Why is rape so psychologically harmful?

Sex offenders are usually shockingly normal

Most sex offenders are not mentally ill. The mentally disturbed pedophile or rapist is, despite all prejudices, the exception. Experts pointed this out at the DGPPN congress in Berlin.

"Rape has a lot to do with robbery: someone simply takes what they want," said Professor HansLudwig Kröber from the Institute for Forensic Psychiatry at Charité Berlin. Kröber recalled the many rapes in civil wars by men who were previously mentally inconspicuous. According to a US study, around 30 percent of male students could imagine committing a violent sexual act if they had no punishment to fear.

In most sexual offenses, therefore, no psychological disorder is in the foreground, it is often about occasional offenders or antisocial personalities who simply take what they want in other areas. Accordingly, 97 percent of sex offenders would be placed in the normal penal system and only three percent in the penal system.

Most of the perpetrators are fully guilty

But even if there is a mental disorder, this does not mean that the perpetrator is considered to be incapable of guilt, explained Professor Henning Saß from the University of Aachen. The disruption must massively restrict the ability to control. In the case of sex offenses, this means that the offender cannot control his urges due to the illness, the psychiatrist said. According to a decision by the Federal Court of Justice, mere weakness of will or lack of character are not sufficient for this.

"The overall personality has to be deformed in such a way that it can be assumed that there is a lack of inhibitory capacity," added Professor Nahlah Saimeh from the Center for Forensic Psychiatry in Lippstadt. In order to be incapable of guilt, personality deficits outside of the sexual sphere would also have to show up. "Such people don't get a lot of things right," she said. Reviewers therefore look at the entire lifestyle. Those who do not attract attention elsewhere are hardly disturbed so badly that they cannot take responsibility for their actions.

As an example, the psychiatrist cited a successful and married insurance agent who had deliberately sought out young nurses and exploited insurance talks for rape. "Somebody like that goes to prison, of course."

Very heterogeneous group

In general, according to Saimeh, sex offenders are a very heterogeneous group. On the one hand, a distinction must be made between offenders with a sexual preference disorder, such as pedophiles, and dissexual offenders. The latter would not have a "disturbed sexual script", they would rather experience pleasure in a conventional way, here, analogous to dissociality, there is a norm failure. The dissexuals are divided again into those who are actually antisocial and also shine in other areas through their ruthlessness, as well as those who primarily take advantage of an opportunity. This includes, for example, the mother's new lover, who is also interested in the pubescent daughter.

In the case of situation perpetrators, it should again be checked how much they actively seek and shape the situation. According to Saimeh, this is extremely relevant for the forecast. The more actively someone creates the situation in which they commit the sexual offense, the higher the likelihood of relapse.

For the culpability, it is also decisive whether the perpetrator also shows "normal" sexual behavior, i.e. whether he can switch between conventional and criminally relevant behavior. If a pedophile also enjoys sex with adults, an uncontrollable compulsion to have sex with children can hardly be assumed. The psychiatrist explained that a reduction in the guilty capacity can only be assumed if the preference disorder dominates the entire sexual life and experience, and so seriously that other areas are also affected. Most of the sex offenders in the penal system are pedophiles, but most pedophile offenders are accommodated in the normal penal system because the strict criteria for incapacity for guilt are not met, added Kröber.

Accordingly, most sex offenders would be released from prison after two to seven years - regardless of the risk of relapse. Preventive detention is only threatened in the event of a repeat.

In the penal system, the placement lasts significantly longer. According to a new regulation, however, an external expert has to check after six and ten years whether there is still a risk of repetition, explained Kröber.

The recidivism rate for sexual offenses is generally around 20 percent. This is lowest among convicted casual offenders. "They'll have enough for the rest of their lives afterwards." Antisocial personalities should be expected to have higher rates, although these would usually be criminal offenses in other areas next. Prosocial training could be helpful here. On the other hand, psychotherapy quickly reaches its limits in pedophiles with poor drive control. Such individuals could often only be discharged on anti-androgen therapy.