Fact: Perpetrators rape with intention, and they do so out of sexual entitlement, in order to gain power and control.
This myth is often used as an excuse for male aggression. It assumes that women and other survivors are responsible for male sexual arousal and that that arousal is an uncontrollable urge that must be satisfied. Other versions of this myth suggest that men may be too dumb or too bad at communication to recognize if a person is not interested, especially if he is drunk or aroused.
This myth gets two things wrong. Firstly, it lumps all men in the category of rapists. While most rapists are male, the vast majority of men never commit rape. Sexual arousal is a strong urge in human beings, but it is controllable. Claiming that men cannot control their urges is inaccurate and unfair to men. Secondly, it makes rape seem unintentional.
David Lisak’s research into what he terms “undetected rapists” has found that while perpetrators don’t name what they do as rape, they do intentionally use violent and predatory behavior in order to commit multiple acts of sexual violence. Lisak says: “Date rapists are widely assumed to be basically good guys who, because of a combination of too much alcohol and too little clear communication, end up coercing sex upon their partners. This image is widely promulgated, but it is flatly contradicted by research.”
The motives for rape are complex and varied but often include belief in male privilege and their entitlement to sex; hostility toward women and historically marginalized and oppressed people; a rigid belief system regarding gender roles; a commitment to hyper-masculinity; the desire to exert power and control; the desire to humiliate and degrade; and in some cases, the desire to inflict pain. A study of convicted sex offenders in prison found that most incarcerated rapists already have available and willing sexual partners. Many perpetrators rape in order to gain power and control – not for sexual gratification or because of sexual frustration. Sometimes, erection and ejaculation are not even present during the rape.
Yet because of cultural messages surrounding sex and a general lack of education about consent in our society, many people assume that rape is just a matter of confusion or miscommunication. But that’s not true. Rapists know when they do not have consent; they intentionally inflict violence on others. This is either for the gratification of the violence or because they have been taught that they are entitled to others’ bodies regardless of their feelings or desires.
There certainly may be situations where the desire for sex can be seen as a motive for rape. However, choosing to engage in sexual activity without the other person’s consent – that is, the definition of rape – is an expression of entitlement, power, and control.
This post is part of a series on Myths & Facts about Sexual Violence: