Profiling A Rapist

"I was hitchhiking from my parents' place to the city and got a ride with a man."  

"He was no weirdo. He didn't prowl around neighborhoods and drool at passing women from behind bushes."  

"I couldn't believe it was happening and that I could be so completely trapped." 

Is there a profile of a typical sex offender?

Some people think that profiling rapists is really a disservice to society and should not be done. They say that when we profile a rapist, that people feel a false sense of security.

The vast majority of rapes are committed in situations that most of us would nothing of.  In other words, date rapes. By far we have more date rapes than rapists breaking into homes, or attacking women in parks or dark alleys.

The perpetrators of date or acquaintance rape do not fit an easily recognized profile.  These types of rapists do share some similar characteristics though: 

  1. a propensity toward violence in problem-solving

  2. aggressiveness in intimate relationships

  3. being overly demanding of partners. 

What do the profiles say?

There is disagreement as to whether rape is motivated by the power achieved or by the sexual excitement, or both.  The main research problem is that sexual preference is not equivalent to sexual acting out.  In several well documented studies on rape, basic characteristics of rapists, in general, have been identified.  These include:

AGE: 75% under age 25, 80% under age 30; over 30 if sadistic type

SEX: Usually male

RACE: Mostly black (75-90% of rapists in prison are black); crime tends to be intra-racial; rapists are usually unarmed; 1 in 4 (25%) uses a knife or instrument.

PHYSICAL:  6 feet tall, 160-200 pounds, muscular build, dark complexion.

CLASS: Most are from poverty-lower class backgrounds, are products of unstable families, and are abused or neglected.

IQ: Majority in normal range 90-110

EDUCATION:  Typically a high school graduate; some college possible; discipline problems likely, most likely involving pornography interest

PEERS: Mild to moderate social maladjustments, but normally one of the "boys"; tries to cultivate a reputation as a tough fighter, but known as a punk and low life to many; usually married, divorced, or lives with a women, in that order, but has demonstrated poor relations with women

WORK: Most work reliably around women; lack self-confidence to improve self; if sadistic, takes better job.  More than half are unskilled laborers or unemployed.

CRIMINAL HISTORY: Most average 2.5 priors, only 2 years served on each.  Most also have history of alcohol-related charges.

ARREST: Frequently leaves clues with victim; plays games with police; difficult to get confession

DRUG/ALCOHOL: Noted problems in this area

MENTAL: Antisocial personality; defines self as normal in every way except sexually.

VEHICLE: Older American cargo-type van with sliding side door, white or light-colored. No side windows.


The profiling process of rapists is widely regarded as one of the most complete and concise typologies in social science.  The first step in a rape investigation is to analyze the victim's statement. For profiling purposes, concrete, specific descriptions of the rapist's words and behaviors are needed.  It might be useful to begin this analysis with a determination whether the rapist would be categorized as "unselfish" or "selfish". The following table illustrates these categories:



Involves victim
Enjoys sex
Acts like lover
Uses fake weapon
Attempts foreplay
Performs cunnilingus
Concerned for self &
Own feelings
Derogatory toward victim
Humiliated victim
No kissing
Uses victim's body
Forces fellatio
Forces victim to describe act
Anal assault

After characterizing the behavior of the rapist, the next step is to ascertain the motivation of the offender. The GROTH typology system is often used by the FBI and consists of the following:

Power-Reassurance (Compensatory) non-aggressive behavior that normalizes an attack for an offender, 

  • restores an rapist's doubts about his desirability;
  • precipitating factor is loneliness and lack of self-esteem on 7-15 day cycle; 
  • neighborhood nonviolent attacks; 
  • keeps souvenirs, thinks victim liked it
  • typically uses a surprise "blitz" attack 
  • may exhibit "peeping Tom" behavior
  • generally seeks victims in their own age range
  • may revisit the victim's home after the rape
  • tends to keep detailed records of "conquests"
  • geographically stable
  • if unsuccessful, will attempt nearby the same evening
  • rapes again within 7-15 days
  • may be a closet transvestite.
Power-Assertive (Exploitative) 
  • aggressive but non-lethal behavior 
  • shows no outward doubt of masculinity,
  • desire to dominate an impersonal sex partner on 20-25 day cycle; 
  • cruises singles bars
  • acts macho
  • may repeat on same victim
  • selects victims his own age
  • transports victims to an assault location
  • rips or tears victim's clothing off 
  • usually very selfish
  • leaves victims emotionally traumatized, often naked by the side of the road. 
  • can be geographically mobile
  • prefers hitchhikers or stranded motorists (strangers)
  • alcohol and/or drugs usually taken prior to the act.
  • often involves bondage
  • doesn't take trophies or souvenirs, but may use hidden recording or videotaping devices
  • likes to make their victims totally submissive
  • may begin with an anal assault, with their preference being oral sex
  • uses a great deal of profanity, demeaning and humiliating the victim, forcing the victim into cooperating with various sex acts
  • usually no fondling, kissing, or foreplay
Anger-Retaliatory (Displaced) behavior
  • high levels physical and sexual aggression
  • precipitating factor is perceived injustice at hands of women on 6-12 month cycle
  • sees self as athletic and masculine, action-oriented
  • uses blitz attack
  • gets even with women for real or imaginary wrongs.
  • uses sex as a weapon to punish women
  • usually not premeditated
  • encounters may be very short
  • tends to attack women who are somewhat older than he is
  • likes to rip or tear the clothing off
  • uses their fists, hitting the victim in the stomach usually.
Anger-Excitation (Sadistic) behavior
  • aggression is used to cause pain and suffering to service the offender's sexual gratification
  • the sadistic rapist is the rarest type
  • needs to express fantasy; compulsive in personal appearance
  • carries rape kit
  • will eventually kill
  • sexually stimulated by victim's pain and suffering
  • primary motivation is to inflict pain to create fear 
  • attack is vicious, but methodically planned and executed
  • opportunistic in selecting victims
  • victims are usually strangers
  • victim may be older and of a different race
  • typically uses brutal force as well as very angry, hostile language instead of profanity
  • extreme mood swings during the encounter
  • never attempts foreplay, except for some occasional, strange licking, but more commonly bites
  • typically use bondage, and while bound, the victim's clothes will be cut off with a knife
  • takes the victim to a pre-selected location, keeping her there for hours to days, during that time torturing her with instruments or devices
  • likely to use recording devices.
  • probably has a "secret" life as a married, educated, white collar, fine, upstanding member of the community
  • drugs and/or alcohol are usually present
  • hard to predict the biological clock, 30 days usually, but whenever he gets "pissed off".

What should a woman do if she is attacked?

"This is what happened to me..." and "This is what I did, but I was raped... What did I do that was right?" "What did I do that was wrong?" These are typical statements and questions of women who have been raped. The only  response that can be given is, "If you're still alive, you probably made correct choices." 

Research points out that many individuals with some kind of a very, very physical or verbal aggressive response on the part of the victim, they may back off and not escalate the behavior. But you've got individuals also who are in there because they do not want that kind of an escalation. They want to show ultimate power. So you may have an individual who, after you've confronted him very vigorously (either verbally or physically), the individual continues in that kind of behavior. In those kinds of situations, frankly, I'd rather see somebody live through it by not continuing to try to fight, rather than end up being a statistic of mortality afterwards. So it's difficult to say I don't want people to feel that there's a right and a wrong response. It depends on the situation. But the important thing I think is to live through the assault.

Women must take the responsibility of evading attack seriously.  

It is a difficult job. The dangerous men are not visibly identifiable, have no distinguishable traits, fit no particular group. We know they can be fathers, brothers, husbands, teachers, doctors. They can be small, large, rich, poor, black or white. The only thing they have in common is that they are men who rape and batter women.


Behavior Evidence: Understanding Motives and Developing Suspects in Unsolved Serial Rapes.

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