The Mind of a Rapist
By: Pulkit Sharma

Dr The idea that a perpetrator's violent and assaultive behavior can stem from psychological factors over which they may not have a total control sparks of an ideological debate where people feel that the perpetrator should not go scot free under the alibi of insanity. Surly, it is injustice to the victim if insanity were to be used as a defense and strict laws are needed to deter the rapists but experience has shown that only stringent punishment is insufficient to transform the rapist. Human behavior is complex and needs to be understood. Most of us have varying degree of openness to understand various normal and abnormal human behaviors depending upon our sensitivity and life experiences, when it comes to a rapist we become closed. Fears and guilt crop up. There is paramount sense that we are colluding with the rapist or revictimizing the victim. Simplistic explanations come handy, "he did it because he wanted it." Rape is a form of violence and like all other forms of violence we may benefit from understanding why someone got so violent?

Once I got an opportunity to psychologically evaluate a rapist. I had several questions on my mind. While interacting with him I hoped to nail down a stark difference between a rapist and a non-rapist. I was quite dismayed because there was nothing visibly abnormal or distinctive about this person, he just seemed like another usual guy. He had a sound mind which could plan, think and take decisions; ability to work; a range of things he liked and disliked and a wish to succeed in life. Then what made him rape someone? Was it just a need for a sexual encounter? As I stayed with this question and gave space to him to be more open about his thoughts, feelings and experiences I had a sense that though he was not insane his mind was wired somewhat differently and thiscould elucidate why he raped a little girl.

He was not aiming for a sexual encounter. However, when he met the victim in a lonely setting, he reported being turned on by her fear. He had a strong wish to overpower her and the thought made him feel very good. As he advanced towards her she became more fearful and begged for mercy. This made him feel extremely powerful and the more passive and submissive she became the more intense became his desire to attack her and the more euphoric he felt. It seemed that more than the sexual gratification, he raped because he experienced omnipotence -the desire was to possess, control and overpower the victim.

Although he led an apparently normal life however there was a unique pattern in all his relationships. He was very demanding and had little empathy for the other person. Mutual reciprocity which characterizes healthy and mature human relationships was missing. For him, all people were just need satisfying objects, till the time his wishes were gratified he stayed in the relationship but the moment the other person expressed a disagreement he had a tendency to become enraged and terminate the relationship if the other person did not change their stand. He had a narcissistic personality structure. This tendency contributed to his insensitivity towards the victim- he saw the victim as an object to fulfill his need but lacked the perspective to infer how damaging it would be for her to have someone force his needs without any concern for her feelings.

As we interacted, I also sensed that he had a poor emotional control. Whenever he got upset, angry or excited he could not stay with the feeling but needed to do something to discharge it. His coping mechanisms were fighting, taking alcohol or throwing things around. All of us tend to experience intense emotions and fantasies but we do not necessarily translate them into action. For instance each time we feel like smashing someone in anger we do not necessarily carry this act out. We are able to reason whether it is ethical or unethical, appropriate or inappropriate and are able to moderate our response on the basis of that. Although he could reason it out, he could not control his feelings from getting translated into action. Just before the act of rape, he felt extremely excited and he could not control this feeling from getting translated into action.

Apart from having strict laws and punishments for rape, there is a need to further our understanding of the rapists. This person committed rape probably because he had a differently wired mindset characterized by poor emotional control, an excessive need to control, exploit and possess others. Unless, this mindset is changed punishment alone may not be effective in deterring potential rapists from victimizing others. There is a large body of literature in psychology and other fields on the traumatic experience of rape victims and methods to deal with it but there is a complete absence of attempts to understand the rapist. Perhaps, we feel a strong disconnect and hatred for the rapist. However, in order to change any human behavior we need to understand and engage with it and behavior of the rapist is no exception. Therefore there is a need to work through this hatred and disconnect.

Pulkit Sharma is Clinical Psychologist & Spiritual Therapist in private practice at Pondicherry (Puducherry), near Auroville. Email:- info@thepsychologistindia.com