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Rape: Behavioral Aspects - Risk Assessment

sexual sex coercion attachment

There are many risk factors that may be identified when conducting a clinical or forensic evaluation of an individual offender, for example, rape fantasy and urges to act on such fantasy; a long history of polymorphous and paraphilic sexual interests and behavior; multiple instances of coercive sexual behavior; a history of impulsive, antisocial behavior; clear, documented evidence of psychopathy; substance abuse; poor social and interpersonal skills; dominance and control needs; attitudes (e.g., anger toward victims, misogynistic attitudes, global anger, hypermasculine attitudes); denial of problems; poor community adjustment; and failure to comply with parole conditions.

Many of these factors, which may well be noteworthy when evaluating an individual offender, are not supported by empirical research on risk assessment with large samples of rapists. Generally speaking, those risk factors that consistently emerge in empirical research are: (a) impulsive, antisocial behavior; (b) psychopathy; (c) number of prior sexual offenses; (d) sexual drive strength; and (e) history of sexual coercion or documented evidence (using the penile plethysmograph) of arousal to such coercion or to rape fantasy. If we try to be even more reductionistic, we can distill the empirical research down to three basic, fundamental factors: (1) clinical traits associated with psychopathy (e.g., callous indifference to others, lack of empathy, emotional detachment, lack of affect, conning and manipulativeness, glibness, entitlement, and grandiosity); (2) a track record of impulsive, antisocial behavior; and (3) sexual coercion (a willingness to use force or manipulation to satisfy sexual needs). The last factor, referred to as "sexual coercion," has been variously described and conceptualized by different researchers and at the present time is the focus of considerable study. One element in this complex equation seems to be marked attachment deficits that permit, or increase the likelihood of, "impersonal" sex (i.e., sex in the absence of any emotional attachment). On a hypothetical interpersonal attachment continuum, we find, in addition to impersonal sex, many outlets for anonymous sex (e.g., phone and computer sex, strip clubs). If we put together these three elements, we have emotional detachment, leaving the offender relatively impervious to cues of victim distress and thus unempathic; attachment deficits, increasing the desirability and/or need for impersonal sex; and coercion, the willingness to use force to gratify personal needs.

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