Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


Women and Sexual Offenders

What inspired you to specialize in sex offenders?

I had taught that subject in the army CID and I had worked some of it. I asked to be the instructor in that area at Quantico because they had an opening and I wanted to stay there. Everything in my life just happened. There was no plan whatsoever. Yet I'm fascinated with what I do. I truly love it.

What would you say is the mindset of a serial rapist?

That depends upon the rapist. When you're dealing with rapes against strangers, I don't think there's a non-serial rapist. Some get caught before they become serial rapists. The mindset can vary from a fantasy of a relationship with a victim all the way to a fantasy with a sexual slave, so there's a huge continuum there. Everything depends upon that fantasy.

So fantasy is central?

Let me clarify that. Motivation is central. Fantasy is designed to complement the motivation. From the fantasy comes the behavior.

Can you tell me the different categories of sexual rapists that you use?

We say there are four major categories and two minor categories. The originator of these types was Dr. A. Nicholas Groth. He wrote Men Who Rape. I read that book back in the seventies when I first got to the Academy in an instructional role. I thought the types made sense, so we adapted them for the FBI. That meant a lot, because we trained every instructor in the FBI on sexual assaults. Whatever we told them, they turned around, went out, and taught that to local state and county law enforcement. So you have people coming from every field office in the country, getting the training, and teaching it. That's how it got so widely accepted, and I credit Dr. Groth for the original typologies

Your major categories of rapists are these:

  • Power-reassurance: That's what law enforcement calls the "gentleman rapist." He has a complex fantasy of a consensual relationship with a woman.
  • Power-assertive: That's the individual who believes that he is entitled to do whatever he wants to women. They're to be used for his gratification. His fantasies are minimal.
  • Anger-retaliatory: This person assaults because he's motivated by anger and he's getting even with women for real or imagined wrongs. He has almost no fantasy. He simply strikes.
  • Anger-excitation: He's a sexual sadist. He's punishing women because he believes them to be evil and powerful, so he's trying to take away that power. He has deep and complex fantasies.
  • Opportunistic: He's there to commit another crime like robbery or burglary. The victim is there and he simply seizes the opportunity. He's frequently under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If he starts robbing and raping repeatedly, he gets classified into one of the major categories.
  • Gang rape: This involves three or more offenders and you always have a leader and a reluctant participant. Those are extremely violent, and what you find is that they're playing for each other's approval. It gets into a pack mentality and can be horrendous.

Can these men be changed?

In my opinion, you can't change adult criminal sexual sadists.

Will it ever be possible to figure out what goes into the development of violent fantasies so that we can devise some kind of prevention?

No. That's the short answer. The long answer is that you have all these people who have all these explanations for violence, but what they fail to consider is the individual. You could take Ted Bundy and identify every single incident in his life and say, "Wow! That makes a serial killer." No, it doesn't. You could take Roy Hazelwood and subject him to exactly those same occurrences, and he wouldn't be a serial killer. Why not? Because of individual make-up and personality characteristics. The same things will impact on Bundy differently than on you or me. You have to take into account the way these factors occur, when they occur, how they occur, the combination in which they occur, and how you assess it. It's like a molecular model. You take any one part out of that model and you don't have the same structure. We're never going to figure that out. The mind is the most complicated part of the human body and we only understand fifteen to twenty percent of it.

How can women best protect themselves from rapists?

I wrote a textbook on rape with Dr. Ann Burgess called Practical Aspects of Rape Investigation. (We're working on the third edition.) In that book I address this topic: There's a danger in providing advice for women if a rapist confronts them. I won't give advice on that, because you're dealing with three unknown variables:

You don't know where this assault is going to take place and you would give different advice for location A as opposed to location B.

You don't know the type of rapist she's going to be confronted by. Is she going to be confronted by a power-assurance rapist whose fantasy is to have a consensual sexual relationship and if he uses physical violence, it corrupts his fantasy? Or is she going to be confronted by the sexual sadist who enjoys the suffering of his victims? There's a world of difference.

You don't know the strengths and weaknesses of all the women in your audience. In an audience of fifty, you've got fifty different personalities. So how do you give one piece of advice that's appropriate for fifty different women?

What about helping them to behave in a low risk manner?

It's simple. Use common sense. You don't go home with strangers. You don't go to bad parts of town. You don't go someplace and smoke dope.

I can give you some prevention suggestions, too.

  • If you live alone, then you need to put a male voice on the answering machine. If you object to that, then have a dog barking in the background. If you don't own a dog, go next door and kick the neighbor's dog while making your recording. The biggest deterrent to burglars and rapists are dogs.
  • If you're staying in a hotel and you get a phone call that they want to send someone up to check your air conditioning, you call back to the desk and confirm that.
  • You don't park next to a van in the mall. If that's the only spot available, you get out on the side away from the van. Vans are favorite types of vehicles for a rapist.

That's the kind of advice I give.

How do profilers work with law enforcement to find sexual offenders?

There are a variety of things that can be done. First, we give them a profile. That doesn't identify a particular person, but it identifies a personality type. Then you can do proactive strategies. You give them ideas on how to cause an individual to surface. If they identify someone who meets the profile criteria, you can then assist them with interview strategies. Or you can give them search warrant information. You may also end up helping with trial strategies, like cross-examination techniques. And then you can also appear as an expert witness. For example, I testified in a California court on a serial rapist. I was able to point out that the same person raped these six women and it's based strictly on behavior. I've testified in more than fifty cases, including civil cases. In fact, I'm a consultant to the United Nations on the Bosnian war crimes. I've been there several times to meet with them.

What other research are you doing in this area?

Over the past six years, I interviewed twenty women who were married to, or were exclusively dating sexual sadists. That was fascinating. It was more revealing than talking to the offenders.

In what way?

With offenders, you get lies, projection, denial, minimization, or exaggeration. The wives and girlfriends are just like a sponge. They ask, "How can I help? What do you need to know?"

You don't think they lie?

Of course some of them lie, absolutely. But at the same time, you'll get insights into the offender that you'll never get from the offender himself. For example, what type of fantasy would he act out? They would tell this in detail. It was a fascinating study.

Does anything stand out to you from this research?

A lot of things. One is how normal they appear to be. Where they came from and their backgrounds are classically middle class. They generally have no arrest record and no mental health history. There is sexual abuse, but no drug or alcohol abuse history. These men (with whom the women became involved) have the ability to recognize vulnerable women and they manipulate them. The behavior gets reinforced with attention and affection, gifts, and excitement. Eventually they're doing things that isolate them and further lower their self-esteem. All they have is this guy, so they cooperate. It's truly amazing.

Can you tell us about one of the women you interviewed in your study?

It's important to understand that a sexual sadist is one who is aroused by the suffering of his victims. The interviews lasted from five to fifteen hours. We asked about their history, the men's history as best they knew it, their courtship, and their life. One of the women that I talked to was involved with her husband in the murder of more than five people. (Five of the women were involved in homicides, and all five were incarcerated when I spoke to them.) This woman was a very intelligent and attractive person. Prior to meeting her husband, she was successful. He was an ex-convict when she met him and she told me that she perceived a dark side to him that was kind of attractive. She'd led a rather sheltered life. When they dated, he was always a perfect gentleman. He brought gifts and he was older by several years. He was everything she wanted a man to be. He was a considerate and sharing lover, spontaneous, exciting to be around, complimentary, good-looking. And he introduced her to a dark side with friends and associates. She thought that was exciting. She fell in love, but after she did, she started seeing another side. Then after they got married, he began to beat her, primarily on the sexual parts of her body. He used vulgar terms for various parts of her body and for his sexual organs. He had sadistic fantasies involving degradationverbally, sexually, and physicallywhich he acted out on her. Eventually he convinced her that he wanted a sex slave, so they kidnapped one and he killed the victim. According to this woman, that was a surprise. She didn't anticipate that, but now she's an accessory to homicide. They continued with this and ended up with more than five victims.

How did he transform her into a murder accomplice?

The process that he took her through is the same process that we identified in the other nineteen women. It's a five-step process.

Identification: These men seem to have an uncanny ability to identify the vulnerable personthey're vulnerable because of a breakup or for some other reason. These guys fill the void. That's not to say they're superhuman. They do meet women they cannot control. But they're looking for the vulnerable person.

Seduction: They use all the normal, natural techniques that men and women use to get to each other. The woman then falls in love with them. I like to say that you can haul a lot of trash across the bridge of love: alcoholism, drug abuse, and financial instability. You can get a lot of garbage across. If someone loves you, you can abuse them a lot before the bridge crumbles.

Reshape the sexual norms of the target person: They gradually introduce the women to sexual acts that are beyond her experience level, but she wants to please, so she acquiesces. Then he takes her a little bit deeper, a little bit deeper, until finally she's doing everything and anything that he wants her to do. There are no limits. You name an act, one of these twenty women engaged in it. Simultaneous with this is the next step.

Social isolation: They've got to isolate that person from family and friends. In this case that we're talking about, he did that. She used to go to lunch with her co-workers. He convinced her that they should save money by taking bag lunches or limit themselves to $1.50. They could save for furniture that she wanted. She was also making a lot of long-distance calls to her parents and he convinced her that she was spending too much, so he got her to cut back. He's isolating her because he doesn't want her to discuss this stuff with anyone, and he also wants to become the sole person in her life. That's how narcissistic he is. So pretty soon, he's the only person in her life. He's the center of her universe, and she's doing all these things that she never dreamed of doing, which attacks her self-esteem. Now he becomes more demanding and less sharing.

Punishment: Physical, verbal, and sexual. He tells her, "No decent woman would do the things that you're doing." It's psychological battery.

Once they get away from these men, what do they think of themselves?

They have a horrendous time. Five of them went to jail. Others went into counseling, but the problem is that many of your mental health professionals are not trained to deal with this kind of thing. They know how to deal with alcoholism, drug abuse, family problems, and disruptive children, things like that. They're not trained to deal with sexual sadism and paraphiliac behavior. Another woman from this study decided to leave her husband after he went to work one day. She went to an underground battered spouse shelter, and her counselor did not believe her story. It was so far beyond the counselor's experience of dealing with battered spouses that she felt this woman had to be making it up.

Can these women put their lives back together?

Absolutely. I'm in frequent contact with three of them. One is still in jail, and two are not. One of those has a degree and is a single parent. She's doing very well. The other is on her own, although she's estranged from her family, but she's also doing well. The one in prison is learning a second language.

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