Serial Rapist Behaviour

by Robert Whiston FRSA   Jan 7th 2011

The basis of this article is unashamably based on work undertaken in the US by Robert R. Hazelwood and Janet Warren in 1990. As such, it is old and some of its research citations date back to the mid and late 1970s. Nevertheless, it provides a sound first step in differentiating types of rapists – something that has fallen out of fashion today. The benefit of this paper is that its authors have long experince of the subject matter and law enforcement credentials.

SERIAL RAPISTS, as highlighted in previous articles, have to be firmly distinguished from the ‘occasional’ and the ‘unfortunate’ rapist. Of the circa 13,000 men in England & Wales, arrested or taken in for questioning in recent years, approximately 10,000 were needlessly filled with dread. They are released with no charges brought.

In ball park terms approximately 950 will have had a previous criminal history involving a sex offence and the remaining 2,000 will be a mixture of the occasional (or one-off rapist) and the unfortunate rapist.

The occasional rapist can best be described as someone with a criminal history who over time has gravitated towards sex offences that culminate in an alleged rape but who then never rapes again. Such creatures do not exist according to female MP folklore but the statistics disprove this fond belief.

The unfortunate rapist is Mr. Joe Public. He may find himself accused of a rape which was actually a mutually consensual act at the time. In the majority of instances the incident is no-crimed or categorised as ‘no further action’ because the consensual nature is obvious to both the police and CPS. However, due to constant background pressures for “better” results the police and CPS may go against their better judgment and in a minority of cases the issue goes to trial.

At this point whether the person is acquitted or found guilty is a 50 / 50 gamble, literally. Inevitably some guilty rapists will be acquitted, but equally, the possibly exists that an innocent person accused of rape will be sentenced. Again such instances do not exist according to female MP folklore.

In an attempt to differentiate between these sub-categories I have devised the term ‘Hapless’ to apply to those wrongly accused and or then wrongly sentenced – and who have no previous criminal history. it also applies to those helplessly caught up in police sweeps for ficticious rapes and number around 10,000 annually

Premeditation, as we shall see later, is the distinct hallmark of a serial rapist.  This is lacking in all other types of rape offences. Whereas politicians and the law can distinguish between deliberate murder and unintentional murder, i.e. manslaughter, and adjust sentences accordingly this practical ability to spot differences deserts politicians and the mandatory sentences fail to reflect the varying gravities

The inevitability of miscarriages of justice are due to the Home Office insistence that lie detector are not reliable (not even for use by the police to verify the accuser’s story), and their insistence that British justice is so wonderful that post sentencing DNA testing of prisoners is superfluous to requirements. The erosion of a defendants rights to defend himself have been eroded since 1976 and are a shadow of their former selves, yet the conviction rate has not improved as was thought and, indeed, promised. Indeed, rape conviction numbers have hardly moved in comparison to reported rapes – but no one seems towant to notice this and certainly not to ask the question why.

It is very clear from this experienced duo, Robert Hazelwood and Janet Warren, that serial sexual attackers have a profoundly different profile and modus operandi than the hapless rapist.

An FBI special agent with over 20 years experience is certainly worth taking note of. Formerly a Major in the US Military Police, Robert Hazelwood has interviewed dozens of rapists responsible for over 800 rapes. He has also been published extensively in journals and has co-authored books.

 Left: Robert Hazelwood, FBI

In this article from the 1990s his co-author is Janet Warren, a Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia. Her link to the FBI is that she oversees university research collaboration with the various “profiling” units within the FBI, eg serial murders and child abduction.

Left: Janet Warren, University of Virginia.

To this insight should be added the case notes of Charles P. McDowell, formerly of the USAF and FBI. His study was based on 1,218 cases that were initially investigated as rapes. Of those, 460 were proven rapes, 212 were disproved allegations, and 546 cases remain unresolved. Some of his work will be displayed on a separate page on this site.

Research into rape over the past 20 years, while extensive, has been of poor quality and extremely blinkered. For a more expansive and liberal approach, ie one ready to entertain new theories and concepts, we have to go back to the 1980s. There we find studies into the motives and dynamics that are not hidebound or overawed by political correctness  in their conclusions.



Sexual Dynamics of Rape


The majority of the sexual attacks (55% – 61%) committed by these men were premeditated across their first, middle, and last rapes (middle and last here refer to the rapes committed before capture, e.g. the middle 6 or the last 10). Fewer rapists reported their crimes as being impulsive (15% – 22%) or opportunistic (22% – 24%). 

Although no comparable data on serial rape are available, it is probable that the premeditation involved in these crimes is particularly characteristic of these serial rapists

It is also probable that this premeditation is reflective of their preferential interest in this type of crime and largely accounts for their ability to avoid detection.             

     The sexual acts that the victim was forced to engage in remained relatively constant across all three rapes.  The most common acts were vaginal intercourse (5% – 67%), oral sex (29% -44%), kissing (8% – 13%) and fondling (10-18%). Anal intercourse (5-10%) and foreign object penetration (3-8%) were reported less often.

In assessing changes in behavior over the first, middle and last rapes, there appears to be a trend wherein the rapists’ interest in oral sex increases while his interest in vaginal contact decreases.

Sample Size

From 1984 to 1986, FBI Special Agents assigned to the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC) interviewed 41 men who were responsible for raping 837 victims.

Previous issues of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin provided an introduction to this research (1) and the characteristics of the rapists and their victims. This article, however, describes the behavior of these serial rapists during and following the commission of their sexual assaults. The information presented is applicable only to the men interviewed; it is not intended to be generalised to all men who rape.

Methods of Approach adopted by Serial Rapists

There are three different styles of approach rapists frequently use:  The “Con,” the “Blitz,” and the “Surprise.” (3)  Each reflects a different means of selecting, approaching and subduing a chosen victim.

1/. The “Con” approach – typically this involves subterfuge and an ability to interact with the rapist victim. So, for example, a man who raped more than 20 women told the interviewers that he stopped one of his victims late at night and identified himself as a plainclothes police officer.  With this technique, the rapist openly approaches the victim and requests or offers some type of assistance or direction.  However, once the victim is within his control, the offender may suddenly become more aggressive. 

The ‘Con’ approach was used in 8 (24%) of the first rapes, 12 (35%) of the middle rapes, and 14 (41%) of the last rapes

2/. The “Blitz” approach is sheer violence. A typical scenario might be a woman loading groceries in her car; she is approached a man struck her in the face; she is thrown into the car and raped.   

In a blitz approach, the rapist uses a direct, injurious physical assault which subdues and physically injures the victim. The attacker may also use chemicals or gases but most frequently makes use of his ability to physically overpower a woman. 

Interestingly, despite its simplicity, this approach was used in 23% of the first rapes, 20% of the middle rapes, and 17% of the last rapes. Even though it is used less often than the ‘con’ approach, the blitz approach results in more extensive physical injury and inhibits certain fantasy components of the rape that may be arousing to the rapist.   

3/. The “Surprise” approach involves a rapist pre-selecting his victims through “Peeping Tom”’ activities (a phrase rarely heard in modern times). Such a rapist would then watch the victim’s residence to establish her timetable and patterns. Typically, after deciding to rape the woman, the rapist would wait until she had gone to sleep, enter the home, and place his hand over her mouth.  He would advise the victim that he did not intend to harm her if she co-operated with the assault. In this way one rapist raped more than 20 women before he was apprehended.

Controlling the Victim

How rapists maintain control over a victim is a question often posed. Janet Warren & Robert Hazelwood believe it is dependent upon two factors:

  • a). Their motivation for the sexual attack and/or
  • b). The passivity of the victim.

Within this context, four control methods are frequently used in various combinations during a rape: [1] 

  1. Mere physical presence
  2. Verbal threats    
  3. Display of a weapon, and
  4.  The use of physical force

Anal intercourse and foreign object penetration were reported the least often. In assessing changes in behavior over the first, middle and last rapes, there appears to be a trend where the rapists’ interest in oral sex increases while his interest in vaginal intercourse decreases.

Weapons: Firearms v Knives

The men in this study predominantly used a threatening physical presence (82% – 92%) and/or verbal threats (65% – 80%) to control their victims.

Substantially less often they displayed a weapon (44% – 49%) or physically assaulted the victim (27% – 32%). When a weapon was displayed, it was most usually a sharp instrument, such as a knife (27% – 42%).

One rapist explained that he chose a knife because he perceived it to be the most intimidating weapon to use against women in view of their fear of disfigurement.

Firearms were used less frequently (14% – 20%). 

Surprisingly, all but a few of the rapists used binding located at the scene of the rape. One exception was an individual who brought pre-cut lengths of rope, adhesive tape and handcuffs along with him. 

In previous research, it was found that there was no relationship between both verbal and physical resistance and the amount of injury sustained by the victim. 2  Interestingly, however, the degree of the rapists’ pleasure and the duration of the rape did increase when the victim resisted.

Sexual Dynamics of the Rape

The sexual acts that the victim was forced to engage in remained relatively constant across all three types of rapes, i.e. Con, Blitz and Surprise’ approach. The most common acts were:

  • vaginal intercourse (54% – 67%)
  • oral sex (29% – 44%),
  • kissing (8% – 13%) and
  • fondling (10% -18%).
  • anal intercourse (5% – 10%)
  • foreign object penetration (3% – 8%)

Anal intercourse and foreign object penetration were reported the least often. In assessing changes in behavior over the first, middle and last rapes, there appears to be a trend where the rapists’ interest in oral sex increases while his interest in vaginal intercourse decreases. [2]

Sexual Dysfunction

In a study of 170 rapists, it was determined that 34% experienced some type of sexual dysfunction during the rape. [3]   
In fact, it has been noted that “the occurrence of offender sexual dysfunction and an investigatory understanding of the dysfunction may provide valuable information about the unidentified rapist.”  [4]

The data on these serial rapists are strikingly similar. In the first rape, 38% of the subjects reported a sexual dysfunction, 39% in the middle rape, and 35% during the last assault.

This type of information can prove helpful to the investigator in associating different offences with a single offender, because the nature of the dysfunction and the means the offender uses to overcome it are likely to remain constant over a number of rapes.

Evading Detection

Considering the rapists’ casual aptitude for avoiding detection, it is surprising to note that very few of the serial rapists employed specific behaviors designed to obscure or preclude their identification.

In fact, offenders tended to rape their victims in the victim’s home, thereby contributing to their ability to avoid detection.[5]  (NB. this paper was written before the discovery of DNA).

Additionally, the majority of rapists (61-68%) did not report dressing in any special way for the offences.  Surprisingly, disguises were reported in only 7% – 12% of the offences, suggesting that other means of evading detection were used by these particular offenders.

Alcohol and Other Drugs

Alcohol is commonly associated with rape but other drugs, to a lesser degree, are also used at the time of the rape.[6]   The data on these rapists suggest a somewhat different relationship between alcohol/drugs and serial rape. 

Approximately one-third of the rapists were drinking alcoholic beverages at the time of the first, middle and last offenses, with 17% – 24% of the respondents reporting using drugs. 

In a majority of these cases, these figures reflect the offender’s typical consumption pattern and not an unusual increase in substance abuse.    


The research concerning serial rapists’ behavior during and following the commission of the crimes has determined that:

  • The majority of the rapes were premeditated
  • The “Con” approach was used most often in initiating contact with the victim
  • A threatening presence and verbal threats were used to maintain control over the victim
  • Minimal or no force was used in the majority of instances
  • The victims physically, passively or verbally resisted the rapists in slightly over 50% of the offences
  • The most common offender reaction to resistance was to verbally threaten the victim
  • Slightly over one-third of the offenders experienced a sexual dysfunction, and the preferred sexual acts were vaginal rape and forced fellatio (mouth sucking a penis)
  • Low levels of pleasure were reported by the rapists from the sexual acts
  • The rapists tended not to be concerned with precautionary measures to protect their identities
  • Approximately one-third of the rapists had consumed alcohol prior to the crime and slightly less reported using some other drug.

The most common post-offence behavior reported by the rapists were feelings of remorse and guilt, following the case in the media and an increase in alcohol and drug consumption. These characteristics, although not generally applicable to every rapist, can be helpful in learning more about offenders, their behaviors and the heinous crime of rape.



[1] “The Serial Rapist: His Characteristics and Victims, by Robert Hazelwood & Janet Warren, and FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, vol. 58, Nos. 1 and 2, Jan and Feb 1989, pp. 10-17 and 11-18.

[2] Robert R. Hazelwood, R. Reboussin & J. Warren, “Serial Rape:Correlates of Increased Aggression and the Relationship of Offender Pleasure to Victim Resistance,” Journal of Interpersonal Violence, March 1989, pp. 65-78

[3], “Sexual Dysfunction During Rape,” by NA. Groth & A. W. Burgess, New England Journal of Medicine, October 6, 1977, pp. 764-766. 

[4] “Analyzing the Rape and Profiling the Offender,” Robert Hazelwood, Practical Aspects of Rape Investigations: A Multi-disciplinary Approach, R. Hazelwood & A. Burgess (Eds 1987), pp. 169-199.

[5] “The Serial Rapist: His Characteristics and Victims,” Part II, by Robert Hazelwood & J. Warren FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, February 1989, pp. 11-18.

[6] “Psychological Factors in Rapist Behavior,” by R. Rada, American Journal of Psychiatry, vo. 132, pp. 444-446, 1975 and R. Rada, “Psychological Factors in Rapist Behavior,” Clinical Aspects of the Rapist, R. Rada (Ed. 1978), pp. 21-85.


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