Fighting Back Against Rapists
When confronted by a rapist, should a woman submit or fight?
It is one of the most frightening and confusing questions faced
by women across the country. While many elements factor into that
decision, new developments in criminal profiling offer guidance
to the potential victim.
Women's self-defense experts say that if you find yourself
in a situation where your only choices are to resist or to submit,
you should weigh your chances of escaping, attracting help or
incapacitating the assailant.
underscore the stark reality that haunts many women in America:
Rape is a common event here. In fact, somewhere in the country,
a woman is raped every six minutes. A 1992 study by the National
Center for Victims of Crime found that one in eight females has
been the victim of forcible rape or attempted rape sometime during
her lifetime. Last year, the Department of Justice recalculated
the odds of such sexual assaults as one in five. That means that
one in five women will eventually be faced with making a decision
about how to
respond when suddenly confronted by a rapist.
If you are that target female, what should you do? Fight
like a tiger? Meekly submit? Try to talk the assailant out of
it? Those questions and the issues they raise have long been the
subject of contentious debate and contradictory advice.
RESIST OR SUBMIT?
Women,s self-defense experts say that if you find yourself in
a situation where your only choices are to resist or to submit,
you should weigh your chances of escaping, attracting help or
incapacitating the assailant.
"Some rapists might hurt you more, or kill you, if
you fight back," said Christine Fowley, manager of the rape
crisis program at Saint Vincent's Hospital in New York City. "On
the other hand, some rapists might back off if you fight. You
have to use your best judgment, given the situation."
"The most recent research [on] victim responses [shows
that] in certain circumstances and with certain personalities
of rapists, there is at least a possibility of avoiding the humiliating
experience of being raped," said Cora Mosely, a professor
in the department of criminology and criminal justice at the University
of Texas at Arlington.
In fact, using methods not unlike those employed by FBI
profilers to predict the behavior of serial killers, police and
forensic psychologists have identified four profiles of rapists
defined by motive, style of attack and psychosexual characteristics.
- The power-assertive rapist
- The anger-retaliation rapist
- The power-reassurance rapist
- The anger-excitation rapist
More importantly, such rapist behaviour profiles provide
information that may be helpful in
determining how best to respond to a specific kind of attacker.
"If you,re given a chance to think, you should consider
these characteristics," in the split-second you have to assess
your chances of survival if you struggle or succumb, said forensic
psychologist Robert Geffner, founder and president of the Family
Violence and Sexual Assault Institute of San Diego, Calif. Here
are the characteristics of each of the four rapist profiles:
- Power-assertive rapist: Athletic, he has a macho image
of himself. More often than not, this is the type who commits
date rapes. He typically meets his victim in a bar or nightclub.
Instead of targeting a specific victim, he looks for an opportunity
to get a woman alone with him - perhaps with an offer of a ride
home or an invitation back to his place. Alternatively, he may
con his victim into trusting him or letting him into her home,
perhaps by posing as a policeman or repairman. Approximately
44 percent of rapes are committed by power-assertive rapists.
- Anger-retaliatory rapist: He feels animosity towards women
and wants to punish and degrade them. Often, he is a substance
abuser. He is impulsive, and has an explosive temper. He looks
for an opportunity to commit the rape, rather than for a specific
victim. He attacks spontaneously and brutalizes the woman into
submission. Thirty percent of rapists fall into the anger-retaliation
- Power-reassurance rapist: He lacks the self-confidence
and interpersonal skills to develop relationships with women.
He is passive and nonathletic. He lives or works near his victim,
and pre-selects her by peeping or stalking. He typically breaks
into her home (often entering through an open window or unlocked
door) in the wee hours of the morning and awakens her. He uses
minimal force, and will threaten her with a weapon but usually
does not have one. He fantasizes that he is his victim's lover,
so he may ask her to disrobe or to wear a negligee and he will
kiss her and engage in foreplay. The power-reassurance type accounts
for 21 percent of rapists.
- Anger-excitation rapist: A sadist, he derives sexual gratification
from inflicting pain. He is typically charming and intelligent.
The crime is premeditated and rehearsed methodically in his mind
before it is attempted. His victims may or may not be strangers.
He will tie, gag and blindfold them and torture them over a period
of days, even recording his crimes in a diary, taking photographs
or videotaping them. Just five percent of rapists fit this description.
SO WHAT IS A WOMAN TO DO?
While authorities generally agree that rapist profiles are useful
in planning defense responses, they don't completely agree on
what those responses should be. Here's
what some say about the four profiles.
- Power-assertive rapist: "He is physically aggressive,
and will use the amount of force needed to control you, degrading
or obscene language, [brandishing] a weapon, slapping or punching,
but he does not intend to kill you," said Greg Cooper, Chief
of Police, Provo, Utah. He has
interrogated a large number of rapists over the past 10 years.
"Generally, begging and crying doesn't work with this guy,"
said Cooper. "If you're going to resist, you've got to be
serious. You've got to scream and fight him as hard as you can
to get away."
Women's self-defense instructor Kevin Brady agreed, but does
not believe that the presence of a weapon should necessarily
be the deciding factor in whether you should resist or
fight. "If you react in an unexpected way you could survive.
You can outwit someone with a knife."
Geffner cited a case in which a woman "acted crazy"
and so unnerved her would-be rapist that he fled. Fowley conceded
the point, but added that a woman may be too paralyzed by fear
to do anything to resist, and shouldn't second-guess her decision.
"If no weapon is involved, a woman may feel guilty for not
fighting back. Even if she tried to resist, she may blame herself
for not fighting hard enough."
- Anger-retaliatory rapist: "He will grab you from
behind and drag you into the bushes. He will often beat you to
near-unconsciousness before committing the rape," said Cooper.
"Any level of resistance may well enrage him and cause him
to beat the hell out of you until he gets what he wants. He,s
not looking to kill you, but the beating could be fatal."
"You do not want to challenge or enrage this type of rapist,"
said Geffner. "You could try to escape. If you cannot get
away or incapacitate the assailant, it's best to submit and try
to limit the level of violence of the assault to the extent that
"I absolutely agree with that advice," said Mosley.
"Your goal is to come out alive."
- Power-reassurance rapist: "He is the least violent
type of rapist, and does not intend to hurt or kill you,"
said Cooper. "Among the different types of rapists, he is
most likely to be dissuaded if you scream, cry, plead or fight."
"In general, it is more probable that you can discourage
a rapist who uses this [power reassurance] approach. But you
could instead be dealing with a power-assertive rapist who is
starting off with a softer approach," warns Geffner. He
recommends trying nonviolent tactics, crying, pleading, praying
aloud, while you,re sizing up the assailant. "If it works,
you may be able to escape the situation. But if he responds by
becoming verbally abusive or degrading, [he is] likely a power-assertive
rapist and you will have to evaluate whether you are capable
of fighting himoff," he said.
"Women need to rely on their instincts. When confronted
with a rapist they will try various techniques. In this situation,
take full advantage of your instincts in trying to figure out
which type of rapist you are dealing with," said Mosley.
- Anger-excitation rapist: "He is evil incarnate. Of
the four types, he is the most criminally sophisticated and it's
difficult to catch him," said Cooper. "He,s got absolute
control over you so there,s no question of any type of resistance
or of escaping. Oftentimes he kills his victims, either to get
rid of a witness or to gratify a psychosexual need."
"This is probably the most dangerous situation a woman can
be in. If you're tied up, you're going to have to match wits
with this guy and trick him or talk him into untying you so you
have at least some chance of
escape," said Geffner.
"Just pray you never cross paths with this guy," said
Mosley. But she,s doubtful about a victim's ability to escape.
"If you consider how frightened the victim is when she is
being tortured and humiliated, I don't know if she will be rational
enough under that kind of pressure to trick this rapist. He's
probably had a lot of practice in carrying out his mayhem."
TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS
It is less likely that a woman - even one who has taken a women,s
self-defense course - can
overcome the intensity of the violence that an anger rapist will
inflict, said Geffner. But power rapists commit nearly two-thirds
of all rapes, and Fowler believes you have a fighting chance to
fend them off.
"If you assess the situation and feel confident of
your ability to fight or talk your way out of [being raped], go
ahead and do it," said Fowley. "Most rapists are not
"There are women who have yelled or fought back, whether
they've taken self-defense classes or not, and have not gotten
raped," said Brady. "To tell a woman don't do anything,
be the passive female, is absolute (nonsense)."
While cautioning that "every case is different and there
are always exceptions," Cooper added, "If there,s even
a [slight] chance of getting away or living the rest of your life
as a rape victim, is it worth it [to resist]? It's a question
every woman has to answer for herself. It's as foolish to discourage
resistance as it is to prescribe the same course of action for
"Given that the goal of all women who are in imminent
danger of being raped is to avoid it, they should rely on their
instincts rather than assume that they have to submit," said
But whatever her instincts tell her to do, "If a woman
survives, she made the right choice," as Fowley put it.
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