Article updated January 2018
Below is a compilation of several different studies that work to provide information about
perpetrators. Much of this data comes from studies that are outdated and contain heteronormative
language, although still providing important information. SAPAC recognizes that many of these
articles fail to provide inclusive information about perpetrators and survivors. It is important to
question how statistics, like the ones below, can enable skewed perceptions and further
misconceptions about sexual assault and harassment.
The purpose of this section is to provide information about perpetrators. This section will address
societal myths, contributing factors to why a person commits rape, the role of alcohol, and studies
focusing on college male rapists. It is designed to inform panelists about the reality of this offense
so that they are as informed as possible when hearing sexual-violence related cases.
Main Points from the Literature:
No two sex offenders are exactly alike. In fact, one sexual assault expert said that ‘sex offenders
comprise an extremely heterogeneous population that cannot be characterized by single
motivational or etiological factors’ (Schwartz, 1995). However, sex offenders often exhibit some
- Men are more likely to commit sexual violence in communities where sexual violence goes unpunished. (National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 2004).
- Sex offenders minimize their number of victims. Speaking with 99 male sex offenders, court records showed 136 victims between them, but later during treatment, they eventually confessed to 959 victims between them (Slicner, 2007).
- Sex offenders are experts in rationalizing their behavior. (Slicner, 2007)
- There is no “typical profile” of a rapist. Many defense attorneys will talk about whether their client, the alleged assailant, either fits the profile of a rapist or doesn’t. This is an invalid argument because there is no typical profile of a rapist. This is why it is good to focus on that person’s behavior instead of who they are in their community (Maas, 2007).
- Example: Ted Bundy was an A student, volunteered for his university’s suicide prevention center, and was active in the church. Does this sound like someone who would ‘fit the profile’ of a violent person?
2015 Campus Climate Survey of U of M students
- 22.5% of undergraduate women reported receiving unwanted sexual activity
- 6.8% of undergraduate men reported receiving unwanted sexual activity
- Both statistics are not representative of trans folk
- Campus survey participants
- 51.5% male, 48.5% female
- 92.0 heterosexual
- 8.04 “gay, lesbian, bisexual, and other”
- No identification of cisgender/transgender
- Participants can only identify themselves within gender binary
Direct research from Stotzer, R.L. and MacCartney, D. (2016) The role of institutional factors
on on-campus reported rape prevalence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 31(16), 2687-
- Individual factors that have been found to lead to increased rape proclivity among men include (p. 2691)
- Rape myth acceptance
- High sexual arousal to rape depiction or sexual violence
- Pornography consumption
- Desire to have power over women
- Increased levels of hostile sexism
- Increased gender stereotyped attitudes toward women
- One out of three college-aged men reported some likelihood to rape if they were assured they would not be caught (p.2689)
- Although many studies suggest fraternity membership alone facilitates propensity to rape, it its more of an indicator to look at the type of masculine group membership (p. 2691)
- High risk masculine groups: perceived to have parties that created a high-risk environment for sexual assault, expressed higher levels of sexual aggression toward women, hostility toward women, and male peer support for violence against women
- Positive correlation between higher athletic division and reports of sexual assault (p.2700)
- Positive correlation between college campuses that were highly residential and increased reports of sexual assault versus primarily commuter campus (p. 2700)
Male Sex Role Socialization:
- When men are taught to be dominant and aggressive, this often leads to hyper-masculinity, male peer support for sexual aggression, development of rape myths, and adversarial sexual beliefs (Kilmartin, 2000; Rozee & Koss, 2001). In his classic study of college date rapists, Kanin’s sample (Kanin, 1985) were significantly more sexually active, but also more sexually frustrated than controls, and believed that rape could be justified under certainconditions.
- Although the association between rape and pornography remains controversial, a number of studies have linked violent pornography and sexual arousal to rape depictions, violent sexual fantasies, rape callousness, and woman abuse (DeKeseredy & Schwartz, 1998; Malamuth, 1984; Malamuth & Check, 1983).
- Alcohol abuse has been identified as a strong correlate of college rape (Abby, 1991; Abby et al., 1996; Frintner & Rubinson, 1993; Koss & Gaines, 1993; Muehlenhard & Linton, 1987; Norris & Cubbins, 1992; Prentky & Knight, 1991; Presley et al., 1998).
- Although the media has labeled drugs such as Rohypnol and GHB as the date-rape drugs of the present, these are only two of the many drugs used to incapacitate a victim. Of the 22 substances used in drug-facilitated rapes, alcohol is the most common. (LeBeau, M., et al., Recommendations for Toxicological Investigations of Drug Facilitated Sexual Assaults, Journal of Forensic Sciences. 1999.)
- The relationship between alcohol and rape is multifaceted, and alcohol may be both a precipitant of and an excuse for sexually aggressive behavior by men (Abbey et al., 2001; Berkowitz, 1992; Larimer et al., 1999; Richardson & Hammock, 1991).
- Men who have committed sexual assault also frequently report getting their female companion drunk as a way of making it easier to talk or force her into having sex. (Abbey, McAuslan, & Ross, 1998).
A Study on Sexual Assault:
- A study compared complex relationships among sexual attitudes and experiences, substance abuse patterns, and child abuse histories in college men. The comprehensive survey that was implemented measured risk factors found in the literature to be associated with male sexual aggression. In terms of the results, most of the hypothesized risk factors were predictive of sexual aggression, including negative gender-based attitudes, heavy alcohol use, and pornography consumption. Few men acknowledged using physical force to obtain sex, whereas more men acknowledged some form of sexual coercion. This included pressuring women and saying things they did not mean to obtain sex, using alcohol to obtain sex, and having sex with a woman even when she wanted to stop. A few men reported some likelihood of raping if they could be sure of not getting caught. (Carr and Van Deusen, 2004).
- Also, a pattern of alcohol-related sexual coercion emerged. Fifteen percent of the men acknowledged using some form of alcohol-related sexual coercion. Thirty five percent of the men reported that their friends approved of getting a woman drunk to have sex with her and 20% acknowledged having friends who have gotten a woman drunk or high to have sex. (Carr and Van Deusen, 2004).
- Pornography consumption was common among the men in the sample and may further add to the risk of sexual aggression. Specific violent or rape-theme content of the pornography has been associated with propensity to rape and pro-rape attitudes in laboratory analogues, as well as from self-reports of men who have admitted raping. (Carr and Van Deusen, 2004).
- The patterns of sexual coercion, aggression, and rape-prone attitudes found in this study are very similar to patterns reported by other researchers and further strengthens our understanding of factors that may contribute to why a subset of college men rape. (Carr and Van Deusen, 2004).
- Peer pressure to have sex and alcohol-related sexual coercion emerged as important factors in the social milieu at the campus surveyed. (Carr and Van Deusen, 2004).
Methodological challenges in the study of rapists:
- Incarcerated rapists also tend to be “stranger rapists” who were promptly reported by their victim, who left physical evidence, and who were successfully prosecuted, convicted, and received prison time. (Carr and Van Deusen, 2004).
Summary of important points from this section:
- Sex offenders comprise an extremely heterogeneous population.
- According to the 2015 campus climate survey, 22.5% of undergraduate women reported receiving unwanted sexual activity compared to 6.8% of men.
- There is no typical profile of a rapist, but they share some common characteristics.
- Sex offenders are experts in rationalizing their behavior.
- Cross-campus studies of rape identify the following factors as contributors to sexual violence: sex-role socialization, rape myths, lack of sanctions for abuse, male peer group support, pornography, adversarial sexual beliefs, lack of empathy, and all-male membership groups such as fraternities and sports teams.
- Alcohol abuse has been identified as a tool to perpetrate college sexual assault.
- Alcohol can be a disinhibitor and increase sexual impulsivity, as well as lower an individual’s detection of risk and impair their ability to resist assault.
- Intercourse cannot be consensual when an individual is incapacitated due to intoxication.