The Criminal Behavior of the Serial Rapist
by Robert R. Hazelwood and Janet Warren
THE CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR OF THE SERIAL RAPIST
Robert R. Hazelwood, M.S.
Behavioral Science Instruction/Research Unit
Janet Warren, D.S.W.
Institute of Psychiatry and Law
University of Virginia
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. (2) 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 generalized to all men who rape.
The majority of the sexual attacks (55-61%) committed by
these men were premeditated across their first, middle, and last
rapes, while 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
METHODS OF APPROACH
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.
The ``Con'' Approach
Case Number 1
John, 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. He asked
for her driver's license and registration, walked back to his car
and sat there for a few moments. He then returned to the victim,
advised her that her registration had expired and asked her to
accompany him to his car. She did so, and upon entering the car,
he handcuffed her and drove to an isolated location where he
raped and sodomized the victim.
As in the above case account, the con approach involves
subterfuge and is predicated on the rapist's ability to interact
with women. 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.
Various ploys used by the offenders included impersonating a
police officer, providing transportation for a hitchhiking
victim, and picking women up in singles bars. Obviously, this
style of initiating contact with victims requires an ability to
interact with women.
The ``Blitz'' Approach
Case Number 2
Phil, a 28-year-old male, approached a woman loading
groceries in her car, struck her in the face, threw her in the
vehicle and raped her. On another occasion, he entered a women's
restroom in a hospital, struck his victim, and raped her in a
stall. Exiting the restroom with the victim in his grasp, he
threatened her as though they were involved in a lover's quarrel,
and thus precluded interference from concerned onlookers who had
gathered when she screamed.
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.
The ``Surprise'' Approach
Case Number 3
Sam, a 24-year-old male, would preselect his victims through
``peeping tom'' activities. He would then watch the victim's
residence to establish her patterns. After deciding to rape the
woman, he 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 cooperated with the
assault. He raped more than 20 women before he was apprehended.
The surprise approach, which involves the assailant waiting
for the victim or approaching her after she is sleeping,
presupposes that the rapist has targeted or preselected his
victim through unobserved contact and knowledge of when the
victim would be alone. Threats and/or the presence of a weapon
are often associated with this type of approach; however, there
is no actual injurious force applied.
The surprise approach was used by the serial rapists in 19
(54%) of the first rapes, 16 (46%) of the middle rapes, and 16
(44%) of the last rapes (percentages vary due to the number of
rapes). This represents the most frequently used means of
approach and is used most often by men who lack confidence in
their ability to subdue the victim through physical threats or
CONTROLLING THE VICTIM
How rapists maintain control over a victim is dependent upon
two factors: Their motivation for the sexual attack and/or the
passivity of the victim. Within this context, four control
methods are frequently used in various combinations during a
rape: 1) Mere physical presence; 2) verbal threats; 3) display of
a weapon; and 4) the use of physical force. (4)
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 often 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.
THE USE OF FORCE
The amount of force used during a rape provides valuable
insight into the motivations of the rapist and, hence, must be
analyzed by those investigating the offense or evaluating the
offender. (5) The majority of these men (75-84%) used minimal or
no physical force across all three rapes. (6) This degree of
minimal force is defined as non-injurious force employed more to
intimidate than to punish. (7)
Case Number 4
John began raping at 24 years of age and estimated that he
had illegally entered over 5,000 homes to steal female
undergarments. On 18 of those occasions, he also raped. He
advised that he had no desire to harm the victims. He stated,
``Raping them is one thing. Beating on them is entirely
something else. None of my victims were harmed and for a person
to kill somebody after raping them, it just makes me mad.''
Force resulting in bruises and lacerations or extensive
physical trauma requiring hospitalization or resulting in death
increased from 5% of the first rapes, 8% of the middle rapes, to
10% of the last rapes. Two victims (5%) were murdered during the
middle rapes and an additional 2 (5%) were killed during the last
Case Number 5
Phil, an attractive 30-year-old male, described stabbing his
mother to death when she awoke as he was attempting to remove her
undergarments in preparation for sexual intercourse. He had been
drinking and smoking marihuana with her for a period of time
prior to the attempted sexual act, and after she fell asleep, he
began fantasizing about having sex with her.
Most of the rapists in this study did not increase the
amount of force they used across their first, middle and last
rapes. (8) However, 10 of the rapists, termed ``increasers,'' did
use progressively greater force over successive rapes and raped
twice as many women on the average (40 victims as opposed to 22
victims) in half the amount of time (i.e., raping every 19 days
as opposed to 55 days). By the time of the last assault, they
were inflicting moderate to fatal injuries. These factors,
coupled with progressive interest in anal intercourse among the
increasers, suggest that for these individuals, sexual sadism may
be a motive for their assaultive behavior.
Victim resistance may be defined as any action or inaction
on the part of the victim which precludes or delays the
offender's attack. These behaviors may be described as passive,
verbal, or physical in nature. (9)
The rapists reported that their victims verbally resisted
them in 53% of the first assaults, 54% of the middle attacks, and
43% of the last attacks. Physical resistance occurred in only
19%, 32% and 28% of the first, middle, and last rapes
respectively. The relatively low incidence of passive resistance
(i.e., 28% in the first rape, 17% of the middle rape, and 9% of
the last rape) most likely reflects the rapists' inability to
discern this type of resistance.
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. (10) Interestingly,
however, the degree of the rapists' pleasure and the duration of
the rape did increase when the victim resisted.
In this study, the offenders' most common reaction to
resistance for the first, middle and last rapes was to verbally
threaten the victim (50-41%). Compromise or negotiation took
place in 11-12% across the rapes, and physical force was used in
22% of the first rapes, 38% of the second rapes and 18% of the
third rapes. The rapists also reported 6 incidents in which they
left when the victim resisted; however, it is not clear at what
point in the attack the resistance occurred.
SEXUAL DYNAMICS OF THE RAPE
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 (54-67%), 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
The amount of pleasure that the rapist experienced during
the three assaults was measured with the statement: ``Think back
to the penetration during the rape. Assuming `0' equals your
worst sexual experience and `10' your absolutely best sexual
experience, rate the amount of pleasure you experienced.'' The
majority of rapists reported surprisingly low levels of pleasure
(3.7). However, the type of contact that resulted in higher
scores differed widely. (11) One rapist reported appreciation for
his victims' passivity and acquiescence, while another referred
to the pleasure experienced in the rape-murder of two young boys
as being ``off the scale.'
Case Number 6
Paul had raped adult women, adolescent and preadolescent
girls and brought his criminal career to an end with the rape and
murder of two 10-year-old boys. When asked to rate the sexual
experiences, he advised that he would rate the adult and
adolescent females as ``0'' and the preadolescent girls as ``3.''
He then stated, "When you're talking about sex with 10-year-old
boys, your scale doesn't go high enough.''
Across the first, middle and last rapes, the majority of
serial rapists (78-85%) usually only conversed with the victims
to threaten them. Much less frequently, their conversations were
polite or friendly (30-34%), manipulative (23-37%), or personal
(23-37%). In a minority of instances throughout the assaults,
the rapist reported being inquisitive (15-20%), abusive/
degrading (5-13%), or silent (8-13%). It appears that serial
rapists use verbal threats to subdue the victim, and only after
they believe they have gained control over the victim do they
move on to various other modes of conversing or interacting.
In a study of 170 rapists, it was determined that 34%
experiencedsome type of sexual dysfunction during the rape. (12) 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
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 offenses 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.
Considering the rapists' aptitude for avoiding detection, it
is surprising to note that very few of the serial rapists
employed specific behaviors designed to preclude identification.
In fact, offenders tend to rape their victims in the victim's own
home, thereby contributing to their ability to avoid detection. (14)
In addition, the majority of rapists (61-68%) did not report
dressing in any special way for the offenses. Surprisingly,
disguises were reported in only 7-12% of the offenses, suggesting
that other means of evading detection were used by these
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. (15) 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, and 17-24% of the
respondents reported 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 serial rapists were also asked about changes in their
behavior following their assaults. The most frequent changes
after each of the crimes included feeling remorseful and guilty
(44-51%), following the case in the media (28%) and an increase
in alcohol/drug consumption (20-27%). Investigators should also
particularly note that 12-15% of rapists reported revisiting the
crime scene and 8-13% communicated with the victim after the
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 offenses
* 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
* Low levels of pleasure were reported by the rapists from the
* 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-offense behavior reported by the reapists
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 heinnous crime of rape.
(1) Robert R. Hazelwood & Ann w. Burgess, "An Introduction to the
Serial Rapist," FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, vol. 56, No. 9,
September 1987, pp. 16-24.
(2) Robert R. Hazelwood & Janet Warren, "The Serial Rapist: His
Characteristics and Victims,: FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, vol.
58, Nos. 1 and 2, January and February 1989, pp. 10-17 and 11-18.
(3) Supra note 1.
(4) Supra note 1.
(5) Supra note 1.
(6) Robert R. Hazelwood, R. Reboussin & J. Warren, "Serial Rape:
Correlates of Increased Aggression and the Relationship of Offen-
der Pleasure to Victim Resistance," Journal of Interpersonal
Violence, March 1989, pp. 65-78.
(7) Supra note 1.
(8) Supra note 5.
(9) Supra note 1.
(10) Supra note 5.
(11) Supra note 5.
(12) N.A. Groth & A. W. Burgess, "Sexual Dysfunction During Rape,"
New England Journal of Medicine, October 6, 1977, pp. 764-766.
(13) Robert R. Hazelwood, "Analyzing the Rape and Profiling the
Offender," Practical Aspects of Rape Investigations: A Multi-
disciplinary Approach, R.R. Hazelwood & A.W. Burgess (Eds.)
(New York: Elsevier Science Publishing Co., Inc., 1987), pp. 169-
(14) Robert R. Hazelwood & J. Warren, "The Serial Rapist: His
Characteristics and Victims," Part II, FBI Law Enforcement Bulle-
tin, February 1989, pp. 11-18.
(15) R. Rada, "Psychological Factors in Rapist Behavior," 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.)(New York: Grune and Stratton Publishing
Co., Inc., 1978), pp. 21-85.