What Makes Rapists Tick?

By William Huet, Ph.D., J.D. professor of Criminal Justice

CTU Criminal Justice Degree - Understanding RapistsOne of the most difficult things law enforcement officers must do is to interview rape victims. They must be asked highly intrusive questions that force them to relive an extraordinarily painful experience.

Yet the hard, cold fact is that cops aren’t therapists. Their primary goal is to capture the rapist and to keep another victim from going through the same pain. Those intrusive questions such as – “Did he climax?” and “What did she say to you?” – are hugely important in determining the profile of the rapist so that they can be more easily caught.

This is an instance when inductive profiling is valuable for its assistance in generating leads quickly. There is a well-established typology of rapists, characterized by verbal and other behaviors.

Things most people don’t think about drive rapists, and frankly, what we don’t want to think about those things. Their behaviors are driven by psychological needs and fantasies that have been brewing beneath the surface for years before they act on them. Developing an understanding of how they think and the patterns that characterize their actions help our criminal justice system develop safeguards against them, and facilitate their capture. While not all rapists are male, a large majority are. As a result, the following typology has been developed:

Power-reassurance rapist

For this offender, he is driven by the idea that the act of rape is a romantic fantasy. He has no interest in harming the victim. In fact, if the victim looks hurt, cries or vomits, he will likely break off the assault as it defeats the purpose of his fantasy. This is the so-called “gentleman rapist” as he may be soft-spoken and ask questions like: “Does this hurt? Because if it does, I’ll stop.” As he doesn’t fit with their preconceived notion of the hairy-knuckled thug, victims may not report this sort of rapist.

At the same time, this type of rapist is more reserved and likely to live in his parents’ basement indulging an active fantasy life. He may present to others as a “loser” and a loner, and will seem creepy if he works around women because of underdeveloped social skills. One unique characteristic of the power-reassurance rapist is that they may attempt to contact the victim, not to threaten or harass but to arrange another “romantic encounter,” oblivious to both the harm they have caused the victim and to the opportunity such a request offers to capture them.

Rage-based rapist

This rapist acts out of anger and in retaliation against his victims. He is just interested in physically beating his victim up, and, in fact, may be too angry to climax. He is likely to use profanity-laced vulgarities during the rape. Pleas will not make a difference. If the victim resists, his violence will escalate, potentially to lethal levels. Unlike other types of rapists, he is not driven by fantasy and does not need or use pornography for inspiration. Rage-based rapists are difficult to profile and to catch because their attacks are stress-based, for example, triggered by a relationship ending or job loss. They tend to act out spontaneously.

Power/assertive rapist

This perpetrator is selfish and commits rape because he feels entitled to do so. He sees a victim as nothing more than an object. This rapist is hyper-macho, willing to use violence to accomplish the rape. He takes pride in his masculinity and is often homophobic. This offender sees his victims as sex objects and believes rape is an act of virility. He has no desire to harm his victim, but will if he has to. If the victim fights, this attacker will double the amount of time he spends with the victim, which further displays his callous nature.

One such rapist left his victim stranded and naked in an isolated park after throwing her clothes in a duck pond. He is narcissistic, vain and arrogant believing he is God’s gift to his victims. He may marry but will likely be unfaithful and prone to domestic violence. Female coworkers often describe such individuals as likely to make sexually inappropriate remarks, engage in unwelcomed touching, and display poor boundaries. This type of rapist becomes upset and angry if rejected or rebuffed.

Sadistic rapist

This sort of rapist is thankfully very rare. He gets his sexual gratification by seeing how his conscious victims respond to pain. Few survive the encounter. They often have torture chambers, and may keep the victim hostage for extended periods of time. The sadistic rapist takes a professorial approach, telling the victim in excruciating detail what they are going to do to them in order to terrorize them. They then memorialize the act with photographs or videos. This type of rapist is most likely to deliberately kill their victims, either to eliminate them as witnesses or as the ultimate sadistic act. It’s a bad sign if autopsies of victims reveal no evidence of sexual activity, only torture. Sexual activity, even rape, is still a level of human connection and if absent expect more dead victims, as the rapist’s only source of sexual pleasure has become torture followed by the “rush” of homicide.

While reading about a rapist’s behavior is difficult, understanding how rapists came to be the way they are is a whole different area, and one that law enforcement is less concerned with. Instead, our focus is on understanding their behaviors so that we have the ability to catch them – quickly.

CTU Faculty - William HuetWilliam Huet, Ph.D., J.D., is a full time professor of Criminal Justice at the Sioux Falls, South Dakota campus of Colorado Technical University. He obtained his undergraduate degree in psychology from Augustana College in Sioux Falls as well as a J.D. law degree, M.A. in Psychology and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of South Dakota. He is a longtime advocate of the use of role-playing as a teaching tool, especially for his criminal profiling class. He conceived CTUclue as a unique way to provide students with a hands on learning experience. Connect with Dr. Huet on LinkedIn.

Image credit: Flickr/Madame Psychosis