Debate Magazine

Psychological Debate: Why Men Rape Women

Posted on the 23 July 2011 by Technocowgirl @TechnoCowgirl

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The debate on why men rape women has been a hot topic
among scientists and psychologists for years, only to find that it is still
without a solid annalistic explanation, only theory; though some psychologists
and scientists believe that their theory is the correct reasoning. The opinion
varies depending which side of the spectrum it is looked at. One thing that is
certain is “in the United States, a woman is sexually assaulted or raped every
six minutes…85% of victims know their attacker and 84% of rapes will go
unreported” (Supriya, 2011). This is a statistic that cannot be ignored nor be
left unsearched for practical answers and solutions.

Scientists Thornhill and Palmer have stirred-up
controversy with their theory about why men rape women. “Thornhill and Palmer
argue that rape evolved as an “alternative mating strategy”, and they contend
that it is a “natural, biological phenomenon and a product of our evolutionary
heritage” (Ochert, 2000). The theories are many, to the point of confusion
at times. Thornhill’s theory derived from his studies on “the mating habits of
the scorpion fly”, which have a “notal organ” to enable it to hold down and
force the female to concede to mating –a sort of “specialized rape tool”
(Ochert, 2000). This theory stirred-up so much controversy that scheduled
lectures were canceled; proving that Thornhill and Palmer’s theory is not a
welcome one.

In an article by Judith Schulvitz, Evolutionary
Psychology Teaches Rape 101, Schulvitz criticizes Thornhill and Palmer for
their evolutionary determinist theory on the issue of why men rape women.
Schulvitz first states the “beef” with the evolutionary theory in general,

“Evolutionary psychology is not very good on the aspect
of the human psyche she’s personally interested in, which is how humans are
different from animals. Ev psych insists, rightly, that we not ignore our
similarities to the higher –and lower-order creatures, but its weak on
subjectivity, self-awareness, self-consciences, whatever you want to call it
–on how we explain our tangled mass of hormonal impulses to ourselves. And yet
this ability to reflect on ourselves underlies art, architecture, poetry,
government, journalism, and all other forms of communication that animals don’t
and can’t have” (Shulevitz, 2000).

Shulevitz however, speaks more candidly about Thornhill
and Palmer’s purposed course to teach young men and young women about rape,

“Completion of such a course might be required say,
before a young man is granted a driver’s license. The program might start by
inducing the young men to acknowledge the power of their sexual impulses, and
then explaining why human males have evolved in that way. The young men should
learn that past Darwinian selection is the reason that a man can get an
erection just by looking at the photo of a naked woman, why he may be tempted
to demand sex even if he knows that his date truly doesn’t want it, and why he
might mistake a woman’s friendly comment or tight blouse as an invitation to
sex. Most of all, the program should stress that a man’s evolved sexual desires
offer him no excuse whatsoever for raping a woman, and if he understands and
resists those desires, he may be able to prevent their manifestation in sexual
coercive behavior” (Shulevitz, 2000).

Of course Thornhill and Palmer cannot leave out the young
woman in their course of correction; this is what they purposed that the young
women be taught in this so-called course:

“Young women should be informed that, during the
evolution of human sexuality, the existence of female choice has favored men
who are quickly aroused by signals of a female’s willingness to grant sexual
access. Furthermore, woman need to realize that, because selection favored
males who had many mates, men tend to read signals of acceptance into a woman’s
actions even when no such signals are intended. In spite of protestations to
the contrary, women should be advised that the way they dress can put them at
risk” (Shulevitz, 2000).

Essentially, Thornhill and Palmer are suggesting the
government admits that men are “naturally born rapists” and that a woman should
be mindful of how they act and dress. Shulevitz’s throws in a dig suggesting
that lawyers everywhere are concocting their defenses at this very moment,
saying, “Culturalbox can see the criminal lawyers composing their
genetic-determinist defenses already: Why,
even the state said he couldn’t help himself” (Shulevitz, 2000)! Needless to
say, Shulevitz is not a big fan of the Thornhill-Palmer theory; finishing her
article with this statement of pure truth:

“If we teach our
children to see themselves strictly as beasts, they’re bound to act like them”
(Shulevitz, 2000).

Criticism also comes from Time magazine’s essayist Barbra
Ehreneich in the form of a retort to The Sciences article; “Ehreneich expresses
doubts that rape would offer much of a selective advantage: “The rapist
generally operates on a hit-and-run basis –which may be all right for stocking
sperm banks, but not as effective if the goal is to produce offspring who
will survive in a challenging environment…the children of guys who raped and
ran must have been a scrawny lot and doomed to end up on some leopard’s lunch
menu” (Ochert, 2000). Statistically, woman who become impregnated by their
attacker does not have the child, or if she does it is put up for adoption,
putting holes in Thornhill and Palmer’s theory once again.

Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne of the University of
Chicago has called the book “the worst efflorescence of evolutionary psychology
that I have ever seen”, claiming that it is “irresponsible, tendentious and the
science is sloppy”…”Rape, he says, is pathological, not natural” (Ochert, 2000).
As for the way women dress and act being an enticement for rape, Coyne suggests
that “there is no such evidence that scanty dress induces rape” (Ochert, 2000).
Moreover, if that statement is even suggested in a room full of people, the
outrage would be obvious. “As for Thornhill and Palmer’s recommendation that
young men be educated about the evolutionary basis of rape, Mary Koss,
professor of public health at the University of Arizona and an authority on
rape, says: “(They) have obviously never stood up before a group and given a
rape-prevention talk…if you even simply imply to a male audience that all men
are potential rapists, They go berserk” (Ochert, 2000)! Koss hits the nail on
the head with that statement; telling any man he is a potential rapist is not
the best of ideals –besides, this may give them the impression that it is in their
nature to rape so why fight it.

Labeling a person of any stature can cause the expected
action; moreover, psychologists have proven that labeling a person can cause long
lasting effects –and essentially cause the action by default. Similarly,
telling a woman that the way they dress and act is an invitation to rape,
induces them to believe if raped –it is their fault for wearing that sundress
or speaking politely to a stranger; which is far from the truth –no means no,
period! To a rape victim, annalistic theories about why they were raped, and
understanding the mind of the swine that did it, are no benefit to them. The
life of a rape victim is never the same and neither are the loved ones around
them: Where is the evolutionary determinist theory about victims of these
pathological demons –and is that theory as absurd as Thornhill and Palmer’s?

Many psychologists and scientists believe that men rape
women primarily because an aggressive need to control and dominate the victim
instead of to achieve sexual fulfillment, considering “rape as an act of
violence rather than principally a sexual encounter” (Supriya, 2011). With the
many theories floating about it is complicated to discern between
them all: procreation, frustration, control, sexual satisfaction, biological
and evolutionary reasoning, all make up a comprehensive confusing conundrum for
the victim, scientists, and psychologists alike. In the end, does it really
matter the reason? Can rape be eradicated? Maybe, if we are steadfast in
researching the actions and reasoning behind the rapists thought process when
committing the act of rape –this may give more insight into the underlying
thought process before and when the crime is committed –which gives a better
ground to start analysis and solutions.

Now that we have covered the theories derived from
others, let us look closer into some of the psychological disorders that may
put a person at greater risk for becoming a rapist or rape victim:
Schizophrenia is a possible mental impairment that could put a person at risk
to be both a rapist and a victim. The definition of Schizophrenia according to
David G. Myers “Psychology” ninth edition is, “a group of severe disorders
characterized by disorganized and delusional thinking, disturbed perceptions,
and inappropriate emotions and actions” (Myers, 2010). People with this particular
illness may be particularly vulnerable to be raped if female –and to rape if
male (though the opposite can occur, with humanity anything is possible). The
daunting question is; would the rapist in this case be culpable for this action
given the circumstances? The jury is still out on that issue –but in most
cases, probably not. The rapist must have a full understanding that rape is
wrong and the consequence for doing so is prison.

Antisocial personality disorder is another high-risk
mental illness, mainly for becoming an offender instead of a victim. Antisocial
personality disorder is defined by Myers as “a personality disorder in which
the person (usually a man) exhibits a lack of conscience for wrong doing, even
toward friends and family members…may be aggressive and ruthless or a clever
con artist” Myers, 2010). This particular impairment makes a person express
little to no remorse for their actions of violating another; not to say that
the person does not understand between right and wrong –they just do not care.
“Henry Lee Lucas confessed that during his 32 years of crime, he had bludgeoned,
suffocated, stabbed, shot, or mutilated some 360 women, men, and children –the
first (a woman) at the age 13” (Myers, 2010). The crimes committed among these
mentally ill inmates are staggering at best; this is why finding these
impairments at an early age is essential, therfore, medication and therapy can be
achieved before manifestation of criminal behavior.

In conclusion, there are many theories on why men
rape women; while none of them are completely right -none are completely wrong
either. It is obvious that more studies and research must be done and a
solution to this violence found. Moreover, all women must be mindful when out,
or even to who they speak too; a man (according to evolutionary theory) may
take it as an invitation to rape. Finally, the human mind is a complex
instrument, which will never be completely figured out or analyzed, however, we can
get a better understanding if steadfast in our search for answers and solutions.


Myers, David G. (2010).
Psychology Ninth Edition. Worth Publishers. New York, New York.

ISBN- 13:978-1-4292-1597-8.

Ochert, Ayala. (2000,
February 4). Why men want to rape. Times Higher Education.

Shulevitz, Judith.
(2000, January 13). Evolutionary psychology teaches rape 101. Slate magazine

Supriya, Sharron.
(2011, June 2). Why men rape. One India.

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