an act of rape by non-consensually forcing a man to engage in a penetrative sexual act. There are cases of men being forced to penetrate others, in spite of the common belief that this is not possible, but males are more common victims of anal rape. Men are just as traumatized by rape and sexual assault as female victims.

Male rape victims, like female victims, do not want to be raped, nor does the physiological effect of erection or orgasm mean that the act was enjoyable for the victim. A capable assailant can force these physical responses in the majority of males, given the appropriate trauma during the assault. Also, male-on-male rape does not imply homosexuality of either party. Many studies regarding rapists, much like pedophiles, reveal that gender, age, and sexual orientation of the victim is often not an important factor in the act of rape.

In many countries, male rape is legally classified under a different law or name. However, the nature of the incident, and its consequences, are similar. It is said that male rape is taken less seriously as a result of the stereotypical views held about males in many societies, including modern Western society. Men's rights lobbyists are pushing for tougher male rape laws, and have gained some success.

Gang rape

Gang-rape (also known as "pack rape" or "gang bang") occurs when a group of people participates in the rape of a single victim. It is far more damaging for the victim, and in some jurisdictions, is punished more severely than a rape by one person. "Gang bang" is also a slang term for consensual group sex.

According to Roy Hazelwood, a profiler of sexual crimes, gang rape "involves three or more offenders and you always have a leader and a reluctant participant. Those are extremely violent, and what you find is that they're playing for each other's approval. It gets into a pack mentality and can be horrendous."

Some areas now use the term "group rape" rather than gang rape as the word "gang" can have racial connotations. So the term gang rape when used against minority defendents can have percieved racial overtones.

Some aspects of rape


Hypnotic agents such as flunitrazepam (Rohypnol) and GHB, colloquially referred to as "date rape drugs," have been used by rapists to render their victims unconscious before raping them. According to the DEA, "Victims may not be aware that they ingested a drug at all. GHB and its analogues are invisible when dissolved in water, and are odorless. They are somewhat saltish in taste, but are indiscernible when dissolved in beverages such as sodas, liquor, or beer."

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse [4], "Rohypnol can incapacitate victims and prevent them from resisting sexual assault. It can produce "anterograde amnesia," which means that individuals may not remember events they experienced while under the effects of the drug." The sedative effects of Rohypnol begin to appear approximately 15–20 minutes after the drug is ingested. The effects typically last from four to six hours after administration of the drug, but some cases have been reported in which the effects were experienced 12 or more hours after administration.

These drugs are extremely dangerous, and may kill or render the victim comatose. It is imperative that any investigation into the suspected use of date rape drugs involve the immediate carrying out of a blood test, as waiting too long to test for the presence of drugs may cause false negatives.

However, trying to deduce whether date rape drugs have been used from the symptoms is an approach that can cause false positives. In 2003, when the media were reporting a drink-spiking epidemic in Perth, Western Australia, 44 women had their blood tested because they believed they had been the victims of drink-spiking. The West Australian Chemistry Centre tested the blood samples and in these 44 cases, the only substance found in the victim's system was excessive alcohol. In large amounts, alcohol has the same effects as date rape drugs, and causes unconsciousness and memory loss. Police said that the blood-alcohol level of most of the subjects was significantly higher than what the women had themselves expected, based on their assessment of the amount of drinks consumed, and commented:

"While we can't dismiss all cases, the results suggest that a fair proportion of drink spiking is just an urban myth ... It seems that a proportion of young women are getting incredibly intoxicated, and using drink spiking as an excuse to explain behaviour they are not happy with." [5]

Testing kits that claim to detect GHB, Ketamine and benzodiazepines such as Rohypnol in seconds are commercially available under names such as "The Drink Detective".

Custodial and prison rape

Main article at: Custodial rape

Research carried out by Cindy Struckman-Johnson and David Struckman-Johnson of the University of South Dakota has found that 22% - 25% of male prisoners in the United States had been the victim of sexual assault, 10% of rape, and 6% of gang rape. Women prisoners are especially vulnerable to assault by guards and other staff members, and the incidence in the United States has been denounced by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Rape and sexual torture

In circumstances where torture is being employed as a means of military or governmental policy, the rape of both female and male detainees is a common element of that torture. It is used often as a means to "soften" the detainees for interrogation or to intimidate them into compliance. In societies with strong social taboos on sexuality, sexual torture is commonly used to destroy the credibility and influence of political dissidents. Rape under such circumstances often has even more profoundly negative psychological effects than under circumstances in which sexual assaults usually happen.

See also humiliation, Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse, Nanjing Massacre.

Sex trafficking

Trafficking is a term used to define the recruiting, harboring, obtaining, transportation of a person by use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjecting them to involuntary acts, the most common being forced commercial sexual exploitation (forced prostitution).

Human trafficking is not the same as people smuggling. A smuggler will facilitate illegal entry into a country for a fee, but on arrival at their destination, the smuggled person is free; the trafficking victim is enslaved. Victims do not agree to be trafficked — they are tricked, lured by false promises, or forced. Traffickers use coercive tactics including deception, fraud, intimidation, isolation, threat and use of physical force, debt bondage or even force-feeding with drugs of abuse to control their victims. Women are typically recruited with promises of good jobs in other countries or provinces, and, lacking better options at home, agree to migrate, not knowing they will be forced into prostitution.

Due to the illegal nature of trafficking, the exact extent is unknown. A US Government report published in 2003, estimates that 800,000–900,000 people worldwide are trafficked across borders each year.

See also "Trafficking in human beings"


There is considerable debate as to what constitutes proper and complete consent in a sexual relationship. How explicit should consent be, how often should it be established, and what constitutes diminished capacity (usually due to drugs or alcohol) are all subjects of some disagreement. These debates take place both on moral and ethical grounds, and as a legal issue, since rape can only be convicted as a crime with intent in many jurisdictions, and the erroneous belief of consent is a common defense.

Victim blaming

"Victim blaming" is holding the victim of a crime to be in whole or in part responsible for what has happened to them. In the context of rape, this concept refers to popular attitudes that certain victim behaviours (such as flirting, or wearing sexually-provocative clothing) may encourage rape. In extreme cases, victims are said to have "asked for it", simply by not behaving demurely. In most Western countries, the defense of provocation is not accepted as a mitigation for rape.

It has been proposed that one cause of victim-blaming is the "just world hypothesis". People who believe that the world has to be fair, may find it hard or impossible to accept a situation in which a person is unfairly and badly hurt for no cause or reason. This leads to a sense that, somehow, the victim must have surely done 'something' to deserve their fate. A global survey of attitudes toward sexual violence by the Global Forum for Health Research [6] shows that victim-blaming concepts are at least partially accepted in many countries. In some countries, victim-blaming is more common, and women who have been raped are sometimes deemed to have behaved improperly. Often, these are countries where there is a significant social divide between the freedoms and status afforded to men and women.

A more mainstream view is that everybody has the theoretical right to feel safe at all times, but that the responsibility of preventing and minimising the risk of being in a dangerous situation is largely up to the individual. On this basis, the question is not whether the victim 'deserved' to be raped, because nobody "deserves" to be the victim of crime.

Under cases of alleged date rape, however, the situation is different. Because the question at hand is whether or not the incident was consensual, or whether the alleged victim encouraged the accused or gave implied consent, becomes the critical consideration. As such, arguments about the victim's conduct are an accepted element of an affirmative defense.

In the United States, rape is unique in that it is the only crime in which there are statutory protections, designed in favor of the victim (known as "rape shield laws"). These were enacted in response to the common defense tactic of "putting the victim on trial". Typical rape shield laws prohibit cross-examination of the victim with respect to issues, such as his or her prior sexual history, or the manner in which he or she was dressed at the time of the rape. This however, can be construed as deliberately setting up the accused to wind up with a verdict of guilty since rape can be reported by anyone, and sometimes will be done as a means of 'getting back' at someone who did something the accuser did not like. Rape shield laws can often make it even more difficult for a defense to exist for an accused rapist since they deflect the ability to bring prior sexual history of the accuser into account, which might otherwise lead to the accused being declared innocent.

Sexual fantasy

Many people assume that people aroused by rape fantasies must be more likely than others to commit the actual act, or that victims with rape fantasies actually want to become victims of sexual assault. This does not correspond with observed scientific evidence, however; while rapists usually fantasize about rape, so do normal psychologically-healthy people.

In fact, an inability to use sexual fantasies for gratification is often regarded by law enforcement and other professionals as a more alarming warning sign than the presence of sexual fantasies of rape or sadism. Millions of normal people fantasize about rape, or being raped without wanting it to really happen.

Effects of rape

A proportion of violent sexual assaults end with the death or serious injury of the victim. Other consequences can include pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. Because of the sexual nature of rape crimes, the most common effect of rape on victims, however, is serious psychological trauma. This is especially true in societies with strong sexual customs and taboos. For example, a woman (and especially a virgin) who is raped may be deemed by society to be "damaged": she may suffer isolation, be prohibited to marry, be divorced if she was married, or even killed. She may also feel "dirty", as if the crime was her fault.

In the past, survivors of rape and sexual assault were often diagnosed with Rape Trauma Syndrome (RTS), then considered to be a psychological disorder. RTS is no longer considered a diagnosis, but rather a set of normal psychological and physiological reactions that a victim is likely to experience. These include, but are not limited to, feelings of guilt and shame, tension, anger, eating disturbances, and sometimes depression. The reactions are very similar to those that would be experienced by a survivor of any other traumatizing experience, and is often cited as one of the reasons why rape goes unreported.

The process to denounce and eventually convict an offender is often hindered by similar psychological effects. Victims frequently feel shame when describing what has happened (especially if the victim is male, or if a female victim must report the incident to a male law officer). Also, the intimate questions and medical examinations required for prosecution can make the victim uncomfortable. In societies that do not accord equal civil rights to women and men, this process is even more difficult for female victims.

Medical emergency information

Main articles: Medical emergency and Sexual assault

According to the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) in the United States, rape is a medical emergency [7]. Medical and law enforcement professionals have strongly recommended that a victim calls for help and reports it. A victim who seeks immediate medical attention, will not only allow prompt treatment for possibly life-threatening injuries and diseases, but will also preserve evidence. Many recommend that victims should not bathe or clean themselves before the examination, not only to prevent the loss of physical evidence, but also to not delay medical attention.

Physical injuries such as gynecologic, rectal or internal hemorrhage may have resulted. Additionally, emergency contraception and preventative treatment against sexually transmitted diseases may be required, in particular prophylactic treatments to prevent HIV infection. In many locations, emergency medical technicians, emergency room nurses and doctors are trained to help rape victims. Some emergency rooms have rape kits which are used to collect evidence.

AIDS prophylaxis is possible within 48 hours, but is not always deemed appropriate, given:

  • the extremely small chance of transmission in many cases (0.1 - 0.3%, or between 1 in 333 and 1 in 1000);
  • the lack of certainty of any effective results (it reduces, rather than removes the risk); and
  • the often severe side effects of drugs required.

This would usually be a clinical decision based upon circumstances. [8]


Some groups also operate hotlines to offer advice and psychological first aid. In the United States, one of the most prominent hotlines for rape victims is operated by the organization, RAINN (The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network). RAINN is the only toll-free, completely confidential 24-hour hotline that provides this service in America. Their telephone number is 1-800-656-HOPE.

Rape and punishment

Punishment of assailants

Most societies consider rape to be a grave offense, and punish it accordingly. Punishment for rape in most countries today is imprisonment, but until the late 20th century, some states of the US, for instance, could apply the death penalty in cases of aggravated rape, indicating the severity with which the crime was viewed (the death penalty is still in use in countries with a significant social divide between the freedoms and status afforded to men and women).Castration is sometimes a punishment for rape and, controversially, some U.S. jurisdictions allow shorter sentences for sex criminals who agree to voluntary "chemical castration."

In the Southern states of the U.S., the charge of rape was often used to justify vigilante groups ("lynch mobs") that would seize and kill men accused of rape, without due process or trial. Victims of lynching were typically, though not always, African American. (One historic case was the lynching of Leo Frank, a Jewish American). Members of the lynch mobs were rarely prosecuted or punished for these mob killings.

In some such communities, any sexual interaction between an African-American male and a White (Caucasian) female was viewed as rape, which resulted in a large number of (presumably) innocent men, being unjustly murdered. This resulted from the fact that it was commonly believed that no White female would ever consent to sexual relations with a Black man, and thus any sexual interaction must have been non-consensual. By means of contrast, rape of Black women by White men was a common practice largely ignored or simply tolerated for many years, and local governments rarely, if ever, punished such rapists in these cases.

Prison sentences for rape are not uniformly long or severe. A study made by the U.S. Department of Justice of prison releases in 1992, involving about 80 percent of the prison population, found that the average sentence for convicted rapists was 9.8 years, while the actual time served was 5.4 years. This follows the typical pattern for violent crimes in the US, where those convicted typically serve no more than half of their sentence [9]. Between 2002 and 2003, more than one in ten convicted rapists in Australia served a wholly suspended sentence, and the average total effective sentence for rape was seven years [10].

Punishment of victims

While the practice is condemned as barbaric by many present-day societies, some societies punish the victims of rape as well as the perpetrators. According to such cultures, being raped dishonors the victim and, in many cases, the victim's family. Some incorrectly believe that in Middle Eastern societies honor killings may be sanctioned. However, in some cultures rape victims are sometimes killed to restore the family's name.

In the Shakespeare drama Titus Andronicus, Titus Andronicus kills his raped, maimed daughter in what he believes to be a mercy killing.

Rape and cultural views

Certain cultures, often patriarchal, have historically promoted a system of honor, dishonor and shame, which was applied with particularly strictness to females. A victim of rape would be considered to have lost her honorable reputation and place in society, a loss of honor which entailed shame on the woman's family group as well. In early ancient Rome, ancient China, and other cultures, a pressure has existed which has led women to commit suicide after becoming victims of rape. The iconic Roman instance is that of Lucretia. Likewise, suicide of female rape victims for reasons of shame is also historically documented in Chinese culture [11].

Rape as punishment

Though modern societies claim to recognize the practice as barbaric, some cultures use rape itself as a form of punishment. Usually, the victim of the rape is a female relative of the person targeted for retaliation. In June 2002, a Pakistani woman named Mukhtaran Bibi was sentenced to be gang-raped by a vigilante mob after her brother was (falsely) accused of rape himself. The Pakistani government, along with local religious officials, condemned this action and sentenced the rapists to death. Many such events are reported in Pakistan and other countries.

In some dictatorships, rape is or was used as a method to retaliate against, or to intimidate their political enemies. There are numerous allegations that this took place under the former regime of Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein.

There is suspicion that some rape incidents in prisons are permitted through timely guard absences (at showers, for instance). Motivations for this range from punishing troublesome prisoners to providing a deterrent to those considering a criminal act, particularly among those who have little to lose from incarceration (e.g. homeless persons in winter).

Rape and human rights

Probably for much of human history, rape, violence, and war have often occurred in connection with one another. In the twentieth century, the use of rape as a "weapon of war" has been well documented and addressed by NGOs as well as the United Nations, [12] and national governments. One particularly well known period in which this practice was known to have occurred on a widespread basis is the Bosnian War (or Yugoslav Civil War), roundly condemned as a human rights atrocity in Western public opinion and media, as well as the United Nations and international bodies [13], [14]. Similar instances are also documented during the period leading up to the Kosovo Crisis.


Rapist profiles

Dr. A. Nicholas Groth, author of Men Who Rape: The Psychology of the Offender, described four types of deliberate rapists, based on their motivations and behavior patterns. Forensic scientists, criminologists, and law enforcement agencies often use these profiles to analyze rapists, and prevent future rapes.

Since rapes are predominantly perpetrated by men, a male perpetrator is assumed in these profiles:

  • The power-assertive rapist: This is argued to be the most common type of rapist, accounting for about 40 percent of all reported rapes. An alpha male, he tends to value machismo and physical aggression, and often rapes victims that he meets in places like bars, where he may pose as, or be an authority figure. Power-assertive rapists rarely target specific people for rape and, while not intending to kill their victims, often traumatize and humiliate them.
  • The power-reassurance rapist: Responsible for about 27.5% of reported rapes, this type of rapist has been described by law enforcers as the "gentleman rapist". He is usually:
    • of average intelligence;
    • not physically aggressive;
    • insecure about his masculinity;
    • socially-deficient; and
    • unable to develop interpersonal or romantic relationships.

Usually, he will select and stalk a victim before committing the crime. The victim is usually someone whom he knows, eg. a neighbor or work acquaintance. Power-reassurance rapists often force the victim to emulate foreplay, and take "trophies" of the rape; they may even record the event in a personal journal. Power-reassurance rapists tend to be the least violent type of rapists, often fantasizing about consensual sexual relationships with women, rather than violent conquests.

  • Anger-retaliatory rapist: Responsible for about 28% of rapes, this type of rapist is often a substance abuser, with impulsive behavior and anger-related pathologies. He does not target specific victims, and often feels animosity toward women in general. The anger-retaliatory rapist's attacks are usually spontaneous and brutal, and while he does not intend to kill the victim, he may beat her to death if she resists. This rapist usually has below-average intelligence, and is likely to leave more evidence than other types of rapists.
  • The anger-excitation rapist: This type of rapist, considered the most dangerous and elusive, accounts for about 4.5 percent of rapes. He exhibits antisocial personality disorder, and being often perceived as charming and intelligent, makes him rather difficult to catch. The anger-excitation rapist may or may not choose his victims selectively. Often sadistic, he will often murder his victim to prevent her from identifying him, or for his own self-gratification. Ted Bundy was an example of this type of rapist.

Warning signs

It is very difficult to predict who may or may not be a potential rapist because rapists have many personality types, and use many different methods. However, certain behavioral characteristics have been observed in some rapists. These should be used cautiously as "warning signs", since non-rapists and other innocent people may also exhibit similar behaviours:

  • Extreme emotional insensitivity and egotism;
  • Habitual degradation and verbal devaluation of others;
  • Tries to tell others what they are feeling and thinking, as though it is his decision and not theirs. "She said no, but she meant yes";
  • Consistently using intimidation in language, or threatening behavior to get his way. Uses words like "bitch" and "whore" to describe women;
  • Excessive, chronic, or brooding anger;
  • Becoming obsessed with the object of his romantic affections, long after his advances have been rejected;
  • Extreme mood swings;
  • Violent outbursts; lack of impulse control;
  • Aggressive and violent;
  • Cruel behavior, especially under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

It is often incorrectly assumed that rape fantasies are warning signs of a potential rapist; however, scientific research does not support this assumption. While rapists were almost invariably found to have rape fantasies, they were a very small minority compared to a far larger number of psychologically healthy and normal men who had rape fantasies but did not commit rape.



According to the 1999 United States National Crime Victimization Survey, only 39% of rapes and sexual assaults were reported to law enforcement officials. For male rape, less than 10% are believed to be reported. The most common reasons given by victims for not reporting rapes are the belief that it is a personal or private matter, and that they fear reprisal from the assailant. Fisher found that:

"... many women do not characterize their sexual victimizations as a crime for a number of reasons (such as embarrassment, not clearly understanding the legal definition of rape, or not wanting to define someone they know who victimized them as a 'rapist') or because they blame themselves for their sexual assault."

Rape-related advocacy groups have suggested several tactics to encourage the reporting of sexual assaults, most of which aim at lessening the psychological trauma, often suffered by rape victims following their assault. Many police departments now assign female police officers to deal with rape cases. Advocacy groups also argue for the preservation of the victim's privacy during the legal process; it is standard practice among mainstream American news media not to divulge the names of alleged rape victims in news reports.

Overreporting and false reporting

A 1997 article in the Columbia Journalism Review dealing with the debate surrounding false reporting, noted that wildly different figures, from 2% to 85% of all rape reports, have been presented:

"... one explanation for such a wide range in the statistics might simply be that they come from different studies of different populations... But there's also a strong political tilt to the debate. A low number would undercut a belief about rape as being as old as the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife: that some women, out of shame or vengeance ... claim that their consensual encounters or rebuffed advances were rapes. If the number is high, on the other hand, advocates for women who have been raped worry it may also taint the credibility of the genuine victims of sexual assault." [15]

In 1994, Dr. Eugene J. Kanin of Purdue University investigated the incidences, in one small metropolitan community, of false rape allegations made to the police between 1978 and 1987. The falseness of the allegations was not decided by the police, or by Dr. Kanin; they were "... declared false only because the complainant admitted they are false." The number of false rape allegations in the studied period was 45; this was 41% of the 109 total complaints filed in this period. In Dr. Kanin's research, the complainants who made false allegations did so (by their own statements during recantation) for three major reasons:

  • providing an alibi;
  • a means of gaining revenge; and/or
  • a platform for seeking attention/sympathy.

Dr. Kanin's small study is widely reported and quoted. In her work, "The Legacy of the Prompt Complaint Requirement, Corroboration Requirement, and Cautionary Instructions on Campus Sexual Assault", Michelle J. Anderson of the Villanova University School of Law states: "As a scientific matter, the frequency of false rape complaints to police or other legal authorities remains unknown" [16]. The FBI's 1996 Uniform Crime Report states that 8% of reports of forcible rape were determined to be unfounded upon investigation [17].

See also: Gary Dotson

Sociobiological analysis of rape

Main article: Sociobiological theories of rape

Some animals appear to exhibit behaviors which resemble rape in humans, in particular combining sexual intercourse with violent assault, such as are observed in ducks, geese, and certain species of dolphins. It is difficult to determine to what extent the idea of rape can be extended to intercourse in animal species, as the defining attribute of rape in humans is the lack of informed consent, which is difficult to determine in animals. However, it is clear that sometimes, the animal does not want it when it is sexually approached by another and penetrated, e.g. when it tries to run away.

Some sociobiologists argue that our ability to understand rape, and thereby prevent and treat it, is severely compromised because its basis in human evolution has been ignored. They argue that rape, as a reproductive strategy, is encountered in many instances in the animal kingdom, including among the great apes, and presumably also among early humans. Some studies indicate that it is an attempt by the male of the species to increase his reproductive fitness when he is lacking in ability to persuade the female by non-violent means (Thornhill & Thornhill, 1983). Such sociobiological theories, regarding rape as adaptive, are highly controversial, and are not accepted by all mainstream scientists.

Camile Paglia and some sociobiologists have argued that victim-blaming should not be totally dismissed in all cases, since some sociological models suggest that it may be genetically-inbuilt for a certain proportion of men and women to act in ways which would tend to raise the chances of rape occurring, and that this may be a biological feature of the species. This, however, is a very controversial view. A contrasting view, given by Lewis Thomas in his "Lives of a Cell: Notes of a biology watcher", claims that rape is not only not an evolutionary benefit to the rapist, but that it is strongly maladaptive, and therefore selected against.

The role of control and loss of privacy in rape

Rape has been regarded as "a crime of violence and control" since the 1970s. According to psychological analysis literature, "control" is a key feature in most definitions of privacy:

  • "Privacy is not the absence of other people from one's presence, but the control over the contact one has with them." (Pedersen, D. 1997).
  • "Selective control of access to the self." (Margulis, 2003)

Control is important in providing:

  • what we need for normal psychological functioning;
  • stable interpersonal relationships; and
  • personal development. (Pedersen, D. 1997)

Violation of privacy or "control", come in many forms, sexual assault, and the resulting psychological traumas, being one of the most explicit forms. Many sexual assault survivors suffer from eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, which also center around control issues. In some ways, therefore, it makes more sense to look at the issue of sexual assault as an invasion of privacy:

"The more comfortable a person is with talking about invasion of privacy and in insisting that he or she has privacy that deserves respect, the clearer that person’s understanding of rape will be…" (Mclean, D. 1995)

Consequently, it is important to be aware of the approach of this subject of rape through the concept of privacy because of the historical background and the need to bypass certain stigmas.


The Supreme Court of California had this to say on a case involving a woman who was raped by a police officer:

"Along with other forms of sexual assault, it belongs to that class of indignities against the person that cannot ever be fully righted, and that diminishes all humanity."
Mary M. v. City of Los Angeles 54 Cal.3d 202,222 (1991) [285 Cal.Rptr. 99; 814 P.2d 1341]

One Supreme Court of the United States opinion included:

"We do not discount the seriousness of rape as a crime. It is highly reprehensible, both in a moral sense and in its almost total contempt for the personal integrity and autonomy of the female victim and for the latter's privilege of choosing those with whom intimate relationships are to be established. Short of homicide, it is the "ultimate violation of self." It is also a violent crime because it normally involves force, or the threat of force or intimidation, to overcome the will and the capacity of the victim to resist. Rape is very often accompanied by physical injury to the female and can also inflict mental and psychological damage. Because it undermines the community's sense of security, there is public injury as well."
Coker v. Georgia 433 U.S. 584 at 597-598 (1977) [53 L.Ed.2d 982, 97 S.Ct. 2861] (plur. opn. of White, J.; conc. and dis. opn. of Powell, J.).)

Researcher Metzger wrote:

"Rape is loss. Like death, it is best treated with a period of mourning and grief. We should develop social ceremonies for rape, rituals, that, like funerals and wakes, would allow the mourners to recover the spirits that the rapist, like death, steals. The social community is the appropriate center for the restoration of spirit, but the rape victim is usually shamed into silence or self-imposed isolation." (Metzger, D. (1976). "It is always the woman who is raped." American Journal of Psychiatry, 133 (4), 405-408)

See also

Books and publications

Academic and reference books

  • Brownmiller, Susan: Against Our Will : Men, Women, and Rape, Ballantine Books, 1975.
  • Emilie Buchwald, Pamela Fletcher, Martha Roth (ed.), Transforming a Rape Culture, Milkweed Editions, 2005.
  • Smith, M. D. (2004). Encyclopedia of Rape. USA: Greenwood Press.
  • Macdonals, John (1993). World Book Encyclopedia. United States of America: World Book Inc.
  • Kahn, Ada. (1992). The A-Z of women's sexuality : a concise encyclopedia. Alameda, Calif.: Hunter House.
  • Kanin, Eugene J. (1994). False Rape Allegations. Archives of Sexual Behavior.
  • Gowaty, P.A. and N. Buschhaus. (1997). Functions of aggressive and forced copulations in birds: female resistance and the CODE hypothesis. American Zoologist (in press).
  • Sarah Projansky, Watching Rape: Film and Television in Postfeminist Culture, New York University Press 2001
  • Thornhill, Randy and Palmer, Craig T. A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion. MIT Press, 2001.
  • Roussel, D.E. and R. Bolen. (2000). The Epidemic of Rape and Child Sexual Abuse in the United States. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  • Mclean, D. (1995). Privacy and its invasion. CT: Praeger.
  • Margulis, Stephen T., (2003). Privacy as a social issue and behavioral concept. Journal of social issues 59(2):243-261
  • Pedersen, DM (1997) Psychological functions of privacy. Journal Of Environmental Psychology, 17:147-156


  • Gavin de Becker. The Gift of Fear. ISBN 0440226198, (recognising and handling dangerous people and situations)
  • Doe, Jane. The Real Story of Jane Doe. Toronto: Random House, 2003.
  • Ghiglieri, Michael P. (1999). The Dark Side of Man: Tracing the Origins of Violence. USA: Perseus Books.

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