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Author Topic: Rape Is About Power, Not Sex
Crono
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Most of us have heard that rapists are more often motivated by power and control than by sex itself. On this Snopes page, Nicholas Groth points out that it is a common myth "that men rape because they're unable to get sex any other way." However, do we really know this for sure? A professor at my local college suggests that the "myth" is really the truth--rape has more to do with sex than it does with power.

Dr. Dennis Kramer is a professor of psychology at Middle Tennessee State University. He is best known for teaching a class called Psychosexual Adjustment and for performing surveys of students' sexual behaviors. He has long been known to claim that the belief that rape is about power is predominantly false. He states that sex usually is the primary motivation for rape. This goes against what most people think. You can see a blurb about this issue on an analysis of one of his sex surveys here (look on page 5 of the document). Apparently, the textbook used in his class also makes this claim and has evidence to back it up (unfortunately, I don't have the name of the book).

I'm wondering what anyone else thinks about this. How do we know what motivates rape, and what does the evidence say about it? I've always heard that rape is about power, and it's hard for me to give up that belief. The opposing claim is interesting, because if this is true, it means that what has often been called a myth (i.e., rape is motivated by sex) is actually the truth, and the refutation of that claim is really the myth.

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Commander Taco
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Nice intro to the topic Crono!

quote:
Originally posted by Crono:
I'm wondering what anyone else thinks about this. How do we know what motivates rape, and what does the evidence say about it? I've always heard that rape is about power, and it's hard for me to give up that belief.

My bias is to believe that rape is as much or more about *sex* than power. A mixture of both, but I would expect sexual gratification to edge out power. I would point to several things that bear this out, in my layman's thought experiment here:

  • Rape in Prison - what motivation would heterosexual men have for sleeping with or raping other men in prison where women are not an option? To me, it's inescapable to conclude that they just need to 'get off' and rape is the means to accomplish this. I don't buy the power argument here.
  • If rape were totally about power, I would expect to see crimes that involved humiliation and subjugation of the victim to the preclusion of the attacker even having an orgasm. I think, however, a lot of attackers do end up having one - which sells me further on the 'about sex' idea.
  • It should be pretty clear to most men, who experience the 'male kind' of sexual desire firsthand and to women who are the targets of that desire, that men are willing to do a lot of things to get laid the consentual way. Lying is not uncommon, nor is uninvited touching in bars and at concerts. Why is it so hard to imagine that a man would be capable of going beyond mental force to use physical force to satisfy the strong desires he has?

I would need to be shown good reasons why rapists use rape as a means to their 'power fix' if rape is indeed supposed to be primarily about that *for the rapist*. What I think is happening (again, in my layman's view) is that the victim's perspective is coloring the issue, because for them, I would think, the rape is all about power - or rather their feeling of powerlessness during and after.

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rocksong
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Perhaps this is another UL in itself, but I think that the most common form of rape is "date rape", i.e. when the lines between rape and consensual sex are blurred (at least in the mind of the male). From anecdotal evidence, as well as logic, "date rape" is all about getting sex, not power.
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Troodon
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Perhaps it is both: having power may enhance the sexual experience of the rapist, to the point where rape feels better for him than consensual sex. After all, people have all sorts of strange sexual fetishes - perhaps rape is a particularly deviant one?
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Logoboros
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Well, first of all, I would say prison rape is a great example of sex being used to express power and domination. Where are you getting your ideas about prison from? Take a look at this.

But it's also silly to try to create a sharp dichotomy between sex and power -- it depends on how you're defining sex. The very fact that one might think that the sheer presence of an orgasm makes it "sex-based" rather than "power-based" shows a lack of clarity on the issue.

Rape is certainly about sexual gratification. But this gratification comes through the expression of dominance and power (as opposed to through emotional connection or even through simple friction). It *is* about "sex" to the degree that it is about achieving orgasm. But it is not about sex in the sense of connecting physically with another person or fulfilling the reproductive drive. The rapist's need is not primarily physical. If it were purely physical, that's nothing a fist and some soap can't handle.

--Logoboros

ETA: You can't tell me that a good chunk of date rapes don't also include the element of "conquest." They aren't strictly about the guy's need to make his Krause's corpuscles feel good. Again, there's lots of other ways to do that...

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naharnahekim
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My personal take on it is that it is a mixture. You can't say that a behavior is always about this or always about that. Each instance has a completly seperate set of variables that led up to it.

Cammander Taco: The examples you used may not have been the greatest. In fact in my opinion they are actually completly backwards. Don't mean to be an ass, but I think your way off.

"Rape in Prison - what motivation would heterosexual men have for sleeping with or raping other men in prison where women are not an option? To me, it's inescapable to conclude that they just need to 'get off' and rape is the means to accomplish this. I don't buy the power argument here."

Honestly, have you ever read/watched/considered what kind of place prison is? Almost everything you do in prison is about power, not in the sense of asserting it over one other person, but in simply displaying that you have any period. If ou do not assert yourself in some way, you will be a target for the rest of your time in there. I would say the rape in prison actually leans more to the "power" side, to show someone who's boss, who;s in charge. If an inmate wants to get his rocks off, there are plenty of ways that don't involve rape, including male whores and homemade sex toys.


"If rape were totally about power, I would expect to see crimes that involved humiliation and subjugation of the victim to the preclusion of the attacker even having an orgasm. I think, however, a lot of attackers do end up having one - which sells me further on the 'about sex' idea."

Do you not consider rape itself humiliating? I don't want to sound whiney or sensational, but is being forced to have sex just not subjugating enuagh for you? You seem to think it has some sort of effect as you later say: "What I think is happening (again, in my layman's view) is that the victim's perspective is coloring the issue".

"It should be pretty clear to most men, who experience the 'male kind' of sexual desire firsthand and to women who are the targets of that desire, that men are willing to do a lot of things to get laid the consentual way. Lying is not uncommon, nor is uninvited touching in bars and at concerts. Why is it so hard to imagine that a man would be capable of going beyond mental force to use physical force to satisfy the strong desires he has?"

But a person willing to go much farther than is morally or legally justifiable has got to have something else going on in his head. Otherwise any time I wanted to blow a load I would just find some chick to force myself upon.


and now a none rape personal anticdote:
My professor in "Script analasys" tried to convince me that in the end, every scene is about sex. My only reply was "How often is sex itself, just about sex?"
This is my main issue with any argument that proports that rape is mostly/all about sex. Sex isn't even about itself. There is tons of other shit that we all assiociate with it. Love, security, trust, nuaghtyness, and yes even power. So saying that rape is mostly about sex is like saying war is about killing. Sure it may be right in a round-about way, but your not actually saying much


Just looked at the thread after typing this and not only did Logoboros get it in befroe me, he said pretty much what I had to say only better. Way to go Logoboros!

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Commander Taco
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quote:
Originally posted by Logoboros:
Well, first of all, I would say prison rape is a great example of sex being used to express power and domination. Where are you getting your ideas about prison from? Take a look at this.

I agree no clear dichotomy exists between rape's sex and power components. For the prison rape thing, I'm thinking this (and could be wrong, of course, but...): why don't other lawless groups outside of prision express power and dominance through *male-male* rape?? IE Hells Angels don't rape Outlaws - they brutalize or kill them. I'm saying the reason that inmates rape is gratification, and my thought is that alliances and power structures would and do exist outside that sexual act. But ultimately, there isn't one reason - it's grey and blurred like many other facets of human behaviour.

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Commander Taco
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quote:
Honestly, have you ever read/watched/considered what kind of place prison is? Almost everything you do in prison is about power
Then rape would be just as much about power as anything else in prison and frankly if you want to *display* power, which is more sensational? Some sex act or brutal violence? Gratification factors in heavily, imo. Saying that everything's about power (in prison) is a bit like saying nothing is (because everything's on an even playing field then).

quote:
Do you not consider rape itself humiliating? I don't want to sound whiney or sensational, but is being forced to have sex just not subjugating enuagh for you?
You missread my point. I'm saying if rape were, for example, 100% about power, then I would expect the orgasm of the attacker to be very unimportant to the rape and I don't believe that is the case. Data could change my mind, I guess. Obviously I think rape is a brutal thing in any case.

quote:
You seem to think it has some sort of effect..
Well, I think the attacker and victim are having vastly differing experiences from the standpoint of 'what the rape's about'. The victim's sense of despair and powerlessness are total - but that would be similar in a brutal attack of any kind. But in rape, I content the gratification and/or orgasm of the attacker is the big clue that points to a strongly sexual motivation for the attack.

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snopes
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quote:
I'm wondering what anyone else thinks about this. How do we know what motivates rape, and what does the evidence say about it?
Men Who Rape, Nicholas Groth, 1979:

quote:
For the most part, offenders report finding little if any sexual satisfaction in the act of rape. Their subjective reactions range from disappointment to disgust. When rapists discuss pleasure they speak of being aggressive and having power over their victim, her actions, her life. "It gave me pleasure knowing that there was nothing that she could do."

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Logoboros
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Well, in terms of raping people with foreign objects and sexual humiliation, I'd say these are alive and well outside the prison world.

In terms of actual intercourse, the pamphlet I linked to makes this point:
quote:
These "pitchers" are usually straight, sometimes bisexual; they consider their punks to be substitutes for women, and they usually do not consider their own penetrative sexual acts or their relationships with punks to be "homosexual," just masculine, though they may think that what you have to do for them is "homosexual." In a broad sense, they habitually treat their punks the way they are used to treating their women on the Street.

So the intercourse side of sexual domination is usually reserved for women in the outside-of-prison thug culture, because of the prevailing homosexual taboo. But in the absence of women, anyone of weaker status will do.

--Logoboros

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snopes
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quote:
For the prison rape thing, I'm thinking this (and could be wrong, of course, but: why don't other lawless groups outside of prison express power and dominance through *male-male* rape?
Because prison and non-prison are, for the most part, completely different environments, as are the options and opportunities available within each.

- snopes

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rocksong
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quote:
Originally posted by Logoboros:
It *is* about "sex" to the degree that it is about achieving orgasm. But it is not about sex in the sense of connecting physically with another person or fulfilling the reproductive drive.

The same could be said about the male attitude to sex in general. (OK that's an overgeneralisation, but it would be especially true for men liable to date rape).

quote:

If it were purely physical, that's nothing a fist and some soap can't handle.

Then why is there such thing as prostitution?

quote:

ETA: You can't tell me that a good chunk of date rapes don't also include the element of "conquest."

Good point. Nevertheless I would assert (with nothing but instinct and a few conversations to back me up), that the majority of date rape is because the guy wants to get laid and doesn't understand the word "no".
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Crono
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Here is an update. The name of the book used in the class that I mentioned in the OP is The Social Dimension of Sex by Roy F. Baumeister and Dianne M. Tice. Apparently, there is a chapter titled "Sex by Force" in which Baumeister cites strong evidence that "most men rape because they want sex" and "aren't afraid of using a little muscle to get it." By the way, I think that most people would agree that rape is about both sex and power, but the argument is which one plays a greater role in motivating people to commit rape.

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Commander Taco
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I guess we're really discussing what the mix of sex/power is in most cases. I suppose if I'm utterly wrong, at least I can take some small comfort in the fact that I just don't understand the mind of a rapist at all, then, and by extension, am hopefully not like one.

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Joe Bentley
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Actually I think some pretty good points have been brought up.

I'm not specifically disagreeing with the idea that rape is about power, but I think that might be an oversimplication of motive.

All crimes are about power, almost by definition. Applying this label specifically to rape is accurate for the most part, but really kind of meaningless.

Assault is about power as well, but often time assualt can have a further motive, anger, greed, jealousy, whatever. I don't really understand why the idea that rape has but one motive has become so popular.

"Rape is about power, not sex" really doesn't make any sense if you're talking about the act in and off itself. Rape doesn't have to be violent, only forceful. Sex is the defining factor of rape, not violence.

Saying rape is about power and not sex is really talking about motivation and not the crime itself. I do agree that the vast majority of rape is about fulling a power need, not a sexual need. As many have already pointed out, simple sexual relief is not that difficult to get.

To be honest though there is a difference between sex, and simple sexual release. If there was no difference sexually between a woman's body and your own left hand, why would anyone go through the trouble of finding a sexual partner in this day of 150 dollar dinner dates and STDs?

So to say that most rapes don't have sexual undertone is probably not true in my opinion. Rapist rape rather then simply beat, for the same reason that all of us have sex rather then masturbate. (Damn that was really sloppy metaphor, hope it made some sense)

Are must rapes mostly about power? Almost certainly. But there has to a sexual angle to it or else these wouldn't be rapes, they would be beatings or murders. And I do think it is possible that a small fraction of rapes might be based mostly on sexual desire and not on force. The sexual urge can be strong, and a lot of humanity has proven that impulse control isn't their strong suite, and nothing will send someone down the wrong path quicker then bad impulse control and strong urge to do something.

Like Commander Taco in a weird way I am proud of the fact that I don't understand rape. Regardless of motivation Rapist rank of my scale just below that mixture of manure and dirt I have to dig out from between the treads of my running shoes after I use the cross country track in the local park.

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Bela Lugosi's Dead
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Its really about both. For a rapist, having power over the victim is part of the sex. saying that rape is about power rather than sex is a misstatement...it would be more accurate to say that rape is about power and sex, not simply sex alone. The idea here is that rapists are not simply men who are so turned on they can't stop themselves. While I'm sure that does happen, most rapists appear to be in control of themselves when they commit the crime.

Rape also operates on a continuum...and there are different kinds of rapists just as there are different kinds of other criminals. Date rapists are, as a previous poster pointed out, generally men who expect to get sex and don't really care if a girl says no or not because they figure she owes it to them. In these instances, rape is far more about sex than power, though power is a crucial element. On the other end of the spectrum are power rapists, for whom rape is a means to exerting control over a woman and sex is simply an end to that means. These kinds of rapists are rare, but in these cases rape is almost entirely about power, though the rapists generally finds this power sexually stimulating so the sexual component cannot be ignored.

Grouping all rapists together into one catagory and saying they commit their crime for the same reason is rediculous. Its the same as saying that all murderers kill for the same reason. Some murderers kill for revenge, others to cover up a crime, some because they are dellusional, and some because they enjoy the power that taking a life brings...and a dozen other reasons. Reducing things down to something so simple makes it impossible to understand and just propagates confusion and ignorance on the subject.

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Bored and Dangerous
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quote:
Originally posted by Crono:
Most of us have heard that rapists are more often motivated by power and control than by sex itself. On this Snopes page, Nicholas Groth points out that it is a common myth "that men rape because they're unable to get sex any other way." However, do we really know this for sure? A professor at my local college suggests that the "myth" is really the truth--rape has more to do with sex than it does with power.

Dr. Dennis Kramer is a professor of psychology at Middle Tennessee State University. He is best known for teaching a class called Psychosexual Adjustment and for performing surveys of students' sexual behaviors. He has long been known to claim that the belief that rape is about power is predominantly false. He states that sex usually is the primary motivation for rape. This goes against what most people think. You can see a blurb about this issue on an analysis of one of his sex surveys here (look on page 5 of the document). Apparently, the textbook used in his class also makes this claim and has evidence to back it up (unfortunately, I don't have the name of the book.

(Sincerely asking the question) So far all I've seen are men quoted and studying this. Can anyone tell me a _female_ with this POV?


Not to be redundant, but sex and power aren't simplistic, quantifiable things. It's a case by case basis. Some get off on power and control; some want sex. It's not as simple as numbers on a sheet, or a psychological profile.

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Crono
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quote:
Originally posted by Bored and Dangerous:
(Sincerely asking the question) So far all I've seen are men quoted and studying this. Can anyone tell me a _female_ with this POV?

Actually, it did stand out to me that everyone who had commented on this thread were male. I actually expected a greater female response.

To answer your first question, the book that I mentioned earlier is co-authored by a man and a woman. Although the chapter on rape was written by the male author, I would assume that the female author would have at least reviewed it and approved it before it was published.

quote:
Originally posted by Bored and Dangerous:
Not to be redundant, but sex and power aren't simplistic, quantifiable things. It's a case by case basis. Some get off on power and control; some want sex. It's not as simple as numbers on a sheet, or a psychological profile.

I understand your point, and this is something that is difficult to quantify. However, in psychology, it is helpful to quantify something as much as possible when drawing conclusions. Qualitative data is very helpful, but it is much more subject to error. That being said, I would be interested to see what the author of the book wrote about the topic and how he analyzed his data.

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Malruhn
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Can I just go on record as saying that to me, sticking your pickle in something that is struggling and doesn't want you to, no matter how much sex is involved, it STILL boils down to power.

An' that's all I got to say 'bout that.

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Joe Bentley
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quote:
Originally posted by Malruhn:
Can I just go on record as saying that to me, sticking your pickle in something that is struggling and doesn't want you to, no matter how much sex is involved, it STILL boils down to power.

No arguments there Malruhn, but all some of us are saying is that that's rather akin to saying "A bank robbery is about power, not money."

A thirst for power is the reason people commit all kinds of crime, from jaywalking to mass murder. But there's a also a secondary motivation that leads people to specific kind of crimes. I don't think that saying sexual urges can lead cause some people to rape rather then rob a bank or mug a jogger is all the out there.

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Bored and Dangerous
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Can we safely say that most crime is about some kind of power, be it power over a person, or power to alter your environment?

That being said, I think rape *can* be just about power. I do think sexual urges can lead someone TO the path of rape (or the idea of), but I don't think it takes them by the hand and says "Go down this path." That's a part of psychology that I don't understand, and I don't want to.

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Allison
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Rape is a crime of power in which sex is the weapon used. The rapist uses the weapon of sex for humiliation and control, and that's why the weapon is chosen. Using a gun or fists wouldn't create the humiliation and degradation that rape does, so it's a "step up" in the weapon ranking for some criminals.

Allison

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RubyMoon
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When I was a very young woman in the Army, (30 years ago) I "put out" pretty regularly. Not for the sex itself, but so the guys would like me. There was no need for date rape cos I never said no.
Still I was raped, forceably, and I don't think to him it was just about getting some, My feeling is that he did it for power, to take away the power of me making the decision, even if it would have been in his favor. He didn't want what was given, he had to take.

Hope you don't mind me jumping in the discussion this way, but I had to throw in the personal stuff so you would understand my attitute.

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To me, rape is about sex like art is about oil paint.

Ruby, I agree with you. I was raped by a man I would probably have had sex with. He knew I liked him, I had agreed to go out with him. He got me drunk until I passed out and raped me. This was about getting laid, but also very much about power. He knew he could have had consensual sex, but that was not what he wanted.

Conversely, there are men with honor. I know of two occasions when I was unconscious from drinking and two guys who were attracted to me had ready access and did not take advantage. I have had the opportunity to get both guy's thoughts on the matter and they both expressed the idea that sex with ANY real element of not being consensual was a big turn-off. These two guys have never met.

If rape is just about getting sex however it's available, why would a guy choose rape when consensual sex is available? Why would a guy turn down an opportunity to rape and miss out on sex entirely? I say it's because only a man with the intent to dominate and subjugate his victim will see rape as an option. This, it's about power and sex is merely the medium.

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DemonWolf
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I've also heard that rapist who have been castrated will still continue to sexually assault others. To me, that pretty much shows that it is psychological rather than physical.

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quote:
Originally posted by kismet:

If rape is just about getting sex however it's available, why would a guy choose rape when consensual sex is available? Why would a guy turn down an opportunity to rape and miss out on sex entirely? I say it's because only a man with the intent to dominate and subjugate his victim will see rape as an option. This, it's about power and sex is merely the medium.

This is a very good point. As I said before, for most rapists, rape is a form of sex that they simply cannot get from a woman who consents.

I once read an inteview with a rapist by sociologist Diana Scully (she told me personally she is well aquainted with X-Files jokes about her name). The rapists was an exceptionally good looking man who raped upwards of 20 women. He was charming and polite, and had amazing luck with getting women to have sex with him. He was a flight attendant who travel frequently, though he only raped in his home town for some reason. He was identified as the rapist by many of his victims, and several times the evidence trail led back to him as a person of interest in the crime...but the police assumed he could be the rapist because he was so good looking and had such great luck with women. Eventually he was arrested and convicted of more than one count of rape, which earned him consecutive sentences that will last well beyond his natural life. Having nothing to lose or gain, he was quite open with Scully about his rapes, and gave many details about his brutal crimes. He typically raped women who had already taken him home (he never did it in his own home) from a bar or public place, women who quite likely were prepared to have consensual sex with him. What is unusual is that he went home with (or took home) women all the time, and most of the time he didn't rape them. When asked by Scully why he would rape a woman who had already agreed to have sex with him, or when he could so easily find another woman to have sex with him, he tapped his arm as though trying to find a vein and replied "I had to have my fix". For him, rape was an act of sex that differed from consensual sex.

This rapist was atypical in a few ways, primarily in that he identified himself as a rapist. Most convicted rapists do not (according to work by the same sociologist). In fact, most of them think rape is a terrible crime, and that rapists should be put to death! But, they don't think they are rapists. The justify this by saying that if a woman doesn't want to have sex with a man, she will fight him to the death or at least to the point of near death. Since few rapists ever beat their victims to this point, the fact that the woman "gave in" to avoid being killed means she consented. This means that, in the minds of these convicted rapists, throwing a woman to the ground, punching her, tearing off her clothes and threatening to hurt or kill her if she doesn't have sex with them constitutes foreplay. So the power, the domination, the ability to make a woman have sex with them through sheer force, provides a sexual high that non-rapists cannot understand (thankfully). Power is an overwhelmingly essential element in this.

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