The correlation between the age distribution of rapists and the peaking
of the male sexual drive in the teens and the twenties suggests that steps to
prevent males from raping will be most effective if they focus on males during
and before this age range, but only if they are really educated about their sexuality.
Although rape-prevention methods based on the social science model also often
stress the importance of influencing young males, they do not focus on male sexual
impulses. For example, Parrot (1991, p. 131) states that the most crucial thing
to teach boys is that rape "is a crime of violence motivated by the desire
to control and dominate?' In essence, such "education" tells boys that,
as long as their acts are motivated by sexual desire, they cannot be committing
We envision an evolutionarily informed educational program
for young men that focuses on increasing their ability to restrain their sexual
behavior. Completion of such a course might be required, say, before a young man
is granted a driver's license.
Such a program might start by
getting the young men to acknowledge the power of their sexual impulses and then explaining why human males have evolved to be that way. A good starting
point would be the evolutionary reasons why a young man can get an erection just
by looking at a photo of a naked woman, why he may be tempted to demand sex even
if he knows that his date truly doesn't want it, and why he may mistake a woman's
friendly comment or her tight blouse as an invitation to have sex when in fact
sex is practically the last thing on her mind. After each of these points, it
should be emphasized that the reason a young man should know these things is so
he can be on guard against certain effects of past Darwinian selection. The fallacy
of the naturalistic fallacy-that a young man's evolved sexual desires offer him
no excuse whatsoever for raping a woman, or for harming the interests of another
person in any other way- should also be strenuously emphasized. Most important,
the program should stress that, if he understands and adamantly resists his evolved
desires, a young man may be able to prevent their manifestation in sexually coercive
behavior. We suggest that the program conclude with a detailed and graphic discussion
of the penalties for rape, including how much time a convicted rapist is likely
to spend in prison and what conditions he can expect to encounter there. Though
hypothetical at present, such a course may become a real possibility once the
evolutionary basis of rape is widely understood.
of anti-rape education for females should begin with the same explanation
of male sexual adaptations that should be used in the program for males. In addition
to that and some instruction in self-defense, we suggest that the program address
several matters that are typically ignored or denied by the social science model.
As Mynatt and Allgeier (1990, p. 121) point out, "the identification of characteristics
that are associated with high levels of risk for sexual coercion has received
little attention. .. . However, educational programs aimed at reducing the vulnerability
of women to sexual coercion are dependent on the acquisition of information concerning
risk factors. . ."
Contrary to the social science explanation's
claim that the sexual attractiveness of the victim has no effect on the rapist's
motivation, there are certainly aspects of behavior and appearance that influence
a woman's likelihood of becoming a rape victim.
science model not only denies that sexual attractiveness influences rapists;
it also holds that the selection of a victim is determined- perhaps solely-by
her vulnerability. In reality, however, age is universally a powerful determinant
of a female's sexual attractiveness, and sexual attractiveness influences the
chances of being raped. A woman is considered most attractive when her reproductive
value and her fertility are at their peak (i.e., from the mid teens through the
twenties). Hence, the evolutionary approach predicts that tactics that focus on
protecting women of these ages will be the tactics most effective in reducing
the overall frequency of rape. And, in fact, this prediction is supported by the
correlation between the age distribution of rape victims and the age distribution
of female sexual attractiveness (Mynatt and Allgeier 1990). The educational program
for young women should also address how other elements of attractiveness (including
health, symmetry, and hormone markers such as waist size), and clothing and makeup
that enhance them, may influence the likelihood of rape (Singh 1993; Grammer and
Thornhill 1994). This is not to say that young women should constantly attempt
to look ill and infertile; it is simply to say that they should be made aware
of the costs associated with attractiveness.
Young women should
also be informed that female choice, over the course of the evolution of human
sexuality, has produced men who will be quickly aroused by signals of a female's
willingness to grant sexual access (Buss and Schmidt 1993; Grammer 1993). Furthermore,
women need to realize that, because selection favored males who had many mates,
men tend to read signals of acceptance into a female's actions even when no such
signals are intended (Buss 1994; Mynatt and Allgeier 1990).
it should be made clear that, although sexy clothing and promises of sexual access
may be means of attracting desired males (Cashdan 1993), they may also attract
undesired ones. Women's dress is receiving considerable attention from evolutionarily
informed researchers. Cashdan (1993) found that, relative to college women in
environments the women perceived to be richer in potential investors in offspring,
college women who perceived that the men in their social environments were not
potential investors dressed "sexier" and were more likely to use sex
as a tool for getting and keeping mates-that is, the women in the apparently more
investor-rich environments were more conservative in dress and in sexual behavior.
This conservatism is a female tactic to increase the confidence of paternity of
men capable of investment and thereby secure their investment.
evolutionary psychologist Nigel Barber (1998), who has examined dress length
and other factors affecting skin exposure in women's fashions in the West, finds
that, in general, women's dress follows patterns that can be predicted on the
basis of whether sexual competition is more favorable for women or for men. When
men outnumber women and have sufficient wealth to invest in women, styles of dress
that depict sexual inaccessibility are most popular with women; when women outnumber
men, the most popular fashions are less conservative. The ethologist Karl Grammer
(1993), in a study of college women and women at bars, found that women at the
midpoint of the menstrual cycle exposed the most skin. Although there is much
more to be learned about women's dress behavior, these studies indicate that it
is not arbitrary; rather, it is tactical, and it reflects adaptation for using
clothing as sexual strategy.
Most discussions of female appearance
in the context of rape have asserted that a victim's dress and behavior should
affect the degree of punishment a rapist receives. These unjustified assertions
may have led to the contrary assertions that dress and behavior have little or
no influence on a woman's chances of being raped, not because there is convincing
evidence that they don't, but out of a desire to avoid seeming to excuse the behavior
of rapists to any extent. In one such counter-assertion, Sterling (1995, p. 119)
writes that Amir's (1971) finding that 82 percent of rapes were at least partially
planned indicates that "in most cases a woman's behavior has little, if anything,
to do with the rape?' The logic of Sterling's argument is questionable; it implies
that behavior and appearance also have little if anything to do with being asked
out on a date, since a date is usually planned. But, more important, Sterling's
argument suggests that young women need not consider how their dress and their
behavior may affect the likelihood that they will be raped. The failure to distinguish
between statements about causes and statements about responsibility has the consequence
of suppressing knowledge about how to avoid dangerous situations. As Murphey (1992,
p. 22) points out, the statement that no woman's behavior gives a man the right
to rape does not mean that women should be encouraged to place themselves in dangerous
An informed attitude toward risk factors in
rape might be promoted at universities, where women currently receive a very
different "education?' In women's studies courses, in other social science
courses, and in "rape prevention handbooks:' they are told that rape is not
sexually motivated and not related to the above-mentioned risk factors. For example,
the "Myth vs. Fact" section of a handbook currently used in the Rape
Prevention Education Program of the Police Department of the University of California
at Davis begins with these assertions:
Myth-Sexual assault is caused
by uncontrollable sex drives.
Fact-Sexual assault is an act of physical
and emotional violence, not of sexual gratification. Rapists assault to dominate,
humiliate, control, degrade, terrify, and violate. Studies show that power and
anger are the primary motivating factors.
Myth-Women provoke sexual
assault, and sex appeal is of prime importance in selecting targets.
assault victims range in age from infants to the elderly. Appearance and attractiveness
are not relevant. A rapist assaults someone who is accessible and vulnerable.
politically motivated stance denies that men (non-rapists and rapists) have evolved
sexual preferences for young and healthy women and are attracted to women who
signal potential sexual availability by means of dress and behavior. It is dangerous
to women because it misinforms them about male behavior. If young women really
understood the evolved nature of male sexuality, they surely would be in a better
position to avoid rape.
We endorse the common-sense view
of rape proposed by Camille Paglia (1992, 1994). Paglia, who sees rape as
sexually motivated, urges women to be skeptical toward the feminist "party
line" on the subject, to become better informed about risk factors, and to
use the information to lower their risk of rape. Evolutionary biology, Paglia
notes (1996, p. 69), "is forcing science back onto the feminist agenda, where
it has been disgracefully absent." Knowledge is power.
program for young women might also address the likelihood that it was the absence
of evolutionary theory in Sigmund Freud's thinking about the mind's structure
that led to the widespread adoption of the myth that women subconsciously desire
to be raped. (See Freud 1933.) That myth was widely accepted in law and medicine
from the 1930s to the early 1970s (Kanin 1994). In reality, any desire to be raped
must always have been selected against in human evolutionary history, since it
would have interfered with the fundamental reproductive strategy of females- i.e.,
to choose mates on the basis of the benefits they are likely to provide.
Thornhill PhD, Randy and Craig T. Palmer, A Natural History of Rape: Biological
Bases of Sexual Coercion; The MIT Press: Massachusetts, 2000
Reflection Exercise #7
The preceding section contained information
about educational programs for juvenile sex offenders. Write three case study
examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.
What is the politically motivated stance which denies that men (non-rapists
and rapists) have evolved sexual preferences? Record the letter of the correct
answer the .