Understanding men who rape and why they rape

Studying who rapes and why is a difficult task: it is far more than a simple matter of strolling up to your local neighbourhood rapist and saying “Oi, you, why did you do it?”

The first issue is that most rapists do not get caught. The majority of rapes are not reported, and of those that are, the conviction rape is very low.  Because of this, it is difficult to identify rapists to understand who rapes.

Two recent studies have addressed the question of identifying “undetected rapists”: the first, McWhorter and colleagues, used a sample of young men enlisting in the navy, while the second, Lisak & Miller, sampled college students.

In the McWhorter sample, approximately 13% of the sample had perpetrated attempted or completed rape, while approximately 6% of the Lisak & Miller sample had done so. In both samples, the reperpetration rate was high: in the McWhorter sample, 71% of the men had repeatedly attempted to or successfully raped a woman. Lisak & Miller found an average of 5.8 rapes among the repeat rapists in their samples. These findings are startling: in both samples, the rapes had never been reported to the authorities by the victim, yet these rapists had perpetrated multiple rapes. In the McWhorter study, it was found that the majority of victims were acquaintances of the rapists.

These findings are in keeping with those regarding rapists who are caught: that they frequently reoffend, and the victim often knows the rapist. The evidence is not in favour of the classic rape myths that rapists are a stranger in a balaclava leaping out of a bush. It also fails to support the folk notion that rape is something that happens just once when a man gets a little bit hot and bothered by a woman all dressed up sexy near him.

It is frightening to note the sheer quantity of undetected rapists. The McWhorter sample is unrepresentative of the general population, being young men enlisting for the military: 91% were single, and they had a lower level of education than the US average. Likewise, the Lisak & Miller sample were drawn from a particular college. However, these figures are informative about certain population groups, and it would merit further investigation into other groups using similar methodology to identify the true prevalence of undetected rapists.

To identify undetected rapists, both studies used the Sexual Experiences Survey (SES), a 13-item self-report questionnaire. This measure never mentions the word “rape”, instead asking questions such as “Have you ever had a woman misinterpret the level of sexual intimacy you desired?”, “Have you ever obtained sexual intercourse by saying things you didn’t really mean?” and “Have you ever Had sexual intercourse with a woman when she didn’t want to because you used some degree of physical force (twisting your her arm, holding her down, etc.)?” Crucially, questions in the SES do not mention the word “rape” at any point. Statistical tests have found it to be a reliable and valid measure, i.e. it measures what it is attempting to measure, and all of the items in it are distinct.

There are two major criticisms of the SES. First, it is a self-report measure, which are prone to people answering the questions in a socially desirable manner. This is the best one can hope for in this type of research: it is not possible to follow people around, videotaping their every sexual encounter to check for signs of coercion. Second, the SES is entirely focused on men’s sexual violence against women. To address this issue would improve the quality of research into rapists and why they rape greatly: sexual violence is not exclusively men against women, after all.

A further question to be addressed is why do rapists rape? One study has attempted to address this question. The researchers administered a battery of tests to men who were in prison for a range of offences, using a modified version of the SES. Although the majority of participants were imprisoned for non-sexual offences, 51% had engaged in verbally coercive sexual behaviours, and approximately 20% in sexually aggressive behaviours. There was some evidence that the self-reported measure was underestimating the number of men who raped: 85% of those who denied using sexually aggressive tactics on the questionnaire were classified as sexually aggressive due to previous criminal history. This corroborates the problem outlined earlier with using questionnaire measures.

Some characteristics were common to both coercers and aggressors. Both groups had a history of sexual promiscuity, aggressive tendencies and were poor at empathising. Furthermore, both groups were more likely to subscribe to rape myths. Belief in rape myths was measured using a questionnaire called the RAPE scale. The RAPE scale was developed from clinical work with sex offenders and validated on a sample of incarcerated rapists, therefore representing beliefs which many rapists hold. It consists of 36 items which read like a rape culture checklist, such as:

  • “Before the police investigate a woman’s claim of rape, it is a good idea to find out what she was wearing, if she had been drinking, and what kind of a person she is.”
  • “A lot of women claim they were raped just because they want attention.”
  • “Often a woman reports rape long after the fact because she gets mad at the man she had sex with and is just trying to get back at him.”
  • “I believe that if a woman lets a man kiss her and touch her sexually, she should be willing to go all the way.”
  • “Most of the men who rape have stronger sexual urges than other men.”
  • “If a woman gets drunk at a party, it is really her own fault if someone takes advantage of her sexually.”
  • “I believe that any woman can prevent herself from being raped if she really wants to.”

Belief in such myths was found to differentiate between men who were sexually coercive or aggressive, and those who were not. This study therefore provides some evidence that these rape culture myths facilitate rape, and provides an important reason to attack such beliefs wherever they are seen.

Differences in coercers and aggressors were also found: coercers were less able to imagine others’ reactions, while aggressors showed higher levels of hostility towards women, higher impulsivity and reported higher levels of emotional abuse in childhood.

As with the other studies, this sample was not particularly representative of the general population. Men in prison are different to men who are not in prison.

In general, it is difficult to study rapists, and the existing tools we have need work. Due to our current measures, it is not possible to investigate men who rape men, or women who rape, and we must rely on self-reported measures on which it is possible to lie.

What evidence is there suggests that, thankfully, not all men are rapists, and that rape culture is very dangerous indeed. With further research and a constant attack on the flawed belief system which allows rape to happen, we can fight rape.

Walking like a slut

Yesterday I participated in the London SlutWalk. To concisely summarise my experience of the day, it was fucking awesome.

I arrived at the assembly point at the top of Piccadilly in a foul mood, having been rained on and repeatedly betrayed by London Transport. As soon as I found the SlutWalkers, with hundreds of heart-shaped red balloons, my mood lifted and, in solipsistic pathetic fallacy, the sun emerged.

The turnout was large. The Torygraph estimated ‘hundreds’, the organisers 5000, and the Socialist Worker will likely declare a hundred thousand glorious comrades. I was right at the back, and would easily agree with the organisers that a reasonable number of thousands of people turned up.

It was a ragtag bunch. Old and young, people of all genders and races. We were all there for the same reason: we rejected the notion that a person is in any way to blame for their rape.

As we marched down Piccadilly, heartland of the capitalist plutocracy which feeds patriarchy and commodification of sex, we shouted a chant which summarised the purpose of the day:

‘Wherever we go, however we dress, no means no and yes means yes’.

It really is that simple to me. It really was that simple to my fellow SlutWalkers.

The mood was bright, jubilant, fun; positive and accepting. Here was a band of folk who did not judge and saw no reason to be afraid of their own clothes and sexual behaviour. Every banner reinforced the message: ‘RAPISTS! STOP RAPING!’; ‘A DRESS IS NOT CONSENT’; my personal favourite, the Flight Of The Conchords-inspired ‘A KISS IS NOT A CONTRACT’. This was not a day for reclaiming the word ‘slut’. Even the mainstream media seemed to get the message. We were marching against rape. We were marching against victim-blaming.

My mother called me today to express how proud she was of all of us.

Later, as we headed to the pub, feet sore from high heels, I was reminded of why we needed to have such a march. Being in the company of thousands who agreed that clothes were not an invitation, I had temporarily forgotten that the world was not yet on our side.

A leery, beery man took my friend’s SlutWalk outfit as an invitation to harass.

I shouted at him, loudly, copiously, swearily.

I sometimes wonder if all street harassment should be greeted with an angry assertion that this is not acceptable.

In all, though, it was a wonderful day, and clearly still needed. We must remain visible and vocal. We are chipping away at rape culture. Sluts and allies are everywhere, and we will be unstoppable.

Anti-social sluts

This may be one of the worst things you will ever read: “These are the most anti-social sluts on earth“. It is hosted by the source of 40% of evil in the world, the Torygraph, and written by a man called Brendan O’Neill, who, judging by the article, is a weeping syphilitic chode.

The article is ostensibly a critique of SlutWalks, wherein women and allies march against the notion that a person is in any way responsible for their own rape. O’Neill”s article is, in fact, nothing more than a seething pile of misogyny and rape apologism. O’Neill’s main thesis is that women who wear a short skirt and don’t immediately fuck a man are anti-social. Really.

The high-minded feminists who make up SlutWalk’s supporters and cheerleaders seem to want to opt out of this everyday social interaction, to dress as sluttishly as they like while also being surrounded by some magic forcefield, legally enforced perhaps, which protects them from any unwanted male gaze or whistle. They are prudes disguised as sluts, self-styled victims pretending to be vixens, astonishingly anti-social creatures who imagine it is possible to parade through society dressed outrageously without any member of that society ever making a comment about or to them. This is the highly individuated politics of fear – fear of men, fear of unplanned-for banter, fear of sexual licence – dressed up as radical feminism. But to update an old saying: no slut is an island.

He actually said that. He actually said that.

There is much to unpack in that short segment–the conclusion of the article–alone. First of all is the argument that women are “asking for it” if dressed in a certain way. Secondly, that O’Neill clearly has no idea what radical feminism is. Thirdly, that O’Neill also cannot comprehend why a woman would possibly be afraid of strange men harassing them (this is, apparently, nothing more than “unplanned-for banter”).

Most of all, that women who wish to live a life free from harassment are somehow anti-social. They are the “mean bitches“, one of the roles for women who refuse to inhabit rape culture and do not follow the rules.

Not only does O’Neill believe women are asking for it, he also believes that harassment is absolutely fine and dandy as long as you don’t stick your dick in the woman.

Yet that is what some SlutWalkers seem to be demanding: effectively the right to dress provocatively without ever being looked at, commented on, whistled at or spoken to by a member of the opposite sex. Unless such interaction is clearly solicited, of course.

O’Neill’s attitude towards women is rampantly obnoxious and hideous. It is hard to believe, from his writing, that when he refers to “cocky, swaggering men”, he is not casting himself in this role. He smirks smugly at the top of the page; his face says “come on, love, it’s just a bit of light-hearted banter”.

O’Neill wishes for a world in which a woman’s mode of attire is the same as a baboon’s swollen arse: an invitation to leer, to grab, to blow beery breath down the back of her neck and vomit in her tits. He is angry that such a world does not exist, and that some women believe that such contact should only be available with explicit, enthusiastic consent.

O’Neill does not stop for one moment to wonder why this is considered unacceptable by some. Instead, he frames women who want sexual contact with consent to be anti-social. This is a strangely socialist perspective for a Torygraph article. O’Neill believes cunt to be a commodity which should be distributed fairly, and that obnoxious oglers deserve a share. From each, according to her sluttiness. To each, according to his desires.

As more women realise that street harassment is wrong and become empowered to enthusiastically consent to sex and sexual contact, men who do not respect boundaries and rape apologists become more reviled. No wonder O’Neill is frightened. He and his leery ilk are becoming less and less able to express their entitlement over women, and so write angry Torygraph articles or post misogynistic comments beneath them.

They cannot blame themselves. They lack the self awareness to blame themselves. And so they hit out at the mean bitches.

Rape apologism and this sense of entitlement require challenging.

O’Neill’s article neatly demonstrates why a SlutWalk is so necessary and timely.

Apparently all men are rapists

To round off a week of Tories talking bollocks about rape, meet Roger Helmer MEP.

In this post, Roger decides to defend Ken Clarke’s comments regarding rape.

Now, Roger has some rather unconventional views, regarding climate change to be a myth and a hatred of the EU, despite being a member of European Parliament. Roger is also very firmly on the right of the Conservative Party, considering Ken Clarke to be a little bit too soft and fluffy to his liking.

Here, then, is his take on rape.

The first is the classic “stranger-rape”, where a masked individual emerges from the bushes, hits his victim over the head with a blunt instrument, drags her into the undergrowth and rapes her, and the leaves her unconscious, careless whether she lives or dies.

The second is “date rape”.  Imagine that a woman voluntarily goes to her boyfriend’s apartment, voluntarily goes into the bedroom, voluntarily undresses and gets into bed, perhaps anticipating sex, or naïvely expecting merely a cuddle.  But at the last minute she gets cold feet and says “Stop!”.  The young man, in the heat of the moment, is unable to restrain himself and carries on.

In both cases an offence has been committed, and the perpetrators deserve to be convicted and punished.  But whereas in the first case, I’d again be quite happy to hang the guy, I think that most right-thinking people would expect a much lighter sentence in the second case.  Rape is always wrong, but not always equally culpable.

There is rather a lot to be angry about in this hundred-odd words. First of all, it becomes apparent that at least part of Roger’s disdain for Ken Clarke is that rapists are not hanged. Secondly, he uses the tired old defence of declaring that all “right-thinking” individuals must agree with him. Thirdly, he repeats the rape culture mantra that rape comes in differing degrees, that some rapes are not “properly rape”.

And then, there is the fact that Roger Helmer MEP believes that all men are rapists.

According to Roger, men are unable to restrain themselves when confronted with a partially-clothed woman in their vicinity and will immediately commit a serious crime because they just can’t help it. I have said it before, and I will say it again: this view is hugely insulting to men.

I have shared a bed with men before. None of them have raped me. I have been near men in a state of undress. None of them have raped me. I have cuddled men. None of them have raped me.

This is because not all men are rapists.

The vast majority of men know that when a person says STOP, that means stop, and that getting into bed with a person does not mean an instant ride on the Shag Express. Most people do not feel this sense of entitlement.

This is because not all men are rapists, despite what Roger Helmer MEP seems to think.

Roger disagrees with this notion:

My two scenarios also give the lie to one of the popular over-simplifications trotted out by the feminist tendency in these cases: “Rape is always about power and control and domination, never about sex”.  In the first case, that may well be true.  In the second case, it is clearly not true.

Sometimes rape is entirely due to succumbing to the forces of the sexy Jezebel who is right there, according to Roger Helmer MEP. Men are just walking dicks, and if there is a convenient hole nearby, according to Roger Helmer MEP, they have no choice but to throw themselves into it.

All men are rapists if there is a woman nearby, according to Roger Helmer MEP.

What are the implications of this?

Let me make another point which will certainly get me vilified, but which I think is important to make: while in the first case, the blame is squarely on the perpetrator and does not attach to the victim, in the second case the victim surely shares a part of the responsibility, if only for establishing reasonable expectations in her boyfriend’s mind.

Women! Being raped is your fault if you established “reasonable expectations”, such as being in a bed with a person you presumably share a bed with frequently. The poor mite couldn’t help himself.

Reasonable expectations.

I have reasonable expectations that politicians should not further rape culture. I have reasonable expectations that politicians should not engage in victim blaming. I have reasonable expectations that politicians should not believe that 50% of the population are rapists waiting to happen.

I am therefore, according to Roger Helmer MEP, thoroughly entitled to violate him in some respect for failing to meet my reasonable expectations.

Fortunately for Roger, I think that line of argument is utter bollocks.

The Conservative Party is doing a fine job of conserving rape culture

This week, it would appear that members of the Tory party are scrambling to imitate  apocryphal lemming behaviour, seemingly running at full pelt towards the edge of a cliff. Lansley and his unpopular attempt to murder the NHS aside, this week has been mostly all about rape.  

First, the wild-eyed fundie Nadine Dorries excelled herself. Talking on TV about her jawdroppingly sexist plans for abstinence education for girls, Dorries managed to dig the hole even further:

“A lot of girls, when sex abuse takes place, don’t realise until later that that was a wrong thing to do … Society is so over-sexualised that I don’t think people realise that if we did empower this message into girls, imbued this message in schools, we’d probably have less sex abuse.”

On Planet Dorries, sex abuse is caused by girls not saying no.

There is a curious logical somersault here, the idea that rape can be prevented entirely by saying “no”, although it plays in perfect harmony with the popular notion that rape is only rape when the victim (always a woman, apparently) says “no”. No no, no rape. Dorries has taken this to its logical extreme: that uttering the n-word will magically vanquish all rape.

Dorries fails to provide any evidence for her assertion. No meta-analysis, not even one measly cross-sectional cohort study. A cynic may doubt such evidence exists. A person with the ability to think may doubt such evidence exists.

The second Tory to say something stupid about rape was Justice Secretary Ken Clarke. Clarke floated a policy which would halve the sentences of convicted rapists who entered an early guilty plea. This idea was met with some outrage, and Clarke defended the policy by distinguishing “serious rape” from “date rape”, declaring that a “serious rape” would never end with a 15-month jail sentence. Clarke also seemed to misunderstand the nature of statutory rape.

First of all, it is highly worrying that the person who is in charge of justice in this country seems to misunderstand a serious crime: legally, a “date rape” is a rape, as is statutory rape. Secondly, it is utterly offensive that a person who is in charge of justice in this country repeats the tired old line than only some rapes are serious. It smacks of Whoopi Goldberg’s infamous comment about “rape-rape” regarding Polanski. It smacks of Assange’s lawyer using the term “sex by surprise”. It smacks of rape culture.

Rape culture is the system of beliefs which perpetuates rape. Dorries and Clarke demonstrate many facets of rape culture in their remarks.

Dorries’s assertion, that teaching girls to keep their legs shut will prevent abuse, engages in a hefty chunk of victim blaming, as this post from a survivor highlights:

Now, thanks to Dorries comments I have to contend with the idea that somehow I provoked my attacker. Was it the neon pink board shorts I wore non-stop that summer? Maybe it was the provocative way my hair frizzed in the heat? What did I do to make myself a sexual being that I could have changed? Why did I allow myself to be abused?

Furthermore, Dorries perpetuates the myth that rape and abuse are things that happen exclusively to girls. Abstinence education for girls would have no effect on stopping the systematic abuse of young boys in by their priests, even if saying “no” could magically stop a young girl from being raped.

Clarke feeds into the myth that some rapes are less serious than others, buying into the notion that “serious rape” is that stranger in a balaclava who leaps out of a bush, despite the fact that this accounts for relatively few rapes. The more common kinds of rape, those by friends, acquaintances, partners, are, according to Clarke and many other proponents of rape culture, less serious, less like rape.

The reaction to Clarke’s comments focused largely, from much of the right-wing press and commentators, not on his comments but on an authoritarian ideal: that 15 months in prison is not enough for “sickos” or “monsters”. The othering of these “sickos”, of course, tends to refer to those who perpetrate Clarke’s “serious” rapes. They are not normal, apparently. They are different from the “normal” guys who engage in boys-will-be-boys behaviour.

The Conservative Party has been doing very little conserving of late, instead focusing on systematically violently dismantling the welfare state in a series of radical policies. It is hardly surprising, then, that the thing they choose to conserve is rape culture.