As the literature cited above demonstrates, the social science theory of
rape rests on the assumption that a non-sexual motivation (such as a desire for
power, control, domination, and/or violence) is both necessary and sufficient
for a rape to occur. Aside from ignoring evolution and the ultimate level of explanation,
this assumption can be accepted only if one accepts a bizarre definition of 'sex',
suspends logic in the evaluation of supporting arguments, and abandons all skepticism
in evaluating evidence. As the literature cited above, in Palmer 1988a, and in
Palmer et al. 1999 demonstrates, many social scientists still imply that sexual
desire is not sufficient or even necessary as a motivation for rape. This position,
which remains at the heart of the social science explanation of rape, is routinely
used to make pronouncements on what individuals ought to do to prevent rape.
is no question that multiple motivations may be involved in any human behavior.
An individual rapist may be motivated by a desire for revenge against a particular
woman who turned down his earlier sexual advances, by a desire to humiliate or
inflict pain on a particular woman or on women in general out of hatred for his
own mother, by a desire to impress other males by losing his virginity, or by
any of a countless number of other possible motivations. But have social scientists
really demonstrated that any rapist is not at least partially motivated by sexual
desire? Indeed, could any rape really take place without any sexual motivation
on behalf of the rapist? Isn't sexual arousal of the rapist the one common fac
tor in all rapes, including date rapes, pedophilic rapes, rapes of women under
anesthesia, and rapes committed by soldiers during war? Further, would a rapist
have to have any of the possible non-sexual motivations in order to commit a rape?
Isn't it possible for a male's sole motivation for committing a rape to be a desire
for sexual gratification?
One reason these seemingly obvious
points have been obscured is that social scientists typically present the issue
in terms of whether rape is "an act of" sex, "an act of" violence,
or both. Perhaps by intention, use of the phrase "an act of" blurs the
difference between the goals that provide the motivation for rape and the tactics
used to accomplish those goals. Rape is obviously not the same act as consensual
copulation, because by definition rape implies the use of certain distinct tactics
(e.g., force or the threat of force). But that doesn't mean that the motivation
of the male necessarily differs.
The importance of distinguishing between
the goals that motivate a behavior and the tactics used to accomplish those goals
becomes clear when one considers prostitution. The act of prostitution includes
both a person giving money to another person and a sexual act. Does this mean
that a man who goes to a female prostitute is motivated by a desire to give money
to a woman? Does it even mean that the man is motivated by both a desire for sex
and a desire to give his money to a woman? A man might have numerous motivations
for going to a prostitute, but isn't it possible that the man lacks any desire
to give his money to the woman? Isn't it indeed likely that the man gives his
money to the woman only as a tactic to gain the desired goal of sex, which is
the sole motivation of his behavior? Further, isn't it possible that the man would
much prefer to have sex with the woman without having to give her money? lithe
same "logic" that has been used in the social science explanation of
rape were to be applied to prostitution, people would be asserting that going
to a prostitute is an "act of altruism, not sex;' or at least that it is
"an act of both altruism and sex?'
A Critique of the
We now offer a critique of the arguments that are most often
used to support the claim that rapists are not sexually motivated.
1: "When they say sex or sexual, these social scientists and feminists
[who argue that rape is not sexually motivated] mean the motivation, moods, or
drives associated with honest courtship and pair bonding. In such situations,
males report feelings of tenderness, affection, joy and so on
. It is this
sort of pleasurable motivation that the socioculturalists (and feminists) denote
." (Shields and Shields 1983, p. 122)
sociocultural definition of 'sex' is inaccurately and unnecessarily restricted.
In view of the more common usage of the word 'sex', it is, according to Hagen
(1979, pp. 158-159), "abundantly self evident
. that a large percentage
of males have no difficulty in divorcing sex from love," and "whistles
and wolf-calls, attendance at burlesque shows, [and] patronizing of call girls
and prostitutes" are all "probably manifestations of a sexual urge totally
or largely bereft of romantic feelings."
Rape is not sexually motivated, because "most rapists have stable sexual
partners" (Sanford and Fetter 1979, p.8)
hinges on the assumption that a male's sexual desire is exhausted by a single
partner. In addition to being contrary to our knowledge of the evolution of human
sexuality, this assumption is obviously inconsistent with Symons's observation
(1979, p.280) that "most patrons of prostitutes, adult bookstores, and adult
movie theaters are married men, but this is not considered evidence for lack of
Argument 3: Rape is not sexually
motivated, because rapes are often "premeditated" (Brownmiller 1975;
This argument hinges on the assumption that
all acts that are truly sexually motivated are spontaneous. The assumption is
obviously untrue: many highly planned affairs, rendevous, and seductions are considered
to be sexually motivated (Symons 1979, p.279).
4: The age distribution of rapists demonstrates that rape is a crime of violence
and aggression rather than a crime of sex: "
the violence prone years
for males extend from their teenage years into their late forties, this is the
age range into which most rapists fall. Unlike sexuality, aggression does diminish
with age and, therefore, a male's likelihood of committing a rape diminishes with
the onset of middle age." (Groth and Hobson 1983, p. 161)
to this assertion, the peak age distribution of rapists (teens through twenties;
see Thornhill and Thornhill 1983) is perfectly consistent with the view that rapists
are sexually motivated, since it closely parallels the age distribution of numerous
other types of male sexual activity and of maximum male sexual motivation in general
(Kinsey et al. 1948; Goethals 1971).
Argument 5: The
fact that rape is common in war demonstrates that rape is motivated by hostility
rather than sex (Brownmiller 1975, pp. 31-113; Card 1996).
high frequency of rape during war does not necessarily indicate that the rapists
are not sexually motivated. The exceptionally high vulnerability of females during
war may account for the greater frequency of rape by sexually motivated men. Theft
is also frequent during war situations, owing to the fact that punishment is unlikely
(Morris 1996), but this does not imply that the thieves are not motivated by desire
for the stolen objects. Furthermore, the patterns of rape during war are consistent
with the view that the rapist soldiers are sexually motivated and inconsistent
with the view of rape as simply a tool of political domination. Throughout recorded
history, the pattern in large-scale warfare has been to spare and rape the young
non-pregnant women and to slaughter everyone else (Shields and Shields 1983; Hartung
1992). Brownmiller (1975) sees rape in large-scale war as stemming in part from
the frenzied state of affairs and the great excitement of men who have just forcefully
dominated the enemy. That hypothesis predicts that soldier rapists would be indiscriminate
about the age of the victims. But they are not; they prefer young women. Similarly,
Brownmiller's view that rape in war-like rape in general-is a strategy of men
to dominate women predicts that men would rape older women, who tend to have more
resources and more social dominance.
Argument 6: Rather
than a sexually motivated act, rape is a form of "social control" because
it is used as a form of punishment in some societies (Brownmiller 1975, p. 285).
flaw in this argument is that the use of rape as a punishment "does not prove
that sexual feelings are not also involved, any more than the deprivation of property
as punishment proves that the property is not valuable to the punisher" (Symons
1979, p. 280).
- Thornhill PhD, Randy and Craig T. Palmer, A Natural History
of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion; The MIT Press: Massachusetts, 2000
Reflection Exercise #10
The preceding section contained information
about rape and sexual motivation. Write three case study examples regarding how
you might use the content of this section in your practice.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Assink, M., van der Put, C. E., Meeuwsen, M. W. C. M., de Jong, N. M., Oort, F. J., Stams, G. J. J. M., & Hoeve, M. (2019). Risk factors for child sexual abuse victimization: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 145(5), 459–489.
Barra, S., Bessler, C., Landolt, M. A., & Aebi, M. (2018). Testing the validity of criminal risk assessment tools in sexually abusive youth. Psychological Assessment, 30(11), 1430–1443.
Cleveland, K. C., & Quas, J. A. (2018). Parents’ understanding of the juvenile dependency system. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 24(4), 459–473.
What is the flaw in Thornhill's argument number six stating, "Rather
than a sexually motivated act, rape is a form of "social control" because
it is used as a form of punishment in some societies"? Record the letter
of the correct answer the .