The concept of women asking for assault – whether that assault be anything ranging from verbal assault to rape and murder – is a common trope perpetuated by both the media and cultural lore. As a result of this trope, many women don’t report their sexual assaults even when they even recognize what happened to them as assault and as a crime. This is not an issue of a lack of education, but an issue of how modern North American society views assault on women, and how it classifies individuals as either victims or conspirators. This myth of the “perfect,” or true, rape victim is not only unethical but legally wrong. More interestingly, it directly defies what we know to be true in regards to individuals who rape.
The problem of campus rape serves as an example of how education does not do much to offset the danger of sexual assault, nor the stigma attached to reporting sexual assault, If an environment is created where one in five women experience sexual assault and ninety percent of all rapes go unreported, most would expect that culture to be far less educated and liberal than the average campus. However, the issue is not one but of education, but of the culture itself.
The individual victims recognize some crime has been done to them, but have reasons not to report. Over half of the reasons given as to why survivors often don’t report assault have something to do with the nature of the crime not being taken seriously by law enforcement, or fear of reprisal/judgement from individuals other than the rapist (not counting those who are afraid of law enforcement from past history with law enforcement). This reasoning for lack of reporting rarely occurs with other kinds of assault.
For the purposes of this deconstruction I will argue that the “perfect victim” according to cultural stereotypes is one in which the perpetrator is violent, not someone the perpetrator personally knows, and in which the victim fought back to an appropriate, yet arbitrary, degree. The victim is sexually modest, if not entirely virginal. She does not in any way provoke the attack through her behavior. She isn’t in a place where she “shouldn’t be,” such as a stereotypical dark alleyway. In addition, usually the victim is physically harmed in ways that aren’t connected with the rape itself. (Note how I specify “she” – victims who identify as men, particularly victims who identify as men who are raped by individuals who identified as women, are rarely if ever seen as perfect victims.)
However, the FBI system of offender profiling suggests that this trope doesn’t quite hold water, at least in regards to sexual assault and rape. Not only does the idea of a perfect victim not exist, but the existence of the ideal perpetrator – a perfect rapist – is also called into question in every category.
The FBI classifies rapists into two separate categories – the unfortunately and inappropriately named “selfish” and “unselfish” rapists,” and the four category classifications that these offenders fall under. These classifications were developed by Robert Hazelwood and expanded on the selfish/unselfish categorizations. These category classifications are power reassurance/compensatory rapist (usually unselfish), power-assertive/exploitative rapist (selfish), anger-retaliatory rapist (selfish), anger-excitement/sadistic rapist (selfish).
Unselfish rapists by category alone defy the perfect victim/perfect rapist dynamic. They lack self-confidence, often show a kind of pathological affection towards their victims, and often appear apologetic about their actions. The fact that the FBI even has a category for this sort of rapist is argument enough that there are rapists that do not fall under the cultural trope, but the other categories show inconsistencies in regards to the cultural trope as well.
The “perfect rapist” would be classified as a selfish rapist in either the anger-retaliatory, power-exploitative, or anger-excitement categories. The anger-retaliatory rapist chooses the victim based off a misplaced sense of anger. They choose their victim based on mannerisms that remind them of something they cannot control such as a past abuser. The victim population is therefore “pre-planned,” and no action by the victim can prevent the assault. This may seems to be evidence for the argument for the “innocent” victim, but in all actuality it’s an argument that shifts the blame from the actions of the victim to the actions of the rapist. The rapist does not choose the victim based on the victim’s purposeful actions, so being a victim of said rapist does not mean that the victim “was asking for it.”
The power-exploitative (also called “power-assertive”) rapist is quite a different argument altogether from either the anger-excitement or anger-retaliatory because the argument is not so much that the victim isn’t asking for it. The argument stems from the fact that the perpetrator often thinks as if the victim is despite evidence to the contrary. The power-exploitative rapist’s mentality comes from a belief that he is entitled to rape because of who is he as a person and his status. The power-exploitative rapist is often a date rapist. The most effective method of escape from a power-exploitative rapist is actually the one that makes the victim imperfect, as it involved co-operating with the rapist and therefore appearing to consent to his actions and fulfill his expectations. Violating that fantasy – “lashing out” – often leads to violence.
As an aside, I would like to note that the power-exploitative rapist thrives in settings where rape culture – the culture I mentioned earlier – is more accepted, as it supports his personal mindset that he is entitled to sexual assault as long as his victims look or behave in a certain way.
The anger-excitement rapist displays irrational behavior that most individuals would classify as unquestionably morally evil. Their methods usually involve torture and include keeping of souvenirs. Their sadistic tendencies make committing the crime more difficult and make them more likely to be caught. Because the extent of the rapist’s sadism is irrational, it is impossible for the victim to purposefully behave in a way that is “asking for it” because interaction with the perpetrator does not follow a rational dynamic.
Therefore, going by the standards set by the FBI via this classification system, it is impossible to argue that a person is “asking for” or inviting rape without claiming that the person themselves is not a rapist. If we acknowledge that a crime is being committed, which it unquestionably is, then justifying the actions of the criminal is an expression of cognitive dissonance. We do not judge the worthiness of other victims based on arbitrary moral guidelines, and we should not judge rape victims any differently.