Can Sexual Violence Be Blamed on Genes?

I’m not sure if this is good news except from a scientist’s perspective. Recently, genetic studies in Sweden demonstrated that the propensity to rape is up to five times higher if a man’s brother or father has been convicted of rape.

Because Sweden keeps meticulous records, researchers were able to determine – by comparing half-brothers of different mothers, who generally do not reside together – that up to 40% of the propensity to rape is due to genetic factors. The majority (60%) of the propensity to rape is thus cultural, including a sense of overweening entitlement.

From the article in The Independent: “Scientists said the findings should not be used to excuse sex offending, to restrict the freedom of the male relatives of sex offenders, or to suggest that there are genes for rape or paedophilia. However, they believe the results could lead to better prevention strategies for the sons or brothers of known sex offenders.”

“. . . although sex crime convictions are relatively few overall, our study shows that the family risk increase is substantial. Preventive treatment for families at risk could possibly reduce the number of future victims,” Professor Niklas Langstrom said.

Brave words.

Meanwhile, not only does at least 60% of the propensity to rape derive from cultural factors, we already know what some of those factors are. In a United Nations survey of men in ten Asian countries (not including India), men commonly gave three excuses for why they forced sex on someone who did not want it: boredom, a craving for “excitement” and a sense that they were entitled to force their way into someone else’s body.

Boredom, a search for titillation, entitlement. An unholy trinity, indeed. Add to that the wish to control and humiliate. Though the survey respondents declined to describe themselves that way. Presumably the words cut too close to the bone.

That is where the real work lies, in changing abhorrent cultural attitudes found around the world. There is no difference between a rapist in rural China and one in the US military stationed in New York – except that one wears a uniform and speaks English. Their societies must challenge their views on sexual violence against women, children and men.

There is clearly a role for law enforcement and the courts, as well. The millions of American rape kits languishing on the shelves of police forces nationwide have to be examined. In all countries, law enforcement has to gear up to enforce, well, the laws against rape and sexual violence.

Here’s what can happen when the person in charge declines to take charge: a $3.5 million dollar settlement of a lawsuit. The Arizona sheriff failed to adequately investigate the rape of a 13-year-old. The rapist then struck again, attacking the same child. Now the county must pay up.

It’s a lot less expensive to do the job right the first time. Less painful, less traumatic.

Meanwhile, I look forward to new methods of preventing rape. First, by addressing cultural attitudes. Next, by focusing on genetic profiles, so that boys at risk of becoming rapists are redirected and taught to channel their energies elsewhere.

Finally, we need to learn how to heal the human brain. Genetic markers identified, fine. But those markers do not just sit there in the genome. They affect the brain. In order to neutralize the genes’ influence, we must be able to counter them. Interventions help. Healing the brain – fifty years from now, people will marvel at our current inability to do so – is the only sure way to stop rapists.

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