Support for Women Sexually Assaulted by Male Partners
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"Men who abuse and rape their partners are men who seek to control others. In being abusive, they are not out of control; rather, they establish control"
~ Carol J Adams ~



I include a page on perpetrators because partner rape is not solely the problem of women who experience it, but the men who do it to them. It is also important for dispelling myths about who rapes.

So, who are the perpetrators of partner rape and why do they do it? Are they "real" rapists? Survivors of partner rape will will immediately understand that men who rape are, for the most part, quite ordinary men and not the tattooed psychotic stereotype of a rapist - and this is borne out by research (1). The following page draws on several studies and texts.If you are a survivor, I hope as you read this page, you are encouraged in the understanding that what your partner did to you was not something you encouraged or deserved. It is likely he brought a mindset to the rape/s which many men who commit sexual violence share. This page may contain a few pointers that could help you make sense of your experience/s of partner-rape. Please be aware that none of exploring why men rape their partners is intended to absolve a perpetrator of responsibility for his violence. But rape does not happen in a vacuum, and the following attempts to show some factors which may coexist with sexually violent behaviour. I hope it will bring you closer to placing the responsibility where it belongs: with the perpetrator.
A partner rapist may have more long-term aims in mind than a stranger. He may, for example, wish to send a message of control which he hopes will limit his partner's sense of her own autonomy. Commonly, he may not see forced sex on his partner as rape (2). If he does hold this view, he will be much more likely than the stranger-rapist to find social support in it. That nice man next door who gives you surplus tomatoes from his garden (and who regularly forces his wife into anal sex) can't possibly be the same as the weirdo who lurks behind bushes, can he? Or can he?

It cannot be said that the deeds of one type of rapist are more or less criminal than another. Below, there are some extracts from interviews with men who raped partners and those who raped strangers. It reveals some strong similarities in their motivations. Indeed, distinctions, when we speak of why men rape, appear to have no good grounds. The act of rape may be spawned by similar mindsets regardless of the context in which it occurs (3). Read the following:

  • POWER:
    • The partner rapist: ‘It gave me a certain feeling of power over her because I knew she found it unpleasurable. It was one of the only times I could best her "
    • The stranger rapist: "… At that time, it gave me a sense of power. A sense of accomplishing something that I felt I didn't have the ability to get."
    • The partner rapist: ‘‘I guess I was angry at her. It was a way of getting even "
    • The stranger rapist: "I met a girl at a party... she irritated me … I took her home to her apartment and I raped her.’"
    • The partner rapist: ‘‘… She was a stronger person than I was in many ways, and I bad an inferiority complex about it. "
    • The stranger rapist: "I raped about four chicks … they all had a certain self-assurance … it used to be threatening to me."
    • The partner rapist: ‘‘I had the best erection I’d had in years. It was very stimulating. I walked around with a smile on my face for three days. You could say, I suppose, that I raped her."
    • The stranger rapist: Interviewer: "Did her fear turn you on? Rapist: "Yes"
      Interviewer: "How did you feel about her being hurt?" Rapist: "That was exciting."
    • The partner rapist: ‘‘I get this satisfaction from a feeling of some dominance – a man over woman thing."
    • The stranger rapist: "Making a girl wouldn’t do it … It was the unattainable I wanted."
    • The partner rapist: ‘‘I have a right to this."
    • The stranger rapist: "You want this, and you don’t see why you can’t have it so you take it ."

Please see here for more discussion of partner rape motives.

Any culture that devalues women and sees violence to them as acceptable spawns a Rape Culture. Rape is contributed to by a blend of different factors. Cultural ideas about entitlement to sex, what real manhood is and negative views of women all fuel rape. In relationships, women have long been viewed as the property of men, and as having lost the right to control over their own bodies. Cultural conditions do not absolve a perpetrator of responsibility, but they do contribute to a mindset which can lead to seeing sexual violence as acceptable. The poet Ogden Nash wrote 'Seduction is for sissies. A real man wants his rape'. Unfortunately, the idea of rape as the act of "real" manhood" is deeply entrenched in the minds of many men. Rapists who stand up in court and say "But she led me on, your honour" happily subscribe to myths because it is in their interest to do so. Partner rapists may subscribe to any of the following myths (6):
  • Entitlement to sex whenever he wants it
  • I own my woman and can do what I want with her
  • She owes me sex
  • It's her duty to submit
  • A real man doesn't take no for an answer
  • It's okay if he doesn't beat you
  • Women really want to be taken by force
  • If you didn't want it, you should have tried harder to stop him
  • No means yes
  • It's not rape if it's his partner
  • Sexual force and coercion are normal parts of a relationship
  • Women have to be either saints or whores - when they're whores, they deserve what they get
  • Rape is lovemaking
You may be very confused if your partner engaged in the following behaviours. These are common ways for evading responsibility (7)
  • Denial: Acting as if nothing out of the ordinary happened, baldly stating that it didn't happen, calling you crazy for saying that it did, saying he doesn't remember.
  • Rationalization: "You must have wanted it" "You could have stopped me," "A husband is entitled to it"; rationalization is also blaming you: " If you gave me more sex..." "You are a cocktease"
  • Minimization I didn't really hurt you" "You're making a fuss about nothing" "I just wanted to make love to you."
  • Claiming Loss of Control: "I was too turned on to stop", "You make me so angry"
  • Threats of violence:"What are you going to do about it? I'll give you more of the same."

We've seen that some men honestly do not see forced or coerced sex on their partners as rape. This is often due to socialization about being "entitled" to sex with a partner, or like many other people, seeing a "real" rapist as the stranger in the alleyway. But this doesn't mean you have to buy into that view - it is not okay for you to be harmed because your partner has been socialized a certain way.

Diana Russell writes that "Some rapists think they're lovers" (8).Rapists who see themselves as lovers are likely to subscribe to myths that women want a forceful lover, or that they like to be raped."No" is not heard as withdrawing sexual consent, but is seen as part of a game the rapist has every intention of winning; the word no may in fact translate to "No, I want you to force me". There might be initial attempts at verbally persuading a woman into sex, but his intention is to do it anyway. In the course of a sexual assault, such men will try to stimulate the victim physically; they believe that if they do, she will enjoy it. If she does have a physical response, they can implicate her in her own violation - i.e. "Don't tell me you didn't want it, you were wet." These are the rapists who blithely ask their victim out to dinner afterwards or who display surprise at a woman's pain after they have raped her. They act as if they've done nothing wrong, and as if her distress is her problem (9). Many survivors of partner rape have been confused by just such actions by their partners (10). But it is part of the way perpetrators evade responsibility, and it is still rape.
Trauma expert Aphrodite Matsakis makes the point that some abusers may have real positive regard for their victims (11). No doubt some men who have raped their partners do love them, or are able to show love at other times. But when rape occurs, any love is secondary to whatever need the perpetrator is trying to meet - even if the perpetrator excuses it by calling it "making love."We have seen the themes of power and hostility that frequently underpin partner rape, and certainly, not many survivors I have met feel "loved" by partner rape. Indeed, far from love rape may be an act of outright hatred - consider this husband's words from Shere Hite's study on male sexuality: '"I finally grew to hate my wife so much that I decided to rape her (12).
I admit to some unease with the concept of change, because 'I will change' has been uttered by many a man trying to lure a woman back into his vortex of control,only to hurt her again. Yet. I know of occasions where change has happened, and I say this not wishing to make any claims about frequency. The question should not really be can they change, but whether they are willing to do so - some perpetrators believe that there's nothing wrong with forcing sex on a partner. It bears saying that great caution is needed here - there are also patterns of sexually violent behaviour that appear resistant to change and some treatment for sexually violent behaviours may take a process of many years, if successful at all. Some men will never be safe for women.
But sometimes, change can happen. When a man takes responsibility for what he has done, recognizes women as his peers with absolute rights to their bodies, and gives up assumptions that he can control his partner or 'must' have sex when he feels like it,
A man must change because he recognizes that raping or otherwise sexually abusing his his partner is wrong and not just because he doesn't want her to leave. If he has not been prosecuted, he acknowledges that he could have been. Change means more than simply not raping again.
He will examine and challenge the climate within himself that made sexually assaulting her acceptable. He will not minimize her pain or otherwise attempt to stop her from expressing her pain; he accepts that she is responding to a problem his behaviour created. He accepts that raping her has deeply hurt her; he is genuinely sorry and while he might be honest about his motives, he does not offer excuses. He does not 'relativise' the rape by saying things like 'at least I didn't beat you'.
He gives the woman he has hurt space to heal, and is able to understand that healing may take longer for her than an admission of wrongdoing from him, however genuine. Ideally he does this without it being an attempt to influence her decisions. He doesn't make up for the deficit of control he may now be feeling by attempting to control her in other ways. He completely ceases behaviour that is sexually coercive. If he is given another chance, he counts himself grateful because he knows that betraying their love with rape was terrible. If there are no second chances, he has learnt a costly lesson, but one which will hopefully ensure safety for other women
However, any responsibility for change is up to him; you are not required to have to be the 'helper'. Decisions about your future are also your right to make. Remember that your safety comes absolutely first. You deserve to be loved safely.
  1. Russell, Diana E.H, The Politics of Rape, Stein and Day, USA (1975)
  2. Easteal, P, and McOrmond-Plummer, L, Real Rape, Real Pain: Help for women sexually assaulted by male partners, Hybrid Publishers, Melbourne, 1996
  3. Easteal, P, and McOrmond-Plummer, L, Real Rape, Real Pain: Help for women sexually assaulted by male partners, Hybrid Publishers, Melbourne, 1996
  4. Finkelhor, D.and Yllo, K., License to Rape: Sexual Abuse of Wives, The Free Press, New York 1985;
  5. Russell, Diana E.H, The Politics of Rape, Stein and Day, USA (1975)
  6. Easteal, P, and McOrmond-Plummer, L, Real Rape, Real Pain: Help for women sexually assaulted by male partners, Hybrid Publishers, Melbourne, 1996
  7. Easteal, P, and McOrmond-Plummer, L, Real Rape, Real Pain: Help for women sexually assaulted by male partners, Hybrid Publishers, Melbourne, 1996
  8. Russell, Diana E.H, The Politics of Rape, Stein and Day, USA (1975)
  9. Shapcott, David, The Face of the Rapist: Why Men Rape - The Myths Exposed, Penguin Books, Ringwood (1988)
  10. Easteal, P, and McOrmond-Plummer, L, Real Rape, Real Pain: Help for women sexually assaulted
  11. Matsakis, A. I Can't Get Over It: A Handbook for Trauma Survivors, New Harbinger Publications Inc. California, 1992
  12. Hite, Shere, The Hite Report on Male Sexuality:How Men Feel About Love, Sex and Relationships, Ballantine Books, USA 1982