Can we recognize an offender in our midst?

  • Published
  • By Jeanine Arnold
  • Peterson Sexual Assault Response Coordinator
Researchers tell us that while there is no one particular type of rapist, acquaintance rapists often follow a pattern of seven steps. If we understand the steps of an offender who knows their victim, we will be more likely to hold offenders accountable for this crime. Additionally, we will be more aware of intervention points.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. While the following steps primarily apply in situations in which the offender is male and his target is female, we need to remember that either gender can be an offender or a target.

Step One: Choosing a target
The offender will size up someone he knows as to her vulnerability. Will the victim be flattered by his attention? Does she appear to be someone he might manipulate and control? This often means he will choose someone younger. His selection rarely has anything to do with physical attraction. He will often seek her out in a social setting where she may let her guard down with friends. He might watch to see if a woman is drinking a lot or if she is quiet and more subdued than her friends.

Step Two: The Approach
After the offender selects her target she moves into his territory (physically and verbally) to see if he is someone she can flatter and control. She might pull up a chair to his table, dance with him, or start talking with him, all without asking his permission. She may encourage him to drink and may offer to buy him more. Then before she moves to step three, she will test his boundaries by saying or doing something that is somewhat inappropriate. If he does not resist she will move to step three. Watch for people in the workplace who might skirt the line of appropriate and inappropriate behaviors. They may not only be testing a potential victim, but also the work place environment to see what they can get away with. Step two of rapists' methods is a critical juncture for bystanders to intervene.

Step Three: Isolation
Almost all sexual assaults occur in isolation. They will listen closely for cues as to whether or not the victim lives alone, or if anyone is at their home with them. About 85 percent of rapes occur in the home of either the victim or offender. The rapist will try to maneuver the victim to one of those two places.
They will use charm to make it sound like they are concerned for their wellbeing when they offer to take the victim home, or take them somewhere more quiet so they can talk. The rapist has probably used a sequence of "lines" many times before.

Step Four: Consensual or "pressured" sex
He will initiate kissing and other sexual overtures that she may return at least somewhat consensually. He may use manipulative statements at this point like "Don't be a tease" and "You're so pretty. I can't help myself." He wants her to feel responsible to satisfy him. If she consents at this point, is not intoxicated and is not underage, this could be considered consensual.

But if she resists and he continues, he moves to:

Stage Five: Intimidation
Now the offender has become more aggressive and is much less charming. He is focused only on satisfying himself. He lets her know that he is in control and he will get what he wants, regardless. He may intimidate her simply by being larger and stronger than her, and scaring her.

Stage Six: Sexual Violation
While he is intimidated, scared and perhaps frozen with fright, she will violate him. There is little to no regard for intimacy.

Step Seven: Done
The offender has accomplished what they set out to do and will leave, or get the victim home somehow. They will likely act like nothing is wrong and may even revert to the charmer again, asking for another date in the future. Or the rapist might threaten the victim if they say anything to anyone. At this point, many offenders count on the cultural phenomena of victim blaming to aid in getting away with the crime. They know many victims will be in denial about the episode being rape, and they will likely blame themselves and find it difficult to report this to anyone.

Recognize the patterns. Recognize the behaviors and patterns of an offender. Follow the advice of this year's Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month slogan -- Eliminate Sexual Assault: Know Your Part. Do Your Part.