Thursday, December 15, 2011


(From my book The Changing Face of Sex out in January 2012)

            With the entry of rape victims into my client load in the mid ’60s, my education as a sex therapist continued.  I don’t remember the first victim, but I do remember that the receptionist, who was very intuitive about which counselor should work with which client, began assigning me women who had traumatic sex histories.  Although we didn’t call it post-traumatic stress disorder at that time, they had the symptoms we later recognized as such.

            We probably had a greater number of victims coming in at this time because previously victims had not felt they could talk about what had happened to them, but with the change in attitudes toward sex there was a backlog of clients who needed to work on their trauma symptoms.

            Certain symptoms were common with some being severe enough to prevent the victim from living a normal life.  There was an over response to cues connected to the event, nightmares in which the incident was relived vivid enough to wake the victim in a panic, guilt for having caused the incident by some action or inaction on their part, and in some cases a fear of men in general.

            Victims could respond to cues that were visual, auditory or even related to time of day.  One client, who had been captured by the rapist coming out from behind a wall at Stephens College as she walked past it at night, became nervous when walking past any wall at night.  The time cue was from several women who had been raped in their rooms by someone coming in a window.  They would wake in a nervous state at that time of the night. 

            Nightmares were frequent and often lasted for years. One client had been having the same nightmare for six years.  This was one symptom that I was most successful treating with a minimum of work by helping them rewrite the script of the dream and practicing it while under hypnosis in my office.

            The guilt was very difficult to work with and was reported in a number of clusters.  It appeared that if the victims could find things they had done that provoked the rapists, they could feel some control over the events and prevent future attacks.  If the rape was completely out of their control, they had the feeling they were living in a dangerous environment where bad things could happen at any time regardless of what they did to protect themselves.

            Guilt was exacerbated by the mental set of the time of some police, hospital staff and jury members who felt that if a woman got raped it was her own fault.  One victim had dropped out of school and took a lower level job and took to alcohol.  She saw me two years after the rape and still felt guilty about her part in the rape.  She had been working at the hospital, came out of the hospital and walked to her car, which had a van parked next to it.  When she unlocked her door, the van door slid open and a man reached out and took her into the van.  Two men took her into the country, raped her, and discussed different things they could do with her as if she were an object.  They took her back into town and dropped her off.

            The guilt?  “I shouldn’t have parked my car so far from the door; and when I saw the van parked next to it, I should have been more cautious.”   Statements from other victims concerned what kind of clothes they were wearing, drinking too much, and trusting the offender.

Another source of guilt was not taking more action, such as trying to fight the man off or screaming.  Most of the women described how they went weak and lost the ability to fight as soon as the man got close enough to grab them or make a threat to hurt or kill them if they didn’t cooperate.  This often did serious damage to the victim’s self image.  Having once believed she could successfully fight off an attacker or persuade him not to carry through, she now had lost that image of potency and was left with only feelings of vulnerability.

            Later I got some insight into this when I interviewed a sentenced rapist at Maximum Security Prison in Jefferson City.  He had started as a voyeur, who actually climbed into women’s rooms and watched them sleep.  One of them awoke, screamed and said, “Please don’t hurt me; I’ll do anything you want.”   He fled, but thought about it and the next time raping the victim, not only watching, was his goal.  One victim indicated to him that it had been very exciting.  This was what he had really wanted in a victim, and when she asked why didn’t he come back the next night, he did.  “And you know, the bitch had the cops waiting for me.”  He sounded truly amazed at her strategy.

            Occasionally I would have a client who had successfully fought the offender off.  A classic in my mind was the slightly built woman who was seeing me for vocational counseling who had had a rape incident.  She and her roommate had worked late, taken a swim in a nearby pool and came back to their basement apartment.

  She went to take a shower and heard a noise, cracked the door to look out and saw her roommate being held by a man with a knife in his hand.  Her thought process was, “The cops will be here soon, I need a cover.”  She threw a towel over her shoulder.  “I’ll need a weapon.”  She ripped the towel rack off, and went out swinging it.  She moved fast, knocked the knife out his hand.  He grabbed the rack from her hand; she picked up the TV set and threw it at him.  He yelled something about, “You bitches are crazy,” and ran out the door.

            Later in the week as she was walking down the street, she saw him standing on a ladder painting a house.  She called the police; several victims identified him in a lineup and he was convicted. 

At that time it was estimated that only a small percentage of rapes were reported to the police, and even a fewer number successfully prosecuted. Besides the embarrassment and guilt there were other reasons in those days to avoid reporting.  First was the behavior of some police officers.  Some asked such questions as, “Were you a virgin?’  The implication being that if you weren’t, it couldn’t be rape.  “What were you doing in the area?”  “Had you been drinking?”  The questions did reinforce the victim’s feeling that she had done something wrong or was in some way responsible for the rape. 

Some hospital personnel had similar attitudes, and some victims had been treated rudely when they reported to the hospital.  Since many of them had been injured by the rough handling of the rapists, they needed some care and a checkup.  This was before DNA samples were taken. 

Defense attorneys were tough on victims; after finding out the kind of questions they would have to answer in front of the jury, some victims backed out.  They did not want their sexual histories made public.   It was some years before we could get the laws changed so that victims had the same right to protect their personal history as the accused did.

One of the female defense attorneys who appeared on a panel with me was careful in her choice of jurors.   She wanted at least two women over the age of fifty.  She was sure that they would be convinced that no woman could be raped against her will; and if she really had had sex with the accused, she was responsible for it happening.  At this late date it is difficult to get back into the mindset of the period and see the victim as perpetrator.  The defense attorney also recognized that some men feared false accusations and could be an asset on the jury.

It also saddened me to counsel several women who had men in their life react negatively toward them.  One woman, whose boss had raped her, had a husband who divorced her on the grounds of adultery.  Several had boyfriends break up with them because they considered it the woman’s fault if she had been raped, and they couldn’t deal with the fact of her bad behavior.  (Many years later in Pakistan when I was touring a prison in Lahore, I was informed that some of the women in prison were rape victims who had been imprisoned because they were considered to have committed adultery.)

These experiences led me to the conclusion that we needed a rape crisis center, partly as a basis for educating both the professionals and the public about the nature of rape and how to change attitudes to make them less damning on the victims.

When I went in search for some help, I was told that a woman who called herself “Nexus” would be the person to contact, because as a rape victim she wanted to correct some of the same problems that I saw with the system.    I was also warned that she might not want to work with me because of my reputation among liberated women as being a “male, chauvinist pig.” 

When she found out what I wanted, we became a team with our first goal of educating the professionals involved on the nature of rape, the victim’s reactions, and some things they needed in the way of treatment.  We got excellent cooperation in meetings with the police department, hospital staff, the prosecuting attorney and some lawyers who defended accused rapists.  In addition a local TV station filmed a half-hour program with Nexus and me discussing the problem.

The prosecuting attorney at the time would not prosecute a case unless he was sure he could get a conviction.   His judgment was partly based on how well the victim handled questions.  My understanding was his conviction rate was close to 100% despite the defense attorney’s choice of jury members.  Later when I was talking in a prison to a rapist who had received a 13-year sentence, he said, “I made the mistake of getting caught in Columbia.  Your prosecutor has a reputation for getting convictions.”             



            First the client needed to tell her story.  That established the fact that it was real; it was important that someone had heard it. I would return to the story later as part of the desensitization process.  Next I needed to normalize the client’s responses.  That gave her the feeling that her reactions were not crazy or out of line, but part of what happens to people who have been traumatized.  The message I wanted to give was, “Your reactions are normal for a person who has gone through a traumatic experience.” 

            Some responses were unusual, but still normal from my point of view.  For example, one victim had an out-of-body experience and found herself looking down from ceiling watching the rapist use her body. 

            Because of the tensions and anxiety connected with the rape and its aftermath, I routinely gave my clients a session on relaxation.  The method depended upon their reactions, but most frequently I used a combination of progressive muscle relaxation and the visualization of a safe place.  Most clients could learn this in a short time and with practice outside of the session get proficient at it.  Some of my therapists in training preferred to make an audio tape for the client to use when they needed to relax; and some like my wife, a therapist in private practice, used commercial relaxation tapes that the client used in their home.  Regardless of how relaxation was presented, learning to control physical tensions made a significant difference to most clients.    

             I found the easiest problem to work with to be the nightmares.  The treatment was very straightforward.  The client told me in detail the dream that was disturbing her.  The detail was almost always a replay of the rape scene.  The next step was to construct a new script that in some way empowered the victim,  i.e., the new script put her in control.

            All my therapy files have been shredded, but examples I used in my training program are still clear in my memory. 

Story 1.  The rapist came into the kitchen through the open garage door.  He demanded money, and hoping to escape uninjured the victim went into the bedroom and brought back the funds. It was then he grabbed her, took her into the bedroom and raped her.

The new script involved her going to the bedroom; but instead of getting the money she took out her husband’s pistol and  came back into the room.  As he moved toward her, she shot him in the head which exploded like a melon.  We practiced the new dream several times with her in a light trance, and I asked her to practice the dream before she fell asleep.  The nightmare did not return.   Lest this sound too simple, this was the usual response.  Write a new script, practice it and it replaces the old script.  I found it hard to believe it would be so simple, but no clients reported a failure.  I wish the other aspects of the trauma could have been so easily dealt with.

Story 2.  The second husband of a woman, who had been raped six years previously, insisted she see a therapist because the nightmares were interfering with his sleep.  Her first husband had been a criminal and had been in prison.  The rapist had been in a deal with her husband who owed him money on a drug deal, and he decided to take it out on the wife.  He not only raped her but stabbed her with a barbeque fork.   The nightmares had returned when she learned the rapist was out of prison.

The new dream involved the rapist being in a cell with a heavy door like one on a giant safe that she could push closed, double barricading him.  The dream didn’t work.  She reworked it so that she first looked in the cell and saw that he was looking out the rear window and had no interest in her.  Then she pushed the heavy door shut.  The dream did not return; when I saw her a year later for another problem, the dreams still had not returned.

Story 3. This woman was a student in ROTC who had been running on the campus when the rapist came from behind the greenhouses on campus and physically overpowered her.  She used a solution no one else had used before.  She was an observer to the rape and also the victim.  As she watched the scene unfold, she shot the rapist in the leg.  As a ROTC student she was quite familiar with firearms.  She did not want to do permanent damage, but to teach him enough of a lesson so that he would never attack another woman. 

Story 4. This was an acquaintance rape situation.  We wrote a new script which she went home to try.  A week later she reported there had been no more nightmares, but added that “as soon as you said you could teach me a way to stop the nightmares, you wouldn’t have had to do anything more.  Just knowing they could be stopped would have been sufficient.”

Guilt was the hard symptom to work with.   Believing they were in some way responsible for the rape gave victims a sense of control; without this sense of control the situation became even more dangerous because things were so unpredictable and capricious.  Things they felt guilt about varied:  not being defensive enough by yelling or screaming or trying to run away; having trusted the person because they were a friend or relative; not responding to cues that told them the situation was dangerous; having too much to drink making themselves vulnerable. 

What I found I couldn’t do was argue all of these comments away and convince the victim there was nothing she could have done, because it was out of her control and only the rapist was responsible for what happened.  That leads victims to feeling they live in an even more dangerous world. Instead we worked on planning, “What can you do to make yourself safer?”  Take a self defense course, have a companion if you must go out at night, carry a whistle, and don’t drink with strangers.

    In 1992 an honors student, Kimberly Cummings, approached me to do a study of women’s acceptance of rape myths and their sexual experiences.  She felt that with sexual liberation and loosening of sexual standards that more pressure was being put on women to have sex and sometimes this slipped over into rape.  Our sample was only 112 junior and senior women, but the results are consistent with what had been found in other studies with slightly fewer of our students saying they had been raped.   The results of the latter part of the questionnaire we developed are interesting enough that I will discuss them here.  The answers were given anonymously (see Table 1).

            The first part of the questionnaire dealt with their acceptance of rape myths and how closely they identified with feminine stereotypes.  Questions 1 through 40 are the Sexist Attitudes Toward Women Scale (SATW) developed by Benson and Vincent (1980).  A sample item is, “It bothers me to see a man being told what to do by a woman.” 

Questions 41-65 were rape-myth acceptance items from Burt (1980) and explored rape myths and cultural reasons for this support.  A sample item is, “A woman who goes to the home or apartment of a man on their first date implies that she is willing to have sex.”  (Jumping ahead to more recent standards, that statement may now be true given what my students tell me about the frequency of “hooking up.”)

One of our questions was, do women now recognize when they have been raped?  Earlier we found that in date rape situations the women often took the blame and did not recognize that the use of force against the woman’s wishes is legally rape.   The correlation between items 76 and 78 was .88, a very high positive correlation meaning that women now recognize that they have been raped even in a dating situation by someone they know.

Cummings and I, probably influenced by our own acceptance of the rape-myth mentality, had expected that the more a woman accepted traditional feminine roles the more likely she would find herself pressured into sexual intercourse. Although there was a significant relationship between acceptance of a traditional feminine role and being raped, that relationship was very weak (r = .19, p<.05).  This indicates that a woman’s social orientation is probably little protection against having sexual relations when she does not wish them.

Table 1 gives some additional information about the factors that were and may still be operating in sexual relations between male and female students.  On item 67, 73% of the women reported they had been in situations where the level of sexual intimacy they desired was misinterpreted.  It also appears that some women (items 68 & 69) had sexual intercourse with a man when they did not want to because of pressure in the immediate situation.  A fair number of women also reported they had had force used unsuccessfully against them (items 72, 73, 74).

The data indicate that whether a woman is forced to have sexual intercourse by threats or is raped is not greatly influenced by her ideas about women’s roles or her acceptance of rape beliefs.  Although the women’s mental set or acceptance of certain beliefs has a small relationship to her being pressured into sexual acts, there are other factors that are of more importance in what happens.  The major influence appears to be the attitudes of a subgroup of males who commit sexual aggression and their beliefs about women’s behavior.  The problems in communication about sexual issues evidently go beyond the dimensions we explored in this study.

Since women’s attitudes appear to play such a small role in their having sexual intercourse under pressure, there is a need to place more emphasis on the findings of such studies as those of Kanin (1985) and Lisak and Roth (1988, 1990), which point to a group of sexually aggressive males who see their behavior as macho and who do not label the force they use as sufficient to be called rape.  I will explore these attitudes and behavior in the chapter on date rape.

Sensitizing women to sexual harassment is probably still a worthwhile endeavor, and they should be encouraged to resist male pressure for unwanted sex.  The 25% of the women in this study who had sexual intercourse when they really did not want to because of various pressures from the man may have been contributing to his becoming more aggressive with other women.  Ellis (1991) said, “in the process of courtship, for example, many women may inadvertently reinforce successive approximations of forced copulatory tactics by sexually yielding to the use of mild forms of force” (p. 638).

 Some interesting arguments

            Until the early 1970s researchers acknowledged that while many motivations could be involved in rape, it was assumed that sex was the predominant motive. In the early ’70s women’s liberation advocates began to play a large role in how rape was viewed.  Millet, Griffin, and Greer put forth the view that rape was not a sexually motivated act, and this became widely accepted when Brownmiller published Against Our Will in 1975.  By the early ’80s a researcher could say, “It is now generally accepted by criminologists, psychologists, and other professionals working with rapists and rape victims that rape is not primarily a sexual crime, it is a crime of violence.”

            One effect of this orientation was positive in that it helped us reject the claim that rape is a sexually arousing or sought-after experience on the part of the victim.  But I was concerned about the danger of taking a non-sex orientation.  I thought the outpouring of papers that attributed all rape to hostility toward women and treated rape as a purely aggressive act did more to cloud the issue than to give a handle from which we could think productively about what was happening.

During the ’70s I found myself arguing against the feminist movement’s insistence that rape was mainly a crime of violence and anger against women.  I believed that many factors were involved and that men raped for different reasons.  Let me repeat some of the arguments on both sides.  I will give the feminist side (a) and counter with what I saw as a valid rebuttal (b).

            (a) Sex or sexuality is a drive associated with honest courtship and pair bonding.  In such situations, males report feelings of tenderness and affection.

            (b) A large percentage of males have no difficulty in divorcing sex from love.  Consider the number of them who visit prostitutes or who have casual sex with willing partners.

(a) Rape can not be sexually motivated because of the fact that most rapists have stable sexual partners.

             (b) Having studied rapists, I question that most of them have stable sexual partners; most patrons of prostitutes, adult bookstores and adult movie theatres are married men, but this is not considered evidence for lack of sexual motivation.

        (a) Unlike sexuality, aggression does diminish with age and, therefore, a male’s likelihood of committing a rape diminishes with the onset of middle age.

         (b) Not only does the age of most rapists fail to disprove that rape is sexually motivated, the general correlation between the age distribution of rapists and the general level of sexual activity of males is very consistent with the view that rape is sexually motivated.

           (a) According to Groth and Birnbaum (1979) “careful examination of his behavior typically reveals that efforts to negotiate the sexual encounter or to determine the woman’s receptiveness to a sexual approach are noticeably absent, as are any attempts at lovemaking or foreplay.”

           (b)  That is true of stranger rapes, which are about half of the total.  Date rapists on the other hand, often involve extensive negotiation and foreplay.  These rapists explain their behavior by references to sex needs.  “She stood there in her nightgown, and you could see right through it—you could see her nipples and breasts and, you know they were just waiting for me, and it was just too much of a temptation to pass up.”

(a) “It is not a crime of lust but of violence and power because rape victims are not only the lovely young blonds of newspaper headlines—rapists strike children, the aged, and the homely—all women” (Brownmiller, 1975).

      (b)  This conclusion ignores the fact that rape victims are not a representative cross-section of all women.  It also ignores the possibility that victim selection is based on both attractiveness and vulnerability.  Less than 5% of rape victims are over the age of fifty.   As we will see in the chapter on rapists they are, however, the ones most likely to be killed.

(a) In many cases of rape in humans, assault seems to be the  important factor, not sex. . . (Harding, 1985).

   (b) In my own study of rapists I found a subgroup for whom violence was an important part of the act, but this was not all or even a majority of rapists.  Amir found, “In a large number of cases (87%), only temptation and verbal coercion were used to subdue the victim.”  Other evidence also indicates that it is only in a minority of cases that violence and injury are even one of the goals of a rapist.  Gebhard et al., (1965) also found that the vast majority of sex offenders used force only when required.  If violence is what the rapist is after, he’s not very good at it.  Certainly he has the victim in a position from which he could do all kinds of physical damage.

           Sexual motivation always appears to be a necessary ingredient for a rape to occur instead of a nonsexual assault. “If aggression were the sole motive it might be more simply satisfied by a physical beating” (Rada, 1978).

When I studied murderers years later, I was disturbed by the fact that punishment for rape and for murder could be at the class A felony level.  I found rape victims could be murdered, not because of hostile motivation on the part of the rapist, but because the killing of the victim greatly increases the rapist’s chances of escaping punishment by removing the only witness to the crime.