Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center

Striving for Justice: A Toolkit for Judicial Resolution Officers

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 similar characteristics:                         

  • Sex offenders are overwhelmingly white males.  Nearly 99% of sex offenders in single-victim incidents were male and 6 in 10 were white (Greenfeld, 1997).        
  • Most sex offenders were not sexually or physically abused as children.  In one study of 114 convicted rapists, 91% denied experiencing childhood sexual abuse; 66% denied experiencing childhood physical abuse; and 50% admitted to having non-violent childhoods. (Scully, 1990).
  • 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?


Summary of Carr, J.L. and VanDeusen, K.M. (2004) Risk Factors For Male Sexual Aggression on College Campuses. J. Family Violence 19(5): 279-289.

  • Surveys have consistently reported that college men acknowledged forced intercourse at a rate of 5-15% and college sexual aggression at a rate of 15-25% (Koss, Gidycz, and Wisniewski, 1987; Malamuth, Sockloskie, Koss, and Tanaka, 1991).
  • The national survey of rape conducted by Koss et al. (1987) revealed that 1 in 12 college men committed acts that met the legal definition of rape, and of those men, 84% did not consider their actions to be illegal. 
  • In a large study of college men, 8.8% admitted rape or attempted rape (Ouimette & Riggs, 1998).
  • Cross-cultural studies of rape and studies of rape-prone versus rape-free campus cultures identify the following factors as contributors to sexual violence:
  • sex-role socialization
  • rape myths
  • lack of sanctions for abuse
  • male peer group support
  • pornography
  • all-male membership groups such as fraternities and sports teams

(Bem, 1974, 1981; Berkowitz, 1992; Quackenbush, 1989; Sanday, 1996; Schwartz & DeKeserdy, 1997; Warshaw & Parrot, 1991).                                           

  • Using anonymous surveys, men admit to sexually aggressive acts with acquaintances or romantic partners (Koss, 1988; Lisak & Roth, 1990; Malamuth et al., 1991).
  • Malamuth (1981) validated a rape proclivity measure on various samples of college men and found an average of 21-35% of males indicated some likelihood of raping if they could be assured of not being caught. 
  • Pryor (1987) reported that acceptance of rape myths, adversarial sexual beliefs, and lack of empathy were associated with greater proclivities in his sample to engage in sexual exploitation and aggression. 


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 certain conditions.
  • 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).  Malamuth and Check (1983) exposed college men to violent pornography and found an increase in their scores on Acceptance of Interpersonal Violence (Burt, 1980).


Alcohol Abuse:              

  • 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).                                                                                         
  • Alcohol was a factor in 61% of Kanin’s sample of college date rapists, and 76% of his sample admitted to attempts to intoxicate a female date (Kanin, 1985).
  • Muehlenhard and Linton (1987) found that 55% of men in their survey who acknowledged rape on a date were under the influence of alcohol.  Similarly, Ouimette (1997) interviewed 47 sexually aggressive college men and reported that 53% were abusing and 30% were dependent upon alcohol or drugs respectively.
  • Koss (1988) found that 74% of the men who acknowledged raping used alcohol or drugs when they raped.  In a later predictive study, Koss and Gaines (1993) reported that college acquaintance rapists admitted to consuming alcohol just prior to 74% of their assaults. 
  • In a study on male sexual coercion, 23% of college men admitted to getting a date drunk or stoned to engage in sexual intercourse, and 23% of women reported a date getting them drunk or stoned and engaging in unwanted sex (Tyler, et al., 1998).
  • Alcohol can be a disinhibitor and increase sexual impulsivity, as well as lower women’s detection of risk and impair their ability to resist assault (Abbey, 1991). 
  • Intercourse obviously cannot be consensual when the woman is incapacitated due to intoxication.  Men may believe that there are fewer risks associated with coercive sex when they are intoxicated (Tyler et al., 1998). 
  • Koss and Gaines (1993) concluded from their study that alcohol might be the intervening variable in high rates of fraternity and athletic team rape.


Personality Characteristics:      

  • Various personality profiles of self-reported college rapists have been reported and include the following:
  • lack of empathy
  • hostile masculinity
  • macho/aggressive and dominant and controlling personalities
  • impulsivity
  • emotional constriction
  • underlying anger and power issues with women

(Berkowitz, 1992; Check et al., 1985; Lisak & Roth, 1990; Mehrabian & Epstein, 1972; Rapaport and Burkhart, 1984).


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:                      

  • Most detailed studies of identified rapists have been conducted with either incarcerated rapists (Borduin et al., 1990; Hsu & Starzynski, 1990), or charged sexual offenders who are mainly pedophiles treated at sexual abuse clinics (Maletzky, 1991). 
  • Identified offenders constitute a very small minority of all sexual aggressors (Koss et al., 1987; Pryor, 1987). 
  • 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.
  • There is no typical profile of a rapist, but they share some common characteristics.
  • Sex offenders are overwhelmingly male, typically have access to consensual sex, and were not sexually or physically abused as children.
  • Men are more likely to commit sexual violence in communities where sexual violence goes unpunished.
  • Sex offenders are experts in rationalizing their behavior.
  • Cross-cultural 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 strong correlate of college rape.
  • In a study on male sexual coercion, 23% of college men admitted to getting a date drunk or stoned to engage in sexual intercourse.
  • Alcohol can be a disinhibitor and increase sexual impulsivity, as well as lower women’s detection of risk and impair their ability to resist assault.
  • Intercourse cannot be consensual when the woman is incapacitated due to intoxication.