Serial rape refers to a series of two or more rapes. Sometimes a definition of serial rape includes a “cooling-off period,” which occurs between the rapes. Serial rapists are often seeking control or domination over their victims. It is also worth noting that serial rape and serial murder are offenses that overlap and are not mutually exclusive. Rape itself refers to any unwanted touching or behavior against another’s will through violence, force, threat of injury, other duress, or where the victim is unable to decline due to the effects of drugs or alcohol. This term is relevant to interpersonal violence in that it is a repeated criminal act of hostility that takes place against another individual without his or her consent.
Rape has a somewhat vague history mainly because it has been historically conceived as an unmentionable and private crime. At the same time, rape has often been confused with consensual sex that is outlawed, such as oral sex or sodomy. Much of the history of rape is the history of laws and their application mainly because most of the documentation has been in written form or in the form of rape convictions. The history of rape can also be seen in the history (and current outcomes) of war, where the privilege to rape the women on the losing side went to the victors or where rape has been used as a weapon of war. Although many would argue that a culture of rape still exists, social changes and awareness started to take place in the United States in the 1960s in conjunction with the civil rights and feminist movements. Rape has been brought into the public arena mainly through consciousness-raising groups and rape crisis centers staffed by sexual assault advocates. Today, these crisis centers exist all over the country to serve survivors of sexual assault.
The Criminal Behavior
The premeditation involved in the crime of serial rape is particularly characteristic of serial rapists. It is believed that this premeditation is reflective of their preferential interest in this type of crime and largely accounts for their ability to avoid detection.
There are three different styles of approach serial rapists often use: the con, the blitz, and the surprise. Each reflects a different means of selecting, approaching, and subduing a chosen victim. The con approach relies on the rapist’s ability to interact with women. With this technique, the rapist openly approaches the victim and requests or offers some type of assistance or direction. However, once the victim is within his control, the offender may suddenly become more aggressive. In a blitz approach, the rapist uses a direct, injurious physical assault that subdues and injures the victim. In this approach, the rapist most frequently makes use of his ability to physically overpower a woman. Used less often than the con approach, the blitz approach results in more extensive physical injury and inhibits certain fantasy components of the rape that may be arousing to the rapist. The surprise approach involves the assailant waiting for the victim or approaching her after she is sleeping. This presupposes that the rapist has targeted or preselected his victim through unobserved contact and knowledge of when the victim would be alone. Threats and/or the presence of a weapon are often associated with this approach; however, there is no actual injurious force applied. This approach represents the most frequently used means of approach and is most often used by men who lack confidence in their ability to subdue the victim through physical threats or ploys.
Statistics show that a threatening presence and verbal threats are often used to maintain control over the victim, and minimal or no force is used in a majority of serial rapes. The victims may physically, passively, or verbally resist the rape. The most common offender reaction to resistance is to verbally threaten the victim. Many offenders can experience sexual dysfunction. Low levels of pleasure are often reported by the rapists from the sexual acts. The rapists tend not to be concerned with precautionary measures to protect their identities. The most common post offense behaviors reported by the rapists are feeling remorse and guilt, following the case in the media, and increasing alcohol and drug consumption.
Serial rapists often prepare in detail the way they will commit their offenses, a tendency which is very different from the offender who may commit a single offense as a result of impulsivity. They are also usually evidence aware, as numerous serial rape offenders have a history of other minor offenses prior to committing their rape offenses.
Serial rapes are among the crimes that usually involve a high level of psychopathy and offender–victim interaction. Often this interaction results in a greater amount of evidence being left at the scene from which to draw information, and this initial collection is critical to the success of any serial rape investigation.
The crimes of serial rapists can have a number of effects on society, including fear, fascination, revulsion, and disbelief. These crimes have come to the forefront in the past decade, perhaps as a result of media attention. There has certainly been an increase in awareness of the predators among us, who seemingly rape and kill for no other reason than the pleasure of such acts. A serial rapist can create a climate of fear in an entire community.
It is particularly difficult to gather statistical information on serial rape, mainly because often there is no way of knowing what proportion of rapes reported to the police are committed by serial rapists. The limited research on this offense is plagued by many of the same issues facing law enforcement in its investigation: the failure to link offenses, the prevalence of serial offenses in unreported offenses, and the offenses being identified or acknowledged only when an offender is arrested.
The majority of solved rapes are often acquaintance rapes rather than stranger rapes. Serial rape is often stranger rape, and a large number of sex crimes against strangers are committed by a relatively small number of serial offenders.
- Hazelwood, R. R., & Warren, J. (1990). The criminal behavior of the serial rapist. Washington, DC: Federal Bureau of Investigation.
- Petherick, W. (2006). Serial crime: Theoretical and practical issues in behavioral profiling. Burlington, MA: Academic Press.
- Sanders, W. B. (1980). Rape and woman’s identity. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
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