What is Rape?

No More Rape


End Violence Against Women International has done a great job making the public aware of the FBI’s change to the definition of forcible rape. This definition is used in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program which tracks particular kinds of crime statistics.

A recent update from EVAW says that the definition now reads:

Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.

As EVAW has pointed out, the previous definition was decades old, was specific to females, and emphasized the use of force. So this UCR criteria was excluding multiple types of sex offenses from this category including statutory rape and rape involving male victims.

This change generated controversy, of course. One criticism of the update was that it would make it easier for someone to be charged with rape who’s not guilty. On the flip side, it could make it more possible for someone to be prosecuted for rape, which is beneficial for victims and the public. Additionally, it’s high time for the rape of males to be considered in this context.

Many of us grew up thinking that rape was being assaulted in a dark alley. That absolutely can happen. Reality is that most abuse and sexual assault happens at the hands of people we know, but we hesitate to call it rape because of our relationship to them.

Many men have grown up thinking that if they are sexually assaulted, they should just deal with it, not report it. That is wrong; a crime’s a crime. Some women are conditioned to believe that they asked for it, or should be ashamed of themselves rather than report rape. Again, a crime’s a crime.

Another widespread myth about rape is that it’s primarily motivated by sexual pleasure. More than anything, rape is about power and control. When watching a coworker give a presentation on personal safety at a retirement facility once, I saw an elderly woman raise her hand and ask, “who would want to rape an 86 year-old woman?” The audience erupted in chuckles.

My coworker had just finished explaining that rape is based on power and control, so my heart sunk as I realized some people still weren’t getting it. People of all ages and both genders need to understand what rape is and how to protect themselves. It is not limited to young women and offenders come from various demographics.

While there are various typologies that classify rapists, these predators are united in the gratification they derive from violating others without their consent. They are sometimes united by anger. A well-known rapist typology (Holmes and Homes) groups rapists into four categories (these summaries are paraphrased from Criminal Profiling by Hicks and Sales). Sadistic rapists are the most dangerous; Holmes and Holmes say that this type has eroticized aggression and violence. These are often middle class married men with families who have no arrest records.

Anger exploitive rapists tend to be macho guys who believe they’re entitled to rape in an expression of dominance. They have questionable pasts and like to go on the prowl at bars. Anger retaliation rapists are basically driven to hurt women. They may be married and seem normal, but ultimately they hate women. Power reassurance rapists are frequently loners with low self-esteem who rape to feel more powerful. They may also be the guys dropping their pants in public and wandering around on foot to commit voyeurism.

There are other typologies such as the long-standing Massachusetts Treatment Center Rapist Typology (MTC:R3). It has four types and nine subtypes. The former are opportunistic, pervasively angry, sexual (which includes sadistic), and vindictive. The Groth typology classifies rape according to anger rape, power rape, and sadistic rape. It believes that sex is merely a means of expressing power and control.

Rapists don’t have to fit into neat little boxes to be dangerous, though. Both women and men commit rape (although the crime is predominantly committed by males). People of various ages can commit rape. Motivations and modus operandi can overlap and vary widely. Some rapists go to great lengths to plan these violations; others seize opportunities as they present themselves.

One of the saddest realities about rape is that it goes largely unreported. Victims may blame themselves or be guilted into not turning in a family member. Men may be too embarrassed to admit what has happened. Victims may be married or of a culture that minimizes the violation. They may also not want to have to face a medical examination, questions by police officers who may not be trained to handle sexual assault cases, and testifying in court. The rapist may be an authority figure or the victim may be bullied if he or she stands up to the “popular kid.”

One thing we can all do, however, is take allegations of rape seriously when they occur. EVAW has a “Start by Believing” campaign that encourages people to treat victims of sexual assault compassionately, http://www.startbybelieving.org/. While I believe that we should choose our friends wisely and be mindful of our environments, ultimately another person is making a decision to commit rape; the victim did not force them to.

Like many issues I discuss, I would remind people that you don’t have to subscribe to a different ideology or change political parties to care about such issues. Showing respect to rape victims and taking their claims seriously so that these crimes can be investigated can make all the difference for them. Downplaying what they say has happened only makes life worse than it already is. If it were you, you’d want someone to listen.

There’s another glaring reason to take allegations of rape seriously as well. The perpetrator has probably done this before and may well do it again if they aren’t stopped. This might be the case that shuts them down. By believing a victim, you might be helping other victims and preventing future victims.

I become frustrated when someone says to me, “my car was prowled last night, but I didn’t report it because the police probably won’t do much.” By reporting it, though, you’re increasing the likelihood that the police will catch the suspect and prevent them from doing more harm.

What if your car is the first one they get fingerprints off of? What if the police talk to one of your neighbors who recognizes a suspect? As long as we display apathy towards crime, it will continue, and criminals will keep getting away with it. We have to confront it as it occurs and fight back.

Former FBI profiler John Douglas has said that crime will never get better until we attack it at an individual level:

More police and more courts and more prisons and better investigative techniques are fine, but the only way crime is going to go down is if all of us simply stop accepting and tolerating it in our families, our friends, and our associates. This is the lesson from other countries with far lower numbers than ours. Only this type of grassroots solution, in my opinion, will be effective. Crime is a moral problem. It can only be resolved on a moral level.

I agree. So arm yourself with knowledge. First, know what rape is. Although the legal definition can vary from place to place, it boils down to not giving your consent to what was done to you. Someone chose to violate you to feel powerful and in control. Love doesn’t hurt people like this. Rape does.

Second, believe and respect sexual assault victims. How you choose to respond may actually save a life. Third, don’t tolerate this in your family or among your friends. Don’t enable it. Report it and do so in a manner that protects the victim– there are advocates who can help with this.

Know what it is– believe the victims– don’t tolerate it. That’s the one sentence version. We can truly make a difference on this issue one person at a time if we just take these simple steps.


If you have been sexually assaulted, RAINN has a national hotline that can provide confidential advice at no cost, 1-800-656-HOPE. They also have an online hotline at http://www.rainn.org/get-help.


Hateful is the power, and pitiable is the life, of those who wish to be feared rather than loved. -Cornelius Nepos


©2012 H. Hiatt/wildninja.wordpress.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninja.wordpress.com.

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