Why Do Men Rape?


Sexual abuse remains a burning issue worldwide, with conversations and confrontations happening almost daily through various mediums. With rape being a national epidemic (around 109 cases reported in December 2018), its prevalence renders the vulnerable to a state of trauma, fear and silence, many of which are women and children. The wound has clearly festered enough for abuse victims to come forward more than before, of course facilitated by movements such as #metoo and #ibelieveher. However, it’s worth noting that these engagements around rape and sexual abuse are revealing much more than just victims and perpetrators. They are bringing to the fore a question that may be problematic to ask, or even hard to confront –why do men commit rape?

Men are the biggest perpetrators of rape globally. In many ways, men are not ready to confront their conditioning. The general description of a rapist is usually portrayed as a stranger, a tempted man lured by a woman’s appearance or actions; a victim of a desire he is not responsible for.  It is hardly an uncle, a man of influence, a brother, a friend, a husband or boyfriend. The distancing of rape to ‘someone out there’ makes all of us, men and women, afraid to confront perpetrators around us.  A rapist has the typical ‘rraselepe’ narrative—an elusive person you must protect yourself from at all costs; a monster archetype. It is rarely the person you love, who lives next to you or who you work with. This has led to what is called the silent epidemic, where “victims may not realize that they have actually experienced legally defined rape or sexual assault, because the incident does not fit the prototypic scenario of ‘stranger rape’, and fear not being believed,” as stated by American Social Psychologist, Dr Antonia Abbey from Wayne State University. It also fosters a belief in perpetrators that they are not committing any crime as they are hardly ever confronted. It is said that two-thirds of victims know their attackers.

Historically, rape is tied to power and dominance. It is also linked to toxic masculinity that is validated through sexism, everyday conversations, a sense of entitlement to women’s bodies and belief systems. These are all guided by conditioning, be it of gender roles or behaviour. So how do we then begin to lay a foundation that would lead to a genuine change in violent behaviour? How aware are we of how we condition our children, especially the boy child?

Local Clinical Psychologist, Thato Molefi, says it begins at the home. “Learned behaviour starts in the home. How we perceive each other starts with our upbringing and the notions that surface from there. It’s also what they grow up seeing around them and what they experience in those homesteads. The upbringing of the girl and boy child informs what kind of adults they become. Even if one finds themselves in a single parented home, it is the role of that parent to instil those positive behavioural tools that will assist their child as they grow.”

Amidst the victim blaming we are currently witnessing, stereotypes about drinking women being sexually available and appropriate targets as well as the role silence plays from our own families and political figures, many believe the conversations that are happening in our country are causing more rifts between the sexes than they are proposing solutions. Should we then begin to psychologize rape as part of the solution? But, at what cost would this be to victims and to what consideration is it to perpetrators who are products of their conditioning?

“Most men start to rape in their teenage years, between 15 and 19. More than half of the men that have raped a girl younger than 15 say they did it to ‘have fun’ or ‘as part of a game,” claims the Saartjie Baartman Centre on their rape statistics report in 2017. Perhaps men rape primarily due to enabling conditions that validate their actions.

Maybe it is difficult to talk about the reasons men rape without involving rapists in the discussion. Yes, this is too triggering for victims who want to heal.  However, dialogue with violators in an attempt to rationalize why they violate seems inconsiderate. Men must know better, right? But how do we begin to understand the psyche of a rapist if they are not confronted on what motivates their actions? Do violators deserve such a space? Or they solely deserve severe punishment? Again, how do we navigate this without compromising victims or even enabling violators?

A great example is the non-rehabilitation of perpetrators. With no outreach programs currently in place in Botswana to rehabilitate convicted rapists, offenders are more likely to re-offend upon their release, notes Thompson, an associate member of the Australia and New Zealand Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abuse. “The kinds of sex offences that get people into jail are usually embedded in either the lifestyle or the personality of the individual. People get released into the community anyway, and I think we’d all feel a lot safer, we’d be a lot safer, if they received treatment while incarcerated.”

Another issue that makes rape prevalent is the lack of access to justice for victims.  Fearing defamation lawsuits and legal spaces that do not accommodate their experiences without judgement, many victims fear speaking about their abuse.  Our law enforcement officials and organs do not receive adequate training to deal with victims of rape, which may lead to further victimisation and trauma, as apparent in the recent arrests of those who were exposing victims. “The manner in which women are cautioned by the police to protect themselves with no mention of rapists to stop raping, is an indication of why rape culture thrives. Only when perpetrators and the society know that there is no excuse for rape can we begin to deal with this crisis of 44 rape charges per week,” states Setho Mongatane, co-founder of the I Shall Not Forget Movement.

There exists a silver lining in all of this. As women put a face to their trauma, it becomes clear that rapists are not merely strangers. The gradual engagement taking place in Botswana to educate children from a young age on why they need to understand consent with booklets such as Rati Botswana’s ‘My Body Belongs To Me’ aimed at teaching young ones about sexual abuse and how to have autonomy over their bodies is a step in the right direction. In addition, movements such as #IShallNotForget also poise interactive conversations around issues our society would rather sweep under the rug.

Maybe instead of blaming victims for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, it should be prescribed that communities ought to focus on the offender and have a better understanding of the causes of offending. Maybe instead of being silent, men must begin the emotional labour of deconstructing some of their toxic behaviours and be ready to confront other men, despite their alliance. It may be time for all us, to confront our own family members who are perpetrators.