Using Rapist Risk Factors to Set an Agenda for Rape Prevention

This Applied Research paper reviews the empirical research on the behaviors, traits, developmental experiences, and biological antecedents that have been found to be associated with an increased probability that a male will become sexually aggressive.

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VAWnet Summary:

Using Rapist Risk Factors to Set an Agenda for Rape Prevention by Raymond A. Knight and Judith Sims-Knight with contributions from Suzanne Brown-McBride (September 2009).

In Brief:

Rape is a serious and prevalent crime. Effective programs aimed at preventing its occurrence are essential. Yet, research shows that current rape-prevention programs are suboptimal for reducing sexually coercive behavior. We argue that to create more effective programs it is important to identify the core traits that underlie rape and to intervene at sufficiently early ages. This article briefly reviews the empirical research on the behaviors, traits, developmental experiences, and biological antecedents that have been found to be associated with an increased probability that a male will become sexually aggressive. It attempts to differentiate correlative and causative factors and to identify gaps in our knowledge that must be addressed to develop models of etiology on which to base effective prevention programs. We propose a model that integrates the currently available data and we make suggestions for generating more effective prevention strategies. We also urge an increased effort to conduct the research that will guide future prevention and intervention efforts.

Recommended Readings and Resources

  • Anderson, L. A., & Whiston, S. C. (2005). Sexual assault education programs: A meta-analytic examination of their effectiveness. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 29, 374-388.
  • Barbaree, H. E., & Marshall, W. L. (Eds.) (2006). The juvenile sex offender. New York: The Guilford Press.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data sources on violence prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/sexualviolence/datasources.html
  • Knight, R. A., & Sims-Knight, J. E. (2004). Testing an etiological model for male juvenile sexual offending against females. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 13, 33-55 .
  • Knight, R. A., & Sims-Knight, J. E. (in press). Risk factors for sexually coercive behavior against women. In J. W. White, M. P. Koss, & A. Kazdin (Eds.), Violence against women and girls: Consensus, critique and next steps. (Vol. I). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  • Patrick, C. J. (Ed.). (2006). Handbook of psychopathy . New York: Wiley.
  • Suomi, S. J. (2005). Genetic and environmental factors influencing the expression of impulsive aggression and serotonergic functioning in Rhesus monkeys. In R. E. Tremblay, W. W. Hartup, & J. Archer (Eds.) Developmental origins of aggression (pp. 63-82). New York: & Guilford.

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