Who are the sexual predators?

  • Published
  • By Dr. Tom Appel-Schumacher
  • U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program
According to a 2010 report on the prevalence and incidence of sexual assault in the Air Force, 96.6 percent of perpetrators of sexual assault against women are men. The study also found that men who are serial offenders, or to use a more common descriptor, sexual predators, are responsible for more than 90 percent of attacks that occur in many communities.

Many people fail to understand the characteristics sexual predators exhibit or how they operate. In most sexual assault cases, victims know their attackers. Attackers are frequently acquaintances, friends, co-workers or even supervisors of their victims. Sexual predators typically use a relationship based on trust to their advantage.

Statistically, the majority of sexual predators are men. Therefore, we must examine the characteristics, motives, strategies and commonalities in the men who commit sexual assault.

A male sexual predator views women as objects who exist for his pleasure and gratification. He sees the sexual conquest of a woman as his right. He also believes that women will say no to sex when they really want it. He sees all women as potential targets and when this predator is resisted by a woman, he sees that resistance as a challenge.

Additionally, the male predator has a skewed view of masculinity as he believes the more sexual conquests of women he completes the more successful he is as a man. He has a strong desire and need to control women, yet fears being controlled by women. The male predator is also easily slighted by women and is likely to carry a grudge. He tends to harbor anger and typically perceives women as teasers, who secretly want to be coerced into sex.

Male sexual predators frequently are engaging people. They may be fun loving, friendly and often a leader in a unit. Many male predators who have been accused of sexual assault are top performers, hard-workers, and know how to please others, especially the boss.

It is not unusual for a male predator to hide disturbing beliefs and behavior so he continues to be a valuable asset to his unit. These hidden thoughts and behaviors may include a history of child abuse, constricted beliefs of the role of women in society, or a tendency to become angry toward others, especially women when he is outdone, overshadowed or not recognized.

A male predator tends to view aggression and violence as necessary characteristics. He may enjoy pornography, telling sexually offensive jokes or making suggestive or offensive comments about women. He will quickly dismiss questionable comments or statements, by saying he didn't mean it or was "just joking."

Sexual predators plan their attacks. One step of this planning process is identifying potential victims. On college campuses male predators tend to seek out young women. Likewise, an Air Force male predator may look for a young female Airman who may be new to a base. These predators typically observe and select victims they perceive as vulnerable. They are very smooth. Through the use of compliments and showing attention in their potential victims, they can often get women to feel good and feel obligated to attend a function. If a woman says no, or indicates reluctance, the predator will likely try again later, increasing the subtle pressure and flattery.

Sexual predators also utilize several tools to meet their objectives. Alcohol is the number one weapon used by predators to facilitate an assault. Consuming alcohol increases the vulnerability of potential victims, as alcohol tends to lower inhibitions. Alcohol consumption also has a tendency to make people feel less coordinated and lose a sense of time or space.

After an assault, especially if the victim has consumed alcohol, the victim's memory may not be very clear or strong. This tends to aid the predator in the days that follow, as he or she helps the victim remember what happened. It is not unusual for predators to call, text or see their victims after an assault in an effort to manipulate their recollection of events. The use of power, control, manipulation and threatening remarks are also part of many attacks.

Research suggests that in a given community, approximately 3 percent of men may be sexual predators. If 3 percent of the men in your community were sexual predators, how many men does that equal and how many sexual assaults could occur because of them?

Editor's Note: The following sources were referenced for this article.

Steiger,D. M., Chattopadhyay, M., Rao, M. , Green, E., Nemeckay, K., & Yen, E. (2010, December). Findings from the 2010 Prevalence, Incidence Survey of Sexual Assault in the Air Force: Final Report. Gallup Government.

Lisak, D., Miller, P.M. (2002). Repeat rape and multiple offending among undetected rapists. Violence and Victims, 17(1), 73-84.