Most Rapes Are About Power, Not Sex

This is a line I’ve heard often in many debates (and have even used it from time to time myself), but I’ve never actually seen the original source for this. It makes a good deal of inituitive sense to me, but the converse seems to have a lot of hold on the minds of many others.

What is the origin of this idea, and is it borne out by the facts?

Yea it’s one of those common bits of conventional wisdom that really isn’t all that useful.

Power is completely woven into human sexuality, why bother to completely separate the two? It’s not as if we enjoy sex as a scientific matter of organs rubbing together, we have fantasies and little roles in our heads that make things sexually exciting. So rapists get sexual thrills out of dominating the unwilling, I don’t understand the distinction to say that it is about power and not sex, it’s actually about sexual power.

There are different kinds of rape. What if some drunken college student is having sex with another drunken college student, and the next day she claims that she never gave consent because she was too drunk. That’s a type of rape, but it has nothing to do with power whatsoever. What if some guy who had been stranded on an island all alone for three years all of a sudden discovered a beautiful woman who had just washed up on the shore, grabbed her and raped her? Is that about power? I don’t think so. I think he was so horny that he just wanted to fuck a woman and he didn’t care whether she consented to it.

It’s still rape if they were both that inebriated? I would think both college students could argue that the other raped them, thus negating the crime. Then again, as I hold drunk drivers responsible, I also hold drunk rapists responsible. If that’s something you’re likely to do, take reasonable precautions to prevent it from happening. (Not getting that drunk to begin with would be a good one, IMNSHO)

As for the OP: well, the rape can be said to be about power is there is always an element of one person making the other person do what they want. With “regular” rape, it’s just about hurting the other person while getting a thrill of your own, not unlike most other crimes. With date rape, it’s about not letting the other person say no. With statutory rape, it’s about grooming the other person to think they want it. In the drunken scenario, it’s about one person knowing the other isn’t in a condition to refuse, and taking advantage of it.

Granted, the law often overcompensates, calling something rape when it really isn’t. The easiest example is statutory rape when you didn’t know that the person was underage.

Is robbery “about power” or is it about getting money by any means necessary?

It’s the latter.

The same is true of rape, generally. It’s about getting sex, by any means necessary. It’s not “about” power any more than robbery or even burglary is “about” power. Power is the means, not the end.

In some cases there may be a rapist who actually gets his sexual thrill from the specific act of dominating someone else against their will (maybe this the only way he can be turned on) - in that case it is “about” power.

Most rape occurs after, for instance, a guy has been dumped or turned down. He then gets mad and in a “well screw you, bitch!” moment…screws her.

There just isn’t such a thing as a woman being so sexy that a man couldn’t help himself. Point in fact, probably most women who get raped aren’t all that good looking. I was just reading a report on runaway children who get pulled into prostitution by pimps. Girls who are good looking and/or confident tend to be the least likely to be propositioned by a pimp. It’s the girls who seem like natural prey who get preyed upon. This is most likely going to be similar in cases of rape. It’s the girl, where the guy in the back of his mind is thinking he can get away with this, who gets raped.

So if it’s not sexiness, if the guy could get his rocks off perfectly easy with his hand, and he’s always in a depressed or angry state, then it’s not about sex so much as “showing that bitch up” or taking advantage of someone as a way to work off his own anger or frustrations.

I’m noticing a trend. There are a lot of people giving their gut reaction to the topic, but not a lot of people answering the actual question, which was more about the origin of the phrase and whether or not it is borne out by the facts (suggesting some sort of study or metaanalysis).

Am I to presume that this means you don’t actually know the answers to the questions posed in the OP, or that I was unclear what I was asking? If it is the later, how would you suggest I clarify?

My response was based on what I have read in various studies. Whether that actually supports the specific phrase “It’s about power not sex” rather depends on your interpretation on what’s known.

Who actually coined the phrase, I have no idea.

[Moderator note]


We would like to find original studies or the original source of the quote. I don’t think that personal opinions on the issue are particularly useful in GQ. If you wish to discuss the issue in more general terms, please open a thread in GD.

General Questions Moderator

Most people would cite:

Brownmiller, S. (1975). Against our will: Men, women and rape. Simon and Schuster: New York.

as the source.

^This is about as good a formulation of the issue as I have seen.

Thank you. I am always encountering this theory, and I try to debunk it at every turn. I don’t know why but it is very annoying to me; it’s a real distortion of the truth.

Generically, the source is early-mid 70s Feminism.

You folks never heard of Dennis Raider (BTK) ? He masterbated on his victims post mortem but did not rape them. his trip was all about power.

I’d venture that the idea is reasonably widespread because many people (what I personally would call normal people) don’t conceptualize the payoff from rape as sex, so while with robbery compared with legitimately earning money the payoff is of the same kind (money vs. money), with rape vs. consensual sex it is not of the same kind (mechanical stimulation vs. sex)

The idea stems partly from the anecdotical evidence of rape victims reporting how their rapist had trouble getting or sustaining an erection during the assault.

Your sole expertise seems to come from being a young guy who is a bit concerned about being falsely accused of rape. I don’t see where that gives you any credibility to debunk anything. Have you ever met any rapists? Talked with them about their motives? Cite?

I think that’s the main point this phrase tries to adress. People who say or think that Rape is about sex very easily come to the conclusion that

  • only beautiful women are raped, thus they are safe, because they are homely and/or

  • that the women brought it onto themselves (wearing a too tight miniskirt, so the men, who simply are unable to controll their lust, couldn’t stop themselves, and all women should dress as nuns to not tempt men)

If rape were a result of men not getting enough sex, then prostitutes would stop the need for rapes. But not all rapes happen because men are under pressure after three years on a desert island.

To give a cite and not only my opinion: Full article

And the important part of the Snopes article:

(I hope that quote isn’t too long to violate rules).

The two sources given by snopes are:
Gelman, David, et al.   “The Mind of the Rapist.” Newsweek. 23 July 1990 (p. 46)

Martin, Claire. “Experts Question Widely Circulated Tips to Avoid Rape.” Denver Post. 7 March 2001.