Describe the types of sexual assault perpetrators.

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The study of rape and sexual assault examines the relationship of sexually disordered persons and nonconsensual sexual activity with others. Rape is an assaultive behavior of one person on another, where the assault involves sexual activity and the behavior involves one person fulfilling sexual desires by using a nonconsenting person.
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Sexual assault is the threat or actual act of sexual physical endangerment of a nonconsensual person or legally defined minor child, regardless of consent. Rape is forced sexual penetration of a nonconsensual person or legally defined minor child, regardless of consent. Definitions of sexual assault and rape are further delineated by states’ criminal codes. The Crime Classification Manual (1992) notes that “definitions of what constitutes rape and sexual assault vary from state to state, resulting in marked differences in the reported frequencies of offense and behavior categories in different samples reported in the literature.”

According to the Office of Justice Programs of the US Department of Justice, 287,100 attempted or completed rapes or sexual assault victimizations against adolescents and adults were reported to law-enforcement agencies in 2010. This figure represents a victim ratio of 2.1 females in every 1,000 persons over age twelve and 0.1 males in every 1,000 persons over age twelve. However, it is significant to note that rape and sexual assault are the most underreported of the index crimes. Aggravated assault, robbery, and murder are commonly reported at near incidence level, but sex-related crimes are often not reported or are charged inaccurately.

Married or cohabiting people may be victims of forced sexual activity but do not report the behavior of their partner, or if they do report the behavior, it is commonly considered domestic violence and the formal legal charge is reduced to simple assault and does not represent the true, sexual nature of the assault. The question as to whether a husband can rape his wife has been debated in many courtrooms. The cross-examination of the victim is often a humiliating experience, and consequently, many victims choose not to press charges against the offender. Many women choose not to report forcible intercourse if they had previously been a consensual partner with the offender. It is also common that while children who are sexually molested by a parent are removed from the home under an order of child abuse, the offending parent is not charged with rape or sexual assault.

Sexual Paraphilias

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) recognizes a group of disorders known as sexual paraphilias. The essential features of a paraphilia are recurrent, intense, sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors, generally involving nonhuman objects or the suffering or humiliation of oneself or one’s partner or children or other nonconsenting persons. Paraphilic disorders are paraphilias that occur over a period of at least six months and cause distress or impairment to the individual or cause harm to others. For some individuals, paraphilic fantasies or stimuli are obligatory for erotic arousal and are always included in the sexual activity.

It is significant to note that not all sexual paraphilias result in sexual assault or rape, and it is the preference of individuals who have paraphilias to identify consensual adult partners. It is also significant to note that the majority of those with known sexual paraphilias are male. However, some of the paraphilias are specific to nonconsensual parties and children. Children, because of their age, by law cannot consent to sexual activity. There are a handful of paraphilias that are commonly associated with nonconsensual partners.


Exhibitionism is defined as “behaviors involving the exposure of one’s genitals to an unsuspecting stranger.” The nature of this paraphilia requires a nonconsensual relationship with a stranger; consequently, it must be considered a form of sexual assault.


Frotteurism is defined as “touching and rubbing against a nonconsensual person.” A frotteur (usually a man) rubs his genitals against the victim, often in a crowded public place, or fondles the victim. Like exhibitionism, the nature of this paraphilia requires a nonconsensual victim and, consequently, must be considered a sexual assault.


Voyeurism is defined as “the act of observing unsuspecting individuals, usually strangers, who are naked, in the process of disrobing, or engaging in sexual activity.” A voyeur (usually a man) is sexually excited by looking (“peeping”), sometimes masturbating to orgasm either in the process of peeping or later while retrospectively reviewing what he has seen, but does not seek actual sexual contact with the victims. As in the previous paraphilias, the nature of voyeurism requires a nonconsenting person and, consequently, is considered a sexual assault.


Pedophilia is defined as “recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child or children (generally age thirteen years or younger).” State statutes define the minimum age at which a person may consent to sexual relations. Pedophilic behavior is by definition a violation of law and consequently is a sexual assault.

Sexual Sadism

Sexual sadism is defined as “recurrent, intense, sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving acts (real, not simulated) in which the psychological or physical suffering (including humiliation) of the victim is sexually exciting to the person.” Persons with this sexual paraphilia are continuously looking for a consensual partner. The practice of sexual sadism is commonly comorbid with sexual masochism. Sexual masochism is defined as “recurrent, intense, sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving the act (real, not simulated) of being humiliated, beaten, bound, or otherwise made to suffer.”

People with one or both of these sexual paraphilias frequent bars and social clubs where sadists and masochists congregate. They are able to establish consensual relationships and mutually satisfy their sexual urges. In the absence of a consensual partner, or when a masochistic party refuses to proceed as far as the sadist desires, the sadist may force compliance and a sexual assault takes place. Sexual assaults that occur because the masochist refuses to continue to participate are rarely reported. When no consensual partners are available and the sadist is experiencing intense sexual arousal, the sadist may forcibly rape a nonconsensual stranger party.


The concept of rape has a historical and common definition of a man forcing a nonconsenting woman to engage in sexual intercourse. The definition is no longer contemporary. Men and women engage in sexual intercourse with children under the legal age of consent and, consequently, meet the statutory definition of rape. Men and women also engage in same-sex relationships that may result in behaviors that may be, in fact, forcible sexual assault or may be rape as defined by statute. Some hate-motivated crimes involve rape and sodomy. Consequently, the entire legal and philosophical concept of rape must be viewed from an expanded, inclusive definition.

The Crime Classification Manual includes a taxonomy of rape and sexual assault that outlines numerous categories: child pornography; criminal-enterprise rape; felony rape; personal cause sexual assault; nuisance offenses; domestic sexual assault; opportunistic rape, including social acquaintance rape, authority rape, power-reassurance rape, and exploitative rape; anger rape; sadistic rape; abduction rape; group-cause sexual assault; formal gang sexual assault, informal gang sexual assault; military sexual harassment; and military sexual assault/rape. The manual also classifies rapists based on motivations.

The taxonomic studies that describe the styles of convicted rapists focus on the interaction of sexual and aggressive motivations. Although all rape clearly includes both motivations, for some rapists, the need to humiliate and injure through aggression is the most salient feature of the offense, whereas for others the need to achieve sexual dominance is the most salient feature of the offense. John Douglas and Robert Ressler, both retired Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents who were the initial founders of the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences Unit, identified four primary subcategories of rapists: power-reassurance, exploitative, anger, and sadistic.

Power-Reassurance Rapist

Referred to as a "compensatory rapist," this individual is commonly afflicted with one or more of the sexual paraphilic disorders, and these paraphilias are clearly demonstrated in the method in which the rape is preformed. These rapists are preoccupied with their particular sexual fantasies and commonly have a vision of their “perfect” victim. They are highly sexually aroused as they attempt to locate their “perfect” victim and may demonstrate voyeurism, exhibitionism, masturbation practices, and pedophilia. They are delusional, believing that their victim truly loves them in return. These individuals commonly cannot achieve and maintain normal, age-appropriate heterosexual or homosexual relationships and compensate for their personal perception of inadequacy by stalking and assaulting a younger or older, and weaker, victim.

Exploitative Rapist

The exploitative rapist, also referred to as an "impulsive rapist," commits the crime of rape as an afterthought while committing another crime. These rapes generally occur when a victim is found at the site of a burglary or armed robbery. There is no premeditation in this rape, and the motivation is purely coincidental to the original intended criminal activity. It is not uncommon for persons to take hostages during an armed robbery or carjacking and then impulsively rape the hostage.

Anger Rapist

The anger rapist, also referred to a "displaced aggressive rapist," commits sexual assault because of anger. This rapist is commonly not angry with the victims, because they are usually strangers. Rather, the displaced aggressive rapist is angry with someone or something else, perhaps a boss, a spouse, or just a set of circumstances. Unable to express anger at the source, he displaces his anger on the victim. The rape is characterized by very violent behavior, and the victim is commonly severely injured and may be killed.

Sadistic Rapist

The sadistic rapist, also referred to as a "sexually aggressive rapist," possesses the sexual sadism paraphilia and cannot achieve sexual arousal or satisfaction unless inflicting pain on a victim. The rapist believes that the victim likes his or her sex rough and, consequently, will demonstrate a variety of torturous behaviors during the rape. While the rape is violent, it does differ from the rape by the displaced aggression rapist. The sexually aggressive rapist will demonstrate behaviors that have sexual overtones, while the displaced aggressive rapist will demonstrate unrestrained violence, more violence than is necessary to subdue the victim.

Other Rapist Classifications

Other classifications of rapists include gang rapists motivated by retaliation, intimidation, or juvenile impulsivity. Persons who use drugs to incapacitate their victims are generally compensating for their inability to achieve normal sexual relations and are commonly personality disordered.


American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5. Washington: Amer. Psychiatric Assn., 2013. Print.

Bartol, Curt, and Anne M. Bartol. Criminal Behavior: A Psychosocial Approach. 10th ed. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, 2012. Print.

Dobbert, Duane, ed. Forensic Psychology. Columbus: McGraw, 1996. Print.

Douglas, John E., Ann W. Burgess, Allen G. Burgess, and Robert K. Ressler. Crime Classification Manual. 3rd ed. Hoboken: Wiley, 2013. Print.

Goode, Erich. Deviant Behavior. 10th ed. Upper Saddle River: Pearson, 2014. Print.

Planty, Michael, et al. Female Victims of Sexual Violence, 1994–2010. Ed. Catherine Bird and Jill Thomas. Office of Justice Programs, US Dept. of Justice, Mar. 2013. PDF file.