Psychotherapy Off the Wall

Allen was sentenced to prison on a conviction for rape. He was extremely embarrassed about his action, and he was terrified about what the other inmates might do to harm him. He had heard how sex offenders could be treated in prison, both by the staff and the other inmates who mutually tended to view sex offenders as the lowest form of vermin, and who frequently abused or injured them. Although he was a solidly built young man in his late twenties, he tended to stand in corners or walk near walls, watching the other inmates furtively and trembling visibly.
His offence began with a break and enter committed when he was drunk and doing drugs. He was looking for money or anything he could sell to allow him to buy more drugs. In the apartment he entered, he found a young woman asleep in her bed. He tripped over something and the woman was awakened by the noise. She was clearly scared, but she was also angry and she began to scream. He ran to the bed, grabbed her around the shoulders with one arm, covered her mouth with his other hand and whispered a warning that she had better not make any noise. In holding her, he pulled her up from the bed and the covers fell away showing her naked body. She grabbed the covers and tried to cover herself with them.
Allen liked the sight of her body, and he was half aware that the woman seemed more concerned that her nudity be covered than that he was holding her or that he had threatened her. When he had obtained her nodded assent that she would make no noise, he took his hand away from her mouth and pulled the covers down to look at her body again. Although she had not struggled with his hand on her mouth, she fought to keep herself covered. Partly due to the effects of the alcohol and drugs which disinhibited some of the anger he had harboured toward his parents, partly due to feeling frustrated at being unable to wrestle the covers from the woman’s grip, and partly due to his awareness of her sense of vulnerability about her nudity, Allen began to feel a towering rage building in himself. It built very quickly.
He was wearing a scarf. He pulled it off and tied it around the woman’s head to act as a gag. She released the sheets and tried to remove the gag. He grabbed her arms, pushed them behind her back and used a blouse on her night table to tied them behind her. He pulled the bedding off her. She tried to struggle. He took hold of her breasts and pressed her into the bed. The woman winced. For a moment he hesitated reacting to her discomfort. But his anger took over and he began brutally to maul her genitals. He might still have stopped with the manhandling, but she looked as though she was terrified. A dark image crept into his mind which involved some intense excitement. He felt tense all over, and his excitement got the better of him. He hit her hard a couple of times to warn her to be still. Then he clambered out of his trousers and raped her viciously.
While telling Fellicity this story, Allen wept often. He said he knew he had hurt her, scared her and injured her. He said he felt awful remorse about what he did. But, like many offenders, he seemed almost more preoccupied with ‘why’ he did such a thing than about his victim’s suffering. He moved easily to that question. Allen complained that he had no clear memories at all before the age of eleven, but that he was sure he had been sexually abused as a child — why else would he have no childhood memories? Almost as a plea, he asked whether any early sexual abuse he may have suffered would account for ‘why’ he abused this woman. He was not really interested in Fellicity’s opinion on the matter. He was sure that must be why he did this terrible thing. But Fellicity was quick enough to notice that there was no other explanation offered, even one to tie such possible abuse of himself to his abuse of his victim.
This story is told in considerable detail because it illustrates quite well several of the common features found in sex offenses. Commonly, there has been use of disinhiting substances, there is a sudden opportunity which was at least not entirely expected (if it had been expected, controls might have been in place before the opportunity presented itself), the victim is alone and vulnerable, the surroundings are dark (making anonymity possible), parts of the person’s body can be seen unclothed, the victim seems helpless or terrified, the victim seems submissive or acquiesces to demands, the perpetrator has felt angry at abuse or mistreatment he/she believes to have been given to him/her, the perpetrator has justifications or excuses available in his/her mind to serve as an additional disinhibitor, and there is usually a progression of changing plans or purposes which unfold as the act proceeds often changing from one set of intentions and actions to others. These are some of the elements which may lead to dangerous behaviours. Fortunately, Allen believed that it was dark enough in the room that the woman would be unable to recognize and identify him. If he had realized that his features could be seen quite clearly, the situation might have shifted from a dangerous one to a lethal one.

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