Myths Regarding Why Sex Offenders Commit Sex Crimes

Although many may (wrongly) believe that one must be "sick" or "mentally ill" to commit a sex crime, researchers have examined a much broader range of theoretical explanations. There is still too little research, however, about why people commit sex crimes. Much of the research regarding sex-offender specific theories (Chapter 2) has simply identified correlates rather than providing a coherent theoretical explanation. Despite a large number of studies showing that sex offenders commit other types of non-sex crimes too—that is, they are generalists—relatively little research has been conducted applying general crime theories to sex crimes and sex offenders.

Myths Regarding Rapists, Rape, and Rape Victims

There is also a great deal of misunderstanding regarding the context in which rape occurs. A widespread belief is that rapes are spontaneous, violent attacks involving strangers. Research has consistently shown that scenarios like this are the exception, rather than the norm. By and large, rapes are committed against a victim by someone who is known to her or him. A very small percentage of rapes involve strangers. Rapists are usually not impulsive; most rapes are acts of premeditated violence. The idea that once a rapist begins to engage in sex, he (or she) can be provoked to "a point of no return" reinforces the stereotype that rape is an act of uncontrollable passion and symptomatic of high sexual energy. Focus Box 12.1 presents a recent criminal case involving a police officer who committed numerous rapes against victims whose reputations were questionable (reflecting the myth that certain women are "unrapeable").

Focus Box 12.1 Former Oklahoma City Police Officer Targets "Bad Women" for Rape and Sexual Assault

In December 2015, former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw was found guilty of 18 counts of rape and sexual assault against over a dozen women between December 2013 and June 2014. By design, Holtzclaw methodically targeted Black/African American teenagers and elderly women with criminal records and histories of drug abuse and sex work. Holtzclaw used his authority to run background checks and outstanding arrest warrants on the women as a means to coerce sex, offering reprieve from warrants and jail time in exchange for sex. Holtzclaw's defense attorney, Scott Adams, acknowledged that the accusers in the case waited months to report his crimes to authorities because they were not "perfect victims" or "perfect accusers." In fact, Adams went so far as to claim that while Holtzclaw was "naive and very gullible," his victims possessed "street smarts like you can't imagine," effectively portraying Holtzclaw's targets as the predators and responsible for the trauma that they endured. Holtzclaw was sentenced to 263 years in prison for his crimes in January 2016. Critics and commentators have observed that this verdict illustrates the budding momentum of the "Black Lives Matter" campaign, an activist social movement that protests violence against those who are Black/ African American and broader issues of police brutality, racial profiling, and abuse of authority. As discussed throughout this textbook, legal decisions regarding sex crimes and sex offenders are often the result of shifting social and political climates, and scientific research plays a major role in shaping some of these shifts.

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