Someone recently asked me in an accusatory/chiding tone why we didn’t have an article explaining to parents how to raise their boys with love and respect for women so they wouldn’t be rapists. I pointed her to this article on the “consent conversation” – which, she claimed, still put the burden on the girls (huh? It’s all about teaching boys to make extra freakin’ sure they have consent rather than pressing ahead in the face of “I didn’t hear no!”). At this point I gave up on that particular conversation. But later I realized we really don’t have a post explicitly telling parents the magic secret of how not to raise rapists (of either gender). Are you ready? This is it:
Don’t abuse your kids.
Um, yep, that’s it. See, like love and respect, rape is a learned behavior. People don’t become rapists because someone failed to teach them something; they become rapists because they’ve been taught abuse. [ETA: somehow a lot of commenters extrapolated from this statement that I'm suggesting all abused kids become rapists. That is absurd. The best stats we have, which aren't great but do ring true to my personal experience, suggest about 1 in 8 abused kids becomes abusive, but each abuser typically has more than a few victims, which is why abusers keep replenishing themselves despite how hard it actually is to make a human being into an abuser.]
As it’s impossible to collate data on what motivates people to rape, and you can’t trust what rapists tell you, here’s the best possible evidence available. A number of qualified sources believe most rapists have survived abuse (PDF link – relevant quote: “As with most sexual abusers, most rapists were also sexually abused as children.”) in their early years.* Former FBI profiler Roy Hazelwood says this in Dark Dreams: A Legendary FBI Profiler Examines Homicide and the Criminal Mind:
My research on serial rape supports the view that a large number of sexual criminals have been childhood victims of physical, sexual or psychological abuse.
Keep in mind that “psychological abuse” entails neglect and headgames, a type of abuse that many people still aren’t schooled in recognizing. So when I say “don’t abuse your kids” I’m also saying “don’t strategically withhold affection to make your child unnaturally dependent on your approval, which you dangle like a carrot, so that he or she gets the idea all people of your gender are evil and should be punished.” [ETA: This is not a reference to mothers specifically, as some commenters assumed. See here.]
Of course he’s talking about the sort of rapists (often rapist-murderers) the FBI chases. Date rapists, for example, are probably very under-reported. Can we assume these rapists think the same way as the Ted Bundy type? I believe so, and here’s why. I’ve asked the following series of questions of a number of people over the years:
- Have you ever experienced the urge to hit someone? Most people answer yes. It’s a natural animal urge.
- Have you ever experienced the urge to kill someone? Most people answer yes. Again, that’s our animal nature.
- Have you ever experienced the urge to have sex with someone who doesn’t want to have sex with you as they protest and try to get away from you and come to loathe you for what you’re doing to them? No one’s ever answered this one yes. In fact, their faces typically wrinkle as they try to imagine wanting to do such a thing. Wanting to have sex with someone who doesn’t want you back – that’s familiar to most of us. But the idea of having sex with them anyway, over their protests, making them hate you and killing any hope of reciprocal feelings – that wouldn’t be satisfying. It just doesn’t track. In fact, it would be icky and weird, and then you’d be scared of the consequences afterward, right? (This has nothing to do with rape fantasies, which can sound all sorts of sick and still not indicate psychological problems.)
The reason why I describe rape so much more fully than I describe murder is: a human being can, in a passion, pick up a blunt object and murder someone in mere seconds, before he has time to return to his senses and think about what he’s doing. Hence, the concept of premeditated and unpremeditated murder. But while rape may begin with an unpremeditated impulse, it takes thinking to figure out how you’re going to subdue someone long enough to complete the act. It takes time to establish and maintain control. Overwhelming impulses don’t allow for that sort of cogitation, begin to fade within seconds, and involve face-to-face interaction with the victim in a way murder need not.
Again, rape is a learned behavior. It’s about enjoying or being profoundly indifferent to someone else’s suffering. It’s about remarkable levels of entitlement and the failure to recognize another human being as another human being. It’s about a gaping hole inside the rapist that nothing will ever fill. It’s way beyond a lack of love and respect. It’s beyond ignorance.
That’s why I wrote the above-linked article on consent. Because the only “rapists” who can be stopped by being taught something are inexperienced young boys are getting conflicting messages about, say, whether it’s rape or not if everybody’s equally intoxicated. There is such a thing as genuine confusion about consent, and nice people are subject to it, too. The rapist personality goes looking for “confusing situations” and finds them over and over again and conveniently never learns a non-predatory response to them.
By all means, teach your kids to love and respect others – particularly their social “inferiors.” But if you think this information will help the parents of future rapists to correct their parenting mistakes, you’ve got another think coming. The sort of people who raise rapists are not listening and can’t be told.
*Update, June 13, 2010: in the interests of brevity, I left some points out of this article originally which apparently weren’t as obvious as I thought. First, while most abusers have themselves been abused in some form, it does not follow that most abused kids will become abusive, and at no point did I say or imply this. In fact, the opposite is true. There are few good stats available, largely because so much abuse goes unreported (and non-physical abuse isn’t even legally actionable) but one study found that only 1 in 8 sexually abused boys go on to abuse children themselves. Extrapolating from this, I suspect the majority of abused children do not become abusers.
Second, just because an abuser has most likely been a victim does not mean you must feel sorry for them, or forgive them, or in any way think they are not a monster. Rapists make choices like everyone else. If they can choose who they will strike, when and there to do it without getting caught, etc., then they can choose to get help, or turn themselves in, or commit suicide. The fact they chose instead to make a career of rape is entirely their responsibility, no matter what was done to them. They should be scorned and shunned from society – who knows, it might even give them an incentive to start seeking help.
Third, abuse can be extremely subtle, so never assume you know for sure someone was not abused. Logically, you can’t prove a negative. Practically, headgames and emotional neglect are rarely apparent to outsiders. This might seem to provide specious support for Hazelwood’s conclusion that most sex offenders have been abused in some way, but consider that Hazelwood and his colleagues are more alert to the signs of abuse than most law enforcement personnel, most feminists, most people, other than those in the psychology field.
Fourth, teaching your son that he’s your Golden Boy and can do no wrong and anyone who says otherwise is just a nasty pile of envy to the extent that he does not develop empathy or conscience is a form of abuse. It produces adults with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the disorder Hazelwood believes the vast majority of sex offenders have. These people often function very well in society, succeeding in business or government or the arts, sometimes possessing what seems to be a perfect family but is actually more like a set of hostages manipulated through terrorism and threats into supporting the NPDs image of himself as Mr. Nice Guy. But they are severely damaged people.