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Theories of rape and sexual assault


Theories of Sexual Assault


"These theories eventually coalesced into the current understanding of sexual assault—namely, that rape and other forms of sexual assault are acts of violence, not acts of sexual desire"

  • Sexual Assault and Male Dominance
  • Sexual Assault and Cultural Norms
  • Sexual Assault and the Media
  • Biological Theories of Sexual Assault


The History of Rape: A Bibliography


Topical Index : Theories of Rape


A review of cognitive factors in the etiology of rape: theories, empirical studies and implications


An understanding of the etiology of rape is essential to reduce its incidence. The studies reviewed in the present article provide evidence that men with a high proclivity to rape have more rape supportive attitudes, are more likely to consider victims to be responsible for rape, and are less knowledgeable about the negative impact of rape on the victims.


Conquest by force: A narcissistic reactance theory of rape and sexual coercion



Victim blame


"Victim blaming is holding the victim responsible for what has happened to her/him. One way in which victim blaming is perpetuated is through rape myths. Rape myths allow us to blame the victim and are often common false beliefs."


A review of cognitive factors in the etiology of rape: theories, empirical studies, and implications.

Drieschner K, Lange A.

"In the past decade, research into the etiology of rape has increasingly focused on cognitive variables. The studies reviewed in the present article provide evidence that men with a high proclivity to rape have more rape supportive attitudes, are more likely to consider victims to be responsible for rape, and are less knowledgeable about the negative impact of rape on the victims. These men tend to misperceive cues emitted by women in heterosocial interactions; fail to generate inhibitory self-verbalizations to suppress association of sex and aggression; and have more coercive, sexual fantasies. Furthermore, a high proclivity to rape is associated with a semantic network in which concepts of sex and power are closely linked in such a way that power cues are necessary precursors of sexual feelings. Multivariate studies suggest that rape-supportive attitudes interact with noncognitive factors in the etiology of rape. Implications for rape prevention and treatment of rapists are considered. Finally, methodological issues are discussed, and recommendations for future research are given."

A synthesized (biosocial) theory of rape.

Ellis L.

"Features of contemporary theories of rape are integrated with information on neurohormonal variables to formulate a synthesized theory of rape. It consists of four propositions: (a) Rape is motivated by two largely unlearned drives (a sex drive and a drive to possess and control). (b) Natural selection has favored men who more readily learn forced copulatory tactics than women and women who are more inclined than men to resist forced copulations. (c) The tendency to use forced copulatory tactics is largely a function of the strength of an individual's sex drive plus estimates of the probability of success minus the probability of being punished, divided by sensitivity to aversive stimuli. (d) Genes that have evolved primarily on the Y chromosome affect neurohormonal functioning in ways that alter the strength of the sex drive and sensitivity to aversive stimuli and thereby affect individual probabilities of committing rape."

If "boys will be boys," then girls will be victims?

A meta-analytic review of the research that relates masculine ideology to sexual aggression


Feminist sociocultural models of rape posit that the patriarchal structure of society perpetuates sexual violence against women. According to the social control model of rape, the male-dominated structure of society is maintained by various societal factors including sexual violence against women (e.g., Brownmiller, 1975; Griffin, 1979; Sheffield, 1987). Sexual violence keeps women in a state of fear so that they are dependent on others for their survival. Such theories have a relatively long history. One of the first people to propose and begin to test a feminist sociocultural model was Martha Burt (1980) who hypothesized that "rape is the logical and psychological extension of a dominant-submissive, competitive, sex-role stereotyped culture" (p. 229). The purpose of the present study is to examine the sociocultural model of sexual aggression (SA) by synthesizing quantitatively the body of research that links masculine ideology to sexual violence. It is hypothesized that to the extent that men agree with an extreme form of masculinity that represents support for patriarchy ideology, they are more likely to be sexually aggressive toward women.


Sexual Murderers' Implicit Theories


Interviews with 28 sexual murderers were subjected to grounded theory analysis. Five implicit theories (ITs) were identified: dangerous world, male sex drive is uncontrollable, entitlement, women as sexual objects, and women as unknowable. These ITs were found to be identical to those identified in the literature as being present in rapists. The presence of dangerous world and male sex drive is uncontrollable were present, or absent, such that three groups could be identified: (a) dangerous world plus male sex drive is uncontrollable; (b) dangerous world, in the absence of male sex drive is uncontrollable; (c) male sex drive is uncontrollable in the absence of dangerous world. These three groups were found to differ in motivation: (a) were motivated by urges to rape and murder; (b) were motivated by grievance, resentment and/or anger toward women; (c) were motivated to sexually offend but were prepared to kill to avoid detection, or secure compliance.


Pursuing the Best Answer: Why Men Rape Women.

Malley-Morrison, K. Forest development in North America following major disturbances. PsycCRITIQUES, , .

Abstract-Reviews the book by Lalumière et al (see record 2005-00308-000) which examines why some men are prone to rape, offers probable causes for this inclination, and provides a comprehensive review of scientific studies of coercive sex. The authors are critical of many current conceptions of male rape; moreover, they view interventions based on these conceptions as ineffective, at least in part, they believe, because the conceptions are faulty. They devote the majority of their book to fleshing out and providing support for this three-group/three-pathway model of rape and antisocialism rooted in evolutionary history, and they repeatedly emphasize the importance of an empirically grounded theory to inform effective intervention and prevention programs for rapists, yet there are clearly shortcomings to their own theoretical approach. Much of this book is highly readable, although other sections are rather densely packed with findings from relevant studies. Undergraduates could probably read and enjoy the sections on sexual aggression historically, cross-culturally, and in animals. The bulk of the book seems more appropriate for graduate courses and professionals. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2005 APA, all rights reserved)


The implicit theories of rapists: What convicted offenders tell us.

Polaschek, D. L. & Gannon, T. (2004). The implicit theories of rapists: What convicted offenders tell us. Sexual Abuse: Journal of Research and Treatment, 16(4), .

Abstract - Twenty years of research into sex offenders' cognitive distortions has primarily focused on the measurement of distortions rather than on theorizing about the underlying structures that are responsible for generating and organizing them. Recently T. Ward (2000; T. Ward & T. Keenan, 1999) suggested that offenders have underlying causal theories about themselves, their victims, and broader categories of people (e.g., women and children), and that these implicit theories enable post hoc explanation as well as prediction of people's actions and reactions. D. L. L. Polaschek and T. Ward (2002) examined rape-related attitudinal scales and constructed and outlined five core implicit theories. Here, we examined whether evidence for these five theories was also found in offense process descriptions generated from interviews with 37 imprisoned rapists. Coding of the descriptions revealed support for all five theories. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2005 APA, all rights reserved) Adulthood (18 yrs & older) Young Adulthood (18-29 yrs) Thirties (30-39 yrs) Middle Age (40-64 yrs)


Abbey, Antonia; Parkhill, Michele R.; BeShears, Renee; Clinton-Sherrod, A. Monique; Zawacki, Tina. (2006). Cross-sectional predictors of sexual assault perpetration in a community sample of single African American and Caucasian men. Aggressive Behavior. 32 (1). p54-67, 14p link

Computer-assisted self-interviews were completed with a random sample of 163 unmarried Caucasian and African American men in a large metropolitan area. Almost a quarter (24.5%) of these men acknowledged committing an act since the age of 14 that met standard legal definitions of attempted or completed rape; an additional 39% had committed another type of sexual assault involving forced sexual contact or verbal coercion. An expanded version of the Malamuth et al. [1991] confluence model was examined using path analysis. The number of sexual assaults perpetrated by participants was associated with the direct or indirect effects of childhood sexual abuse, adolescent delinquency, alcohol problems, sexual dominance, positive attitudes about casual sexual relationships, and pressure from peers to engage in sexual relationships. Additionally, empathy buffered the relationship between sexual dominance and perpetration. The pattern of results was highly similar for African American and Caucasian men. The implications of these findings for sexual assault measurement are discussed and suggestions are made for alternative treatment programs. Aggr. Behav. 00:1–14, 2005. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]

McCabe, Marita P.; Wauchope, Michelle. (2005). Behavioural characteristics of rapists. Journal of Sexual Aggression. 11 (3). p235-247, 13p.

A substantial proportion of past research on rapists has focused on their motives. This paper reports on two studies that investigated the behavioural characteristics of rapists. The first study gathered behavioural data from police rape files to determine the types of behaviours exhibited by 130 men charged with rape. The second study was designed to validate the behavioural clusters found in study 1, using the transcripts of court cases from a sample of 50 accused rapists. The results demonstrated a high level of consistency in the behaviours of the accused rapists in the two studies. Rapists were most frequently a stranger, the rape occurred frequently in the victim's home, and the rapist used a range of different ways to communicate verbally with his victim. Five behavioural themes were identified in both studies: vaginal, kissing/fondling, oral, anal and brutal/physical themes. This analysis of the behavioural aspects of rape provides an understanding of the types of behaviours exhibited by men who reach the stage of court proceedings for the crime of rape. The difference between the current behavioural profile and that reported by members of the general community who have experienced rape is discussed.


Personal survivor site- student paper

Theories of Sexual Coercion: Evolutionary, Feminist, and Biosocial Perspectives



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