Can a rapist be reformed?

by Devika Gupta

(as published on, under Dr. Anu Goel)

Simply defined, rape is a type of sexual assault that involves sexual intercourse, initiated by one or more persons against another person without that person’s consent or knowledge – in case of intoxication or state of unconscious. Most of the time, the focus remains solely on the victim – to ensure that she is able to make a safe and speedy recovery. Little to no attention is paid to the treatment of the rapist, who can be understood to be suffering from some kind of psychological imbalance.

HOWEVER, STUDIES, experiments as well as attempts by governments to reform these perpetrators have revealed some astounding facts about rapists.

Characteristics of a rapist
The first and most dangerous fact is that most rapists do not consider their act to be wrong. They view their conviction by the court as an inconvenience, often saying ‘we had sex’ rather than ‘I raped her’ in reference to the incident. They show very little guilt with regard to their crime, often pleading innocence or claiming that the woman was ‘asking for it.’

Another important thing to be noted is that there is no ‘profile’ of a rapist that can be used to differentiate people. The backgrounds and circumstances of rapists form a pool of entirely heterogeneous people and situations. However, some broad categories in which they can be classified are:

1. Power-assertive rapist: Physically aggressive, and willing to employ force through obscene language, a weapon, slapping or punching.


2. Anger-retaliatory rapist: He feels vengeful towards women, and intends to degrade and punish them. He acts on impulse, and can get very angry, and this leads him to cause the most damage to the victim by beating and man-handling the victim.

3. Rapist seeking power-reassurance: This type of person is low on self-confidence and skills of interpersonal nature, and is not able to develop relationships with women. Of all the rapist types, he is the least violent, and does not intend to kill or hurt. The rape is usually pre-meditated and based on some fantasy entertained by him.

4. Anger-excitation rapist: He is a sadist who derives sexual gratification from inflicting pain, especially on people who he may be familiar/friends with. The rape is planned and also rehearsed in the rapist’s mind before it is attempted.

Treatment and reformation of rapists
Treatment programs for imprisoned rapists have been in existence for many years. While studies have shown varying degrees of success for such initiatives, evaluating or measuring the effectiveness of the intervention programs remains a tricky task.

As of now, there is a need to create better programs for treatment. The main focus of these programs should be the protection of the community and future potential victims (females and males), and preventing re-offence. The idea behind treatment should not be to ‘cure’ the rapist, but instead to help him ‘control’ himself.

Treatment goals

Some proposed treatment goals to be achieved by the rapists can be:

1. To acknowledge the presence of a problem within himself and also take responsibility for it.
2. To develop an understanding of the antecedents of his offensive behaviour and situations in which the incidence of re-offence may arise.
3. To understand the consequences of his behaviour upon his victim, significant others in his own and his victim’s family and upon society in general.
4. To modify his attitudes towards women and gender roles.
5. To understand the roles played by alcohol and/or drug use in the committing of the offence.
6. To accept that control over his behaviour will be a lifetime process.

As indicated previously, the road to reforming a rapist is a long and tedious one, but with sustained effort on part of both the patient and the administrator, reformation is possible.


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