Letters and Editorials 650 Views Peter Tremblay

Why Did He Do This? The Psychology Behind Rape

This is the second part of a series on Sexual Assaults. You can read the first at, “Have I been Raped, or Not?”.

For the purposes of this series, perpetrators of sexual offences will be referred to in the masculine gender, as the majority are committed by men against women, but this is not the only scenario. Since it would be cumbersome to try and incorporate all the possibilities into the articles, it will be written as men against women, with no offence to the male population intended.

We are complex, each with our own brains, genetic make-up, and life experiences, all of which work together to form unique characteristics, but do you ever wonder what thought processes drive the decisions we make preceding each action we take?  Every decision has a reason, from something as simple as deciding what to wear in the morning all the way up to the complexity of deciding to commit a crime. No matter how minor, all actions serve a purpose. This is the reason we analyze the thoughts and behavior of criminals, to see what makes them “tick”. (“Criminal Minds”, anyone?)

Up until the20th century, it was believed that if a man was over-stimulated, he would lose control in the presence of a woman,effectively absolving him of all responsibility in a non-consensual encounter. It was around this time that the feminist movement was born, directing more attention to women as victims instead of contributors to the situation, and research into this type of crime found a voice. In 1979, psychologist Nicholas Groth published his book Men Who Rape, a compilation of information gleaned from studying several hundred rapists incarcerated throughout the Massachusetts penal system. He concluded from his studies that the motivations behind sexual assaults had less to do with sexual desire and more to do with sadism, anger, or the desire for power. He called them “pseudosexual acts” and said that they constitute “sexual behaviour in the primary service of non-sexual needs.” Although his conclusions were based on empirical evidence, this important research laid the groundwork for further studies into the minds of rapists, and his conclusions persist today.

Sexual assaults are acts of violence, not sex. Perpetrators feel they are entitled to another person’s body regardless of consent. Many start young, aroundcollege age.  Certainly, rapists are not confined to the college population, but a college setting is ripe for these encounters to occur. Alcohol is flowing, inhibitions are inhibited, and peer pressure is overwhelming.  Alcohol and drugs are often used as a means of incapacitating women, and men are more likely to commit sexual assaults if they are surrounded by those who approve of, and even encourage, the behaviour

Rapists’ backgrounds are diverse, but there are some commonalities among them. Most, but not all, are unrepentant, and therefore more likely to repeat their crimes. They may attempt to justify what they did without taking responsibility, blaming the victim because of her clothes, alcohol, drugs, being out late, her behaviour, or an archaic belief that “no” really means “yes”, etc. In their minds, it’s never their faults. They may even admit to non-consensual sex, but either do not know, or will not admit to themselves, that what they did was defined as rape.  They may associate with others who either have committed sexual assaults or who are supportive of this behaviour.

Some men have anti-social tendencies and have little regard for the laws and social norms. These people are not deterred by the threat of punishment, or even believe it will come to that. They may be self-centered, manipulative, less empathetic, and have a low regard for women.

Studies continue into this subject, including a new project on the rape culture in Hollywood. Since the #MeToo movement started in 2017, multitudes of complaints have come out of Hollywood about sexual assaults. The deadline for submissions ended on April 30th, but papers were being solicited for information on any aspect of sexual assault in Hollywood. Awareness of the scope of this problem and continued study into the psychological factors that lead to these crimes are essential to reducing the numbers of victims and the rehabilitation of offenders.


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