Pathways to rape: Preliminary examination
of patterns in the offence processes of
rapists and their rehabilitation implications
Devon L. L. Polaschek
* Stephen M. Hudson
School of Psychology, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, and
Psychology, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
Abstract Offence process models seek to capture the interactions between cognitive, affective,
behavioural and volitional components of offences, as they unfold over time. These models are
primarily descriptive and provide a foundation to higher levels of theorizing.
Previous research into the offence chains of child sexual offenders has suggested that a number of
different pathways are required to accommodate the most common variations in how men go about
committing their offences. Offence chain research has established that the Relapse Prevention (RP)
model accommodates a truncated range of these offence chain patterns, yet most treatment
programmes for sex offenders rely heavily on the RP model.
In recent research with rapists, we constructed an offence process model for rape, using qualitative data
obtained from a sample of rapists incarcerated in New Zealand prisons. We present preliminary work
on identifying the pathways that individual offences take through this model. We describe these
pathways and examine their implications for tailoring of rehabilitation endeavours for men who
sexually assault adults.
Keywords Rapists; offence process; offence pathways; offender rehabilitation; sexual offending;
Offence chain models of offending owe their beginnings to the widespread and fruitful
application of the Relapse Prevention (RP) model to sexual offending. Formally adapted for
use with sexual offenders by Pithers, Marques, Gibat and Marlatt (1983), the extent of
influence of the model on psychological treatment programmes is astounding, given its
significant theoretical problems (Ward & Hudson, 1996) and the limited research that has
formally investigated its utility (Polaschek, 2003). Despite an imperfect match between the
topographical features of substance abuse and sexual offending, RP models will continue to
play a central role in the design and delivery of treatment, because they provide a readily
utilized framework for incorporating maintenance issues into treatment.
One of the key contributions of RP is the idea that offending has important cognitive,
behavioural, affective and volitional features and that these elements have a temporal context;
*Corresponding author: Devon Polaschek, School of Psychology, Victoria University, PO Box 600, Wellington,
New Zealand. Tel:
/64-4463-5768. Fax: /64/4/463-5402. E-mail: Devon.firstname.lastname@example.org
Journal of Sexual Aggression
(March 2004), Vol. 10, No. 1, pp. 7
ISSN 1355-2600 print # 2004 National Organisation for the Treatment of Abusers
that an offence is the culmination of the unfolding of this sequence of elements over time. The
sequence itself is the focus of a line of investigation that has developed from research on RP:
studies of the offence process itself. Throughout this paper, the terms offence process and
offence chain will be used to refer to individual offences. Descriptive models , then, are the
product of analyses of groups of such processes or chains. The term rapist refers here to men
who commit penetrative sexual assault on adults.
Research into the offence process differs from RP in that it starts with the collection of
data from the offenders themselves. That is, it is a ‘‘bottom-up’’ process. Offence process
models are grounded in the experiences of the offenders who participate in the research, and
have the potential to draw attention to aspects of offending that clinicians may otherwise
overlook when their thinking is dominated by theoretical or ‘‘top-down’’ influences. The
Ward, Louden, Hudson, and Marshall (1995) descriptive model of child molesters illustrates
this point. Prior to this work, many clinicians relied on the RP model as the dominant
template for offence processes. So we assumed that most offenders abused their victims after a
period of increasing stress and negative affect followed by implicit or covert planning and that,
post-offence, they often experienced negative feelings and resolved to avoid further offending
(Polaschek, 2003). The Ward et al. model drew attention to offences that were committed
primarily in states of positive affect, that were not triggered by mounting stress, and in which
the offender’s goals were primarily acquisitive rather than avoidant (Ward, Hudson & Keenan,
It is often noted that sex offenders are heterogeneous and that this heterogeneity may
have important implications for rehabilitation planning (e.g., Polaschek, Ward & Hudson,
1997). Laws, Hudson, and Ward (2000) note that, in the decade or so since RP was adapted
for use with sexual offenders, it spread widely, largely unhampered by research-based
evaluation. One unhelpful consequence of this enthusiasm was that the single-pathway model
of the offence process embedded in the model was spread with the tenets of RP. Thus, the
extent of heterogeneity of offence process was obscured and this may have negatively affected
rehabilitation planning (Polaschek & King, 2002).
There are few grounds for optimism about rehabilitation effectiveness with rapists. One
problem has been the reliance on treatment programme templates developed with child sexual
offenders (Polaschek et al., 1997). Increasing the effectiveness of interventions with sexual
assaulters of adults is likely to require a variety of endeavours, of which modelling offence
processes is just one part. However, if there are distinct offence paths for rapists, these
pathways may yield useful information about the offence process-specific criminogenic needs
of these offenders that could be recognized in treatment planning.
The present study is part of an extensive research project in which we developed a
descriptive model of the offence process for men convicted of rapes against adults. The
purpose of the present study was to go beyond the describing the model itself, to investigate
whether there are distinctive offence patterns represented within the model (‘‘offence
pathways’’), and to consider the implications of these pathways for the treatment or
rehabilitation of rapists. First, we will briefly outline the essential features of the model. We
have described this preliminary model in detail elsewhere (Polaschek, Hudson, Ward &
Siegert, 2001; Polaschek, Ward, Hudson & Siegert, 2001). The majority of victims were
females, so we use the descriptor ‘‘female’’ for convenience.
The preliminary model of rapists’ offence processes was developed using qualitative
analysis of the offender’s own oral narrative of an offence, usually the index offence.
Participants were 24 European New Zealand men currently incarcerated for sexual violation
offences against adults. The first author interviewed each offender. During the interview, the
offender’s narrative was recorded onto a portable computer and later analysed using grounded
8 D. L. L. Polaschek & S. M. Hudson
theory (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). Institutional file records, including official summaries of the
offence details, were examined prior to the interview. Thus, when offenders’ accounts differed
from the facts established at trial, these discrepancies were drawn to the offender’s attention
(see Polaschek, Hudson, Ward et al., 2001, for more detail).
From the analysis, we developed a model containing 21 main categories and 43
subcategories. For clarity of discussion, it was divided into 6 phases containing between 3 and
5 main categories each. These six phases were: I, Background ; II, Goal formation ; III,
Approach;IV,Preparation;V,Offence; and VI, Post-offence (see Figure 1).
1. Summary of preliminary descriptive model of rapists’ offence processes.
Pathways to rape 9
The preliminary descriptive model
In Phase I, Background , the first link of the offence chain, background factors , covers the
offender’s lifestyle and circumstances in the days, weeks or months prior to offending (e.g.,
employment, relationships, finances, alcohol and drug use). Offenders described background
factors in generally positive or generally negative terms. Management (coping style) refers to the
predominant response style of the offender to these factors. Coping style was categorized as
problem-focused or emotion-focused. Offenders demonstrating the emotion-focused style
predominantly used strategies that were intended to ameliorate the negative affect resulting
from having a problem but without directly resolving the problem itself. This coping or
problem-solving style was seen to have a bearing on the development of the offender’s proximal
mood, the mood state reported by the offender during the minutes, hours or days prior to the
commission of the offence. Proximal mood was generally positive or depressed or angry.
In Phase II, Goal formation , the establishment of dominant goals occurred in conjunction
with this mood state and together guided distal goal-related planning: planning explicitly
10 D. L. L. Polaschek & S. M. Hudson
concerned with achieving the dominant goal. At this early point, two dominant goals were
evident: seeking sexual gratification , either to enhance existing positive mood or to escape
existing negative mood; and redressing harm to self , either by harming the victim, or solving a
pre-existing problem with her.
In Phase III, Approach , offenders had an encounter with the victim , to whom they
communicated intent explicitly related to their dominant goal in a variety of ways. Victim
response refers to the offenders’ perceptions of the victims’ reactions to their behaviour.
Offenders evaluated progress towards their goal using information from the victim response and
other factors. Such evaluations were always consistent with the victim’s perceived response
(i.e., positive if she was perceived as compliant and negative if she was thought to be resisting).
For about one third of the sample, the establishment of a secondary goal followed the
evaluation. Such proximal goals either replaced or supplemented the (distal) dominant goal.
Finally, whether they formed a secondary goal or not, offenders completed the Approach
when they selected a proximal approach strategy ; this decision either led back into another cycle
of approach behaviour or, more commonly, into deciding to have sex or commit a sexual
With the decision to commence sexual activity, Phase IV, Preparation, commences. The next
stage, appraising expressive potential of situation , refers to making decisions about whether they
are able to give free rein to their expressive interests or not. From here, offenders moved into
preparation for sexual assault . Some offenders omitted the Preparation phase altogether, and
others began the phase but omitted the specific offence preparation step, as indicated by the
left-sided arrows leading directly to the beginning of the Offence phase.
Phase V, Offence, commences with sexually assaultative behaviour. There were two broad
types, non-gratuitously degrading sexual behaviour , where the offender did not primarily focus
his sexual behaviour on degrading the victim, and gratuitously degrading sexual behaviour,
where the offender intended to humiliate the victim by his sexual behaviour. This phase also
includes the offenders’ perceptions of the victim response during assault, and their evaluation of
the interaction between themselves and the victim. These evaluations, in contrast to those of
the Approach phase, were not consistently related to victim response.
Once the sexual assault has been completed, Phase VI, Post-offence, commences with
immediate (post-rape) situation management, where the offender is concerned with practical
issues of managing the circumstances he now finds himself in. Evaluation of [the] situation
then occurs; it is distinguished from the evaluation two categories previously in that it
incorporates a broader range of factors and is more likely to include evaluation related to the
original dominant goals, rather than just the immediate quality of the sexual interaction with
the victim. This evaluation generates an affective response that ranges from neutral or positive,
to angry or other negative feeling, and is followed by an immediate behavioural response : the
selection and implementation of a behaviour for ending the interaction, such as leaving the
site and going home. Finally, long-term post-offence responses refer to the offender’s reactions to
committing a serious sexual assault and being convicted of it.
Method of analysis: Offence pathways
As noted earlier, the full model contains 21 major categories. Of these, four have no
subcategories, leaving 17 classification points, each with between two and four subcategories
(see Figure 1). In order to analyse the pathways of individual offences through the model, we
constructed a table that summarized each offender’s behaviour at each point of the model.
Two raters (the first author and a researcher previously uninvolved in the development of the
Pathways to rape 11
model) independently allocated each offence to a subcategory for each of the 17 categories
containing choice points. To provide an indication of reliability, the degree of agreement
between raters was calculated. Overall, the raters agreed 84% of the time. Mean rates of
agreement for Pathways 1, 2 and 3 respectively were 85%, 80% and 84%. By category (across
pathways) agreement ranged from 67 to 100%. The lowest agreement was obtained for
Management (coping style) in Phase I, and for the Phase VI categories, Evaluation of the
situation and Affective response. All differences were resolved by discussion and there was no
obvious pattern in the direction of resolution of such differences.
From these summaries, it was evident that most individual offences took unique
pathways through at least some small portion of the model. It also appeared that some
categories were unable to distinguish between offences in theoretically informative ways.
Responses to victim behaviour prior to the offence, for example, did not appear to differ
across offences but might instead be consistent with the reported perceptions of the victim’s
behaviour itself, or with affective responses to victim behaviour (i.e., the preceding or
After some exploratory analysis, we decided to use the Phase II dominant goals to provide
a structure for investigating whether there were interpretable similarities and differences in the
data. This strategy proved useful; three moderately distinct pathways captured all individual
offence patterns. Following an initial decision about an offence’s dominant goal, two further
kinds of analysis were undertaken. In the first, we established the subcategories that were used
by all of those on a particular pathway (or where less than a quarter of the offences differed).
These then were hallmarks of the pathway. However, some offences on other pathways might
share them. The second type of analysis was the determination of subcategories whose
presence or absence was uniquely associated with membership of a particular pathway. This
subcategory either occurred only on that pathway, or never occurred in offences on that
pathway. However, not all of the offences on the pathway necessarily had this feature.
Descriptions of the key, or hallmark features of each pathway are presented below. Unique
features are noted towards the end of each description, along with any distinctive offence
characteristics that did not form part of the original model itself. Table I summarizes the most
Pathway 1: Seeking sexual gratification to enhance positive mood
In general terms, the extreme left side of the model represents a positive affect pathway, with
positive distal mood, a dominant goal of seeking sexual gratification to enhance positive
proximal mood and planning sexual access to the victim, not sexual assault. Ten men (42% of
the sample) were categorized as reporting Pathway 1 offences. These 10 included those of 8 of
the 11 deniers in the sample: men who asserted that they were not only seeking consenting
sex, but afterwards continued to maintain that this was what actually occurred.
There was no consistent behaviour during the Approach phase of Pathway 1, except that
secondary goals (i.e., new proximal goals) were not formed. Both direct and indirect
approaches were taken to communicate intent to the victim. The response of the victim was
variable also, and had no relationship to the approach taken by the offender. The evaluation of
progress in light of the victim response was generally consistent with that response; resistance
was evaluated negatively, and compliance positively, usually as implicit consent. When the
12 D. L. L. Polaschek & S. M. Hudson
Table I. Summary of categories characterising the offences on each pathway.
Phase of model 1: Sex for positive mood 2: Sex for negative mood 3: Redressing harm by harming
I Background Positive distal mood. Negative distal mood. Negative distal mood.
No coping pattern. Emotion-based coping. Emotion-based coping.
Positive proximal mood. Depressed proximal mood. Angry or angry-depressed proximal mood.
II Goal formation Seeking sexual gratification to enhance
Seeking sexual gratification to escape negative
Redressing harm to self. either by harming the
victim, or interpersonal problem solving.
Planning sexual access. Planning either sexual access or sexual assault. Planning either sexual assault or non-sexual
III Approach No patterns. No patterns. Direct communication of intent.
No secondary goals formed. No secondary goals formed. Victim perceived as resistant. Mostly negative
evaluation of progress towards dominant goal.
Secondary goal often formed.
IV Preparation No patterns, but did do preparation. Constrained by instrumental considerations
or no preparation.
Unconstrained or no preparation. Focus on
No focus pattern. No focus pattern.
V Offence Non-gratuitously degrading sexual
Non-gratuitously degrading sexual behaviour. Gratuitously degrading sexual behaviour and
Victim viewed as compliant. Victim viewed as compliant. No victim response pattern.
Negative offender evaluations. No pattern of offender evaluations. No pattern of offender evaluations.
VI Post-offence No pattern. Overt control strategies with the victim. No pattern.
Always evaluated self, some evaluated both. Always did both self and external evaluations. Always evaluated self, some evaluated both.
Positive or angry affective response. Other negative affective response. Positive or other negative affective response
No pattern to behavioural response. All made behavioural responses. No pattern to behavioural responses.
Pathways to rape 13
victim was appraised as resistant, offenders either continued on regardless into the
preparation phase, or repeated a second iteration of the Approach phase until this resistance
was perceived to have been undermined and a positive evaluation could be made.
In the Preparation phase, these offenders showed no distinct pattern, other than that they
all undertook some preparation prior to the offence phase.
Pathway 1 Offence phases involved non-gratuitously degrading sexual behaviour (i.e.,
conventional penile-vaginal intercourse). Offenders perceived victims as complying with or
mutually engaging in these acts. They evaluated the experience negatively, because it was less
enjoyable than anticipated; either because the situation was too constrained (e.g., having to
rush through sex so as not to be caught by the victim’s boyfriend) or because the victim was
insufficiently sexually responsive.
Post-offence, most offenders reportedly engaged in normalizing behaviour with the
victim, consistent with their view of the interaction as consenting. Examples of normalizing
behaviour included non-sexual affection, conversation and lighting a cigarette for the victim.
All of them evaluated the situation in terms of the impact on themselves. However, a few also
gave consideration to external factors (e.g., how the victim was going to explain a ‘‘hickey’’ to
her boyfriend). The resulting affective response could be positive, neutral or negative, but
here, when it was negative, it was always anger. There was no post-offence immediate
behavioural response pattern.
Long-term post-offence responses in this group centred around getting revenge on the
victim, and a variety of strategies consistent with increased mistrust of women in sexual
contexts (e.g., reporting that they would not be having sex with someone until it was known
that she was not the kind of woman who alleges rape afterwards).
In summary, on this pathway, offenders uniquely reported both positive distal and
proximal mood. Problem-focused coping was only reported on this pathway, and there was
always some preparation by offenders prior to the assault. No one evaluated the offence
positively during the offence phase. No one reported depressed affect in the post-offence
All but one of the offenders on this pathway had consumed alcohol immediately prior to
the offence; this was a much higher incidence than for those who followed the other two
pathways. A history of physical violence toward women was common. These offenders
showed little or no victim empathy, articulated traditional ‘‘date rape’’ cognitive distortions
throughout the offence chain more than those on other pathways, and appeared to
demonstrate a more consistent focus on their own needs. Their victims were ex-partners or
acquaintances; none raped a stranger.
Pathway 2: Escaping negative affect through sexual gratification
The second major pathway through the model starts with a Background phase of negative
background factors, emotion-based coping style and depressed proximal mood, leading into
the establishment of a dominant goal of seeking sexual gratification to escape negative mood.
Offenders planned distally to achieve this goal either through sexual assault or non-
assaultative sexual contact. Pathway 2 was the rarest, comprising five offences (21%). In
one of these, the offender denied that his sexual behaviour was criminal. The offence process
of these offenders during the Background-goal formation phases had a driven, desperate
quality, compared to descriptions of offences from those on Pathway 1. Pathway 1 offenders
described an apparently more casual approach associated with positive affect, in setting up
14 D. L. L. Polaschek & S. M. Hudson
During the Approach phase, as with the first pathway, offenders on this path were equally
likely to communicate their intent by an indirect (grooming) or direct method. There was no
pattern of victim response reported, but as on the other two pathways, the offender’s
evaluation of progress was congruent in all cases with his perception of the victim’s response
(i.e., negative for resistance and positive for compliance).
In the Preparation phase, the only consistent feature was that offenders either skipped this
phase or felt constrained by instrumental considerations. This absence of preparation and
increased awareness of constraints is probably related to the haste with which these offences
were set up. During the offence, all of these men again did non-gratuitously degrading sexual
behaviour with the victim, although they were much more likely to report it as assaultative
than on the positive affect pathway. Victims were evaluated as compliant with their demands;
offenders recognized that victims were scared and saw compliance as resulting from their force
rather than victim ‘‘consent’’.
The immediate experience of the sexual assault was equally likely to be evaluated as
positive or negative. Negative evaluations were typically disappointment at the victim’s
response to their assault, or panic and confusion at having committed the offence.
Immediately after the offence, these offenders invariably engaged in overt control
strategies rather than normalizing behaviour. Uniquely, they all evaluated both self and
external factors (e.g., how to cover up, the need to escape, the impact on the victim) and
experienced a negative affective response of shock, guilt or fear. All formulated and
implemented a purposeful behavioural response immediately following the offence. Often,
this was to escape the scene. Offenders on this pathway were more likely to be concerned
about their behaviour in retrospect, to perceive that they needed help because of it and to be
in psychological treatment.
In summary, the unique variables on this pathway were depressed proximal mood
without anger in the Background phase*
/this was always present. No one reported
normalizing behaviour with the victim after the offence, or angry or positive post-offence
evaluations. All offenders made post-offence behavioural responses, no one omitted to do so.
With respect to offence variables, those on this pathway appeared more likely to have
used a weapon to threaten the victim during the commission of the offence than those on
either of the other two pathways. There were more extremely brief completed acts of sexual
intercourse (to ejaculation) on this pathway than on either of the other two. Four victims were
complete strangers, one was an acquaintance. None were ex-partners or current partners.
Pathway 3: Redressing harm to self
The third pathway was based around the dominant goal of redressing perceived psychological
injuries to themselves or interpersonal problems that had a negative impact on them. These
negative actions or omissions were usually attributed by perpetrators to their victims. As with
those on the previous pathway, a generally negative distal background, and an emotion-based
coping style were invariably present. Most offenders reported angry proximal mood or some
combination of anger and depression.
There were nine offences allocated to Pathway 3 (38% of the sample). During Phase II
(Goal formation ) for seven of these offences, the offender’s dominant sub-goal was to solve the
problem he had with the victim, and his distal plan did not involve sexual behaviour.
However, for two offenders, the sub-goal was to harm the victim and they planned to sexually
assault her in order to do this.
During the Approach phase, offences on Pathway 3 were characterized by direct
communication of the offender’s intent to the victim, resistant victim responses and negative
Pathways to rape 15
offender evaluations of progress towards their dominant goal. Interpersonal problem solvers
generally abandoned their efforts at this point to ‘‘persuade’’ the victim to behave as they
desired (e.g., apologise, resume her relationship with him) and instead decided to harm her by
In the Preparation phase, most offenders appraised the situation as unconstrained and
then focused either on arousing themselves, or did no further preparation. For some
offenders, being angry was reported to interfere with sexual arousal processes.
During the Offence phase, most Pathway 3 offenders carried out gratuitously degrading
sexual behaviour and a further third of the group also committed acts of gratuitous physical
violence. There was no pattern to perceptions of victim responses, or to the immediate
Immediate situation management following the offence varied from doing nothing to
killing the victim; normalizing and victim control strategies were equally common. Pathway 3
offenders invariably evaluated the situation in terms of the impact on themselves, but half also
considered external factors. Affective responses were varied but no offender remained angry at
this point and there was no pattern of behavioural responding.
Proximal secondary goals were formed only by offenders on this pathway. No one
reported indirect communication during the approach phase. Gratuitously degrading
sexual behaviour, gratuitous physical violence in the sexual offence phase, and the
presence of resistant victim responses during the offence itself only occurred on this
Victims of these offences had no specific relationship to the perpetrator. However,
offences on this pathway contained more force and resulted in more serious victim injuries
The analysis presented above suggests that, although offence processes are highly variable, at
least in their fine details, the offender’s dominant goals prior to approaching the victim
provide a useful way of summarizing similarities and differences that help to reduce the
heterogeneity of these processes.
A number of implications for rehabilitation emerge from the analyses of pathways
presented here. We will consider them with reference to each pathway separately, then review
the limitations of this study and conclude with a future research agenda.
Pathway 1 offenders are characterized by high levels of denial of the offensive component
of their interactions. It follows, then, that they are not likely to view their behaviour as
intrinsically problematic, but may be motivated to examine their offending only by the
external consequences of being convicted. They remain angry about their predicament and
the woman whom they blame for it. Their generally positive view of their lifestyle and
proximal mood suggest a robust habit of denying personal distress and personal problems.
Marshall (1993) describes rapists with these features as self-focused and macho, likely to
avoid treatment settings, and to see getting help as a sign of weakness incompatible with their
self-image. They are likely to have a dismissive attachment style; this is the style most
associated with rape in any case (Ward, Hudson & Marshall, 1996), and it also hampers
No one seems yet to have come up with a truly promising basis for interventions that
might alter their interpersonal style in a manner consistent with recognizing that their
behaviour is offensive, and with taking responsibility for abstaining from it. It has been
16 D. L. L. Polaschek & S. M. Hudson
suggested that motivational interventions be adopted prior to attempting treatment (Marshall,
1993), but the formal development of motivational interventions for offenders seems still to
be in its infancy.
These offenders’ implicit theories about women probably focus on women as unknow-
able entities whose needs and desires can never be understood, and as sex objects: creatures
who exist in a state of constant readiness to receive sexual advances (see Polaschek & Ward,
2002). Ideally, if these offenders are minimally engageable, these theories would be subjected
in a collaborative fashion to falsifiable behavioural experiment, in the tradition of cognitive
therapy (e.g., Beck, 1995). Relatedly, treatment should challenge the cognitive distortions
these theories generate about what rape actually comprises, and should increase sensitivity to
consent issues, and to situations that compromise consent.
Of concern is the likely increase in general hostility toward women that may have resulted
from being convicted, particularly for those who still deny their offences were non-consenting.
Some of the offenders on Pathway 1 appeared to have the potential to benefit from
understanding more about women from a heterosocial point of view. However, others may be
psychopathic and capable of utilizing such information to the detriment of women. In general,
treatment would need to centre on identifying the ambiguous situations in which they are
inspired to exploit women (e.g., getting into bed with a woman acquaintance after she has
passed out at a party at her house), and developing alternative strategies for managing these
situations more safely.
In contrast to Pathway 1, Pathway 2 offenders fit comfortably into a cognitive-
behavioural treatment programme designed for child sex offenders, utilizing a traditional
Relapse Prevention model framework. They have clearly dysfunctional emotion-based coping
styles that allow for the spiralling of stressors and negative affect over an extended period, and
evidenced by their predominantly negative distal mood and depressed proximal mood. They
use sex as a compensatory strategy and feel ‘‘driven’’ to offend despite a greater appreciation
of both the assaultativeness of their actions, and the impact on the victim. They would benefit
from improving skills for coping with low mood, and problem solving, and generally widening
their repertoire of mood enhancers beyond sexual gratification. Although once they develop a
sexual plan the offence unfolds relatively rapidly, they have extended periods in the
background phase that serve as a warning that they are at risk of offending. Their greater
likelihood of sexual preoccupation, or of habitually using sex to alleviate negative moods
arising from poor life management is also something common in child sex offenders and could
be treated similarly. This was the smallest group in the study so more investigation is needed
to determine whether there are aspects of their pervasive interpersonal style that would
require change, such as hostility towards women or extensive empathy deficits.
The third pathway suggests treatment needs similar to non-sexual violent offenders.
Perception of personal threat was a turning point for these offenders, as is common in
aggression (Lange, 2002). There was little or no evidence of unusual sexual preoccupation in
this group, and the idea of committing a sexual assault tended to enter the picture rather late
in the offence process for most, often after the commission of non-sexual violent acts towards
the victim. Thus the main treatment issues overlap with those that are typically included in
violence prevention programmes; challenging attitudes that support the coercion, control and
violent manipulation of women and people in general, improved anger regulation and other
interpersonal skills. Like the previous group, they also need to learn coping skills for dealing
with personal problems and interpersonal conflicts, and for managing mood more effectively:
stress, depression, and angry mood. If they are treated in conventional sex offender
programmes, there may be a significant mismatch between their criminogenic needs and
the programme targets. The implications of this mismatch are that motivation and treatment
Pathways to rape 17
compliance may be reduced, and risk of reoffending may even be increased by programme
participation (see Polaschek, 2002, for more detail).
Some Pathway 3 offenders assaulted former intimate partners from whom they were
estranged. Such offending is usefully viewed as an extension of more general partner violence
and may be best treated in specialized treatment programmes for batterers.
The sample used for preliminary model development is necessarily a small one, containing
only New Zealand European offenders. There were no overtly sadistic offences, no
stereotypical date rapes and no burglary-rapes committed against strangers. Hence replication
with a more varied sample will be important, and the patterns identified here must be
regarded as somewhat speculative.
Retrospective interview methods with socially offensive behaviours potentially contain a
number of threats to data integrity. The justification here for choice of methodology remains
that no better data were readily available for modelling purposes, and that this approach
provided a density of detail that reduced the degree of speculation that would have otherwise
been required. Data were collected in a manner similar to the assessment process used by
practicing clinicians when planning treatment for offenders and conformed as closely as
possible to recommendations for best practice (e.g., McGrath, 1990; Shea, 1988).
The choice of offence goals as an organizing structure was inherently based on theoretical
interest rather than empiricism. This is a common constraint to data-driven analysis in
typological investigations. Knight and Prentky’s (1990) MTC:R3 essentially took the same
approach with the top-level motivation categories. It is difficult to avoid in a domain with no
natural categories (Millon, 1991).
Lastly, inherent in this discussion is the idea that offence pathways are stable by offender;
that offenders will tend to follow the same pathway for each offence they do. This is an
assumption that is implicit in the addiction model of sexual offending (Pithers, Kashima,
Cumming & Beal, 1988) and in many typological systems (see Knight, Rosenberg &
Schneider, 1985, for examples). It requires empirical validation.
Suggestions for future research
This project opens up numerous possibilities for future research. First, we are in the process of
cross-validating the model with new offence scripts collected and categorized by independent
researchers. This will enable streamlining of the model and consolidation of the pathways.
Examining the relationship between pathway membership and a host of other offence and
offender variables would also be straightforward, particularly if the richer sources of data were
used, with a larger sample. The preliminary analyses presented here suggest the potential
benefits of conducting further research on these relationships.
A variety of pathway-specific hypotheses, particularly those derived from Level II
theories, could be tested using quantitative methodologies (e.g., do Pathway 1 offenders have
more empathy deficits than Pathway 3 offenders? Do offenders’ theories of mind vary
systematically across pathways? Are offence pathways differentially associated with overall
Ward and Hudson (2000) proposed a coherent self-regulation model of the offence
process for sexual offenders, which appears to hold considerable potential for guiding
investigations of the relevance of offence process-based heterogeneity to interventions. One of
18 D. L. L. Polaschek & S. M. Hudson
the underpinnings of that model was the descriptive model of child sexual offending processes
(Ward et al., 1995). The philosophy of knitting together theoretical elements rather than
promoting their unintegrated proliferation (Kalmar & Sternberg, 1988; Ward & Hudson,
1998) obliges us to investigate the degree of fit between the more theory-driven self-regulation
model and this data-driven descriptive model of rape.
In conclusion, using a small sample of convicted rapists, this study has established the
utility of offenders’ verbal descriptions of their offences, for the development of a descriptive
model of the offence chain, and the resultant offence pathways. Systematic analysis of an
enormous array of interview data, has resulted in a model that succinctly summarizes these
data in both a theoretically and clinically meaningful manner. The resulting model has
substantial similarities to existing theoretical and taxonomic research, but also highlights some
differences, which may be particularly pertinent to research with less pathological or severely
Descriptive models assist both in grounding existing higher level theorizing and in
extending current understandings of the processes involved in these serious offences. The
model of rape offences presented here appears to be the first descriptive model of rape
developed using the present methodology. Although preliminary, it provides a promising
foundation for future research, and for rethinking the match between offence-specific
treatment goals and current rehabilitation content.
We would like to thank Miriam Swanson for assistance with the pathway ratings, Theresa
Gannon for helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript, and Department of
Corrections staff and prisoners for data collection, at Wellington, Rimutaka, Paparua,
Rolleston and Waikeria Prisons. This research was partially supported by funding from the
Department of Corrections and Victoria University of Wellington.
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