The Sexy Rapist

Former Saints player Darren Sharper was arrested in January following an investigation into two charges of rape. More women have now come forward with similar allegations. Many people watching coverage of Sharper’s arrest and of the allegations are left scratching their heads, no doubt because one of the most persistent myths about rape and sexual abuse is that sex offenders appear to be creepy deviants, and hot guys don’t rape because they “don’t have to.”

darren sharper

The reality of rape is much more complex.

At STAR, we see the Darren Sharper type of offender as the “normal” offender. It’s rarely the stranger-in-the-bushes or the obvious “creep.” Men who are attractive and seemingly credible target women they know society will not view as credible. That’s how these “undetected rapists,” as we call them, get away with it for so long – because it is easier to discredit women as liars who are looking to “bring a good man down” than to understand that this “good man” could very well have a pattern of committing rape.

As a culture, we still refuse collectively to accept that most rapes are committed by ordinary men, men who have friends and families, men who may even have done great or admirable things with their lives. We refuse to accept that nice guys rape, and they do it often. Part of the reason we haven’t accepted it is that it’s a painful thing to contemplate – far easier to keep on believing that only evil men rape, only violent, psychotic men lurking in alleyways with pantomime-villain mustaches and knives, than to consider that rape might be something that ordinary men do. Men who might be our friends or colleagues or people we look up to. –Laurie Penny

A man may speak out in support of women’s safety yet also commit rape. A man may have a loving family and also commit rape. A man may be talented and also commit rape. A man may be a “nice guy” or a “good man” from your vantage point and also commit rape.

When it comes to men like Darren Sharper, the public demands a high number of victims before it will listen and even allow for the possibility that he could do such a thing. (Keep in mind that rape is a public health epidemic, yet it is an epidemic many continue to deny.) It is likely that even more women will come forward from around the country and speak out as we see continued coverage of this case in the news. In fact, as we worked on this essay, another complaint surfaced

Why is it common for more women to come forward after someone else has reported being raped by the same offender? Victims who do not come forward immediately to report often make their decision not to report out of fear that they will not be believed or that they will be blamed for the rape someone else committed against them. Yet rape is a serial act, and offenders typically target multiple victims before one of them will choose to report it. Sometimes multiple victims file reports against the same offender before law enforcement takes the reports seriously enough to connect the dots.

When we commonly refuse to believe victims of rape who come forward to report, we actively condone rape by allowing offenders to commit more rapes against more people. It’s time we cease acting as accomplices to those who rape and sexually abuse others.

Many people will comment that Sharper didn’t “need” to rape because as an attractive and successful professional athlete and sports commentator, he could get sex whenever he wanted. This speaks to another pervasive myth: that rape is fundamentally about sex. Yes, a person who commits rape usually receives sexual gratification, but this is because, for that person, power and control are sexualized. The underlying motivation of rape is the perverse gratification they receive by exercising dominance over another person and sexually violating them. Also, underlying a rapist’s behavior is his sense of entitlement to others’ bodies, a sense of entitlement to committing sexual violence that is supported and reinforced throughout our culture, especially in sports culture.

This is why rape is not sex and should never be confused as such. Rape is not sex; it is violence. It exemplifies utter disregard and disrespect for another human being. 

Darren Sharper deserves a presumption of innocence and a fair trial, but we must allow for the possibility (even probability) that these charges have merit. Those of us familiar with the dynamics of rape are not shaking or scratching our heads in disbelief; we are witnessing yet another textbook case.

This essay was co-written by Morgan Lamandre and Rebecca Marchiafava, STAR’s Advocacy Coordinator and Director of Education and Outreach, respectively. 

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2 thoughts on “The Sexy Rapist

  1. Pingback: The inequity of ‘rape culture’ | Jaye Em Edgecliff

  2. Pingback: Confronting our Blind Spots |

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