Rape: Sex Versus Violence

Eugene Volokh assesses the old saw that rape is a crime of violence, not sex. He looks at the numbers and finds otherwise:

Rapists seem to select victims in age ranges that are pretty highly correlated to the generally understood peaks of sexual attractiveness. Yes, there are rapes of older women; yes, women outside the highest-risk groups are sexually attractive; but the correlation is still quite striking.


Rape seems generally to be a crime of violent sex, not of violence or sex alone.

Interesting. And certainly more than plausible.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. cbk says:

    Certainly, sex is an aspect of rape. However, one thing Mr. Volohk doesn’t consider in his numbers is vulnerability.

    Seems to me that the age of victims may be linked as much if not more to vulnerability and accessibility than to sex appeal.

    If you are to take Eugene’s numbers as he does, you would assume that 17 year olds are the most physically appealing age group on the planet. I can’t see why a 17 year old would be more attractive than a 21 year old unless part of that attraction is gullibility.

    I certainly know that part of my initial appeal to men as a 13 – 17 year old was their perception of my gullibility. Well, that and I had boobs. Once they were disabused of my naivite their attraction to me diminished, or was at least less obvious.

    The variety of men who made advances on me as a youth was very different from those who made advances on me as a young woman. I doubt seriously that myself at 17 had any physical appeal over myself at 24. In fact the only significant difference in my appearance was that I traded that dumb expression for one more worldly.

    And if you look at the first set of figures, nearly as many 12-15 year olds are raped as 20-24 year olds. Does that mean that 12 year olds are as physically attractive to the average male as 24 year olds? I pray that is not so.

    No, I would argue that the high number of 12-15 year olds as opposed to 25-34 year olds is that the former, while at the edge of sexuality are certainly more impressionable/gullible and unaware of the ways of the world than their older counter parts.

    Predators, sexual or not, make themselves aware of easy prey. No doubt the 16 – 19 age group would probably be the easiest prey for those who prefer sexually mature victims. And the naivity isn’t the extent of it. They are also in the age of life when most kids are experiencing quasi-independence, putting themselves in riskier environments.


  2. jen says:

    I think that violence isn’t it – it’s all about power. Rape is a powerful act the rapist uses against his victim – it’s not just the physical act, but the emotional and psychological devastation as well. Sure, rape can be violent, but it’s always about power.

  3. Kevin Polk says:

    You missed the point. The saying relates to the victim’s (hey, men get raped too) point of view. For the victim sexual assault is an act of tremendous violence that is wholly unrelated to their own sexual desires. Hence for them, rape is about violence, not sex.

    The saying has also been used to rebut the natural human tendency to stigmatize the victim has being somehow responsible for the rape, which is still very common. In Saudi Arabia, for example, rape victims are still being stoned for having brought shame to their family.

  4. Attila Girl says:

    It’s an act of violence and domination that has a sexual component.

    But the same could be said for most serial killings.

    Rape is mostly a crime of opportunity, so it is difficult or impossible to separate out young women’s riskier behavior from their more frequent selection as targets.

    The idea that a rapist might want to rape women similar in “type” to those he also likes to bed in less-aggressive ways would not surprise me at all. But we’ve always known something was turning these men on, right? I suspect it’s a combination of the way the victim looks and the situation in which she (or he) finds herself (himself).

    The difference is that a normal man, confronted by a woman in fear for her life and scared of bodily injury, doesn’t, um, sport wood. And even if he does, he walks away or tries to help, rather than threatening and advancing.