Often, due to movies and TV shows, people perceive a rapist as a masked man who jumps out of an alley, grabs a woman, drags her back into the alley, and then rapes her by knifepoint or gunpoint.
That stereotypical scenario, however, is not the norm. A non-stranger assailant is more common.
According to Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), seven out of ten rapes are committed by someone known to the victim (RAINN, 2016), a non-stranger.
A non-stranger could be a friend, classmate, acquaintance, intimate partner, or relative.
The differences between these stranger and non-stranger predators are the types of strategies that they use. The following breakdown of non-stranger and stranger assailant strategies is adapted from Total Empowerment: A Survival Handbook for Women by Ryron and Rener Gracie, 2011.
The language reflects women being the victims and a men being the perpetrators, but men can be victims, too, and sometimes women are perpetrators.
Non-Stranger Assailant Strategies
Non-stranger assailant attacks typically go through four phases: 1) the intrusion phase, 2) the desensitization phase, 3) the isolation phase, and 4) the execution of the sexual assault.
During the intrusion phase, the non-stranger assailant takes advantage of an existing relationship with the potential target and will initially appear non-threatening. Selected targets may be drunk, timid, weak, susceptible to the assailant’s influence, or otherwise less likely to resist advances.
During this phase, the assailant tests the boundaries of the target, demonstrating inappropriate behavior to see how the target may react. Inappropriate behavior could include sexual comments or questions or unwanted physical contact.
Setting firm verbal boundaries is crucial during this phase to avoid moving into the next phase: desensitization. However, influence of drugs or alcohol or a lack of experience and knowledge of how to set firm verbal boundaries may affect the target’s willingness to accept the inappropriate behavior.
When the assailant believes that the target accepts the initial intrusive behavior, the next phase begins.
The desensitization phase begins with repeated verbal, physical, or psychological intrusion on personal boundaries. The target becomes desensitized to the intrusion on boundaries, making such intrusions a “normal” part of the relationship.
As pushing the target’s boundaries becomes more tolerated, the assailant gradually introduces new and more intrusive behaviors, which furthers the desensitization process while also creating a level of intimacy.
When the assailant believes the target is sufficiently desensitized, the next step is isolation. The assailant moves the target to an isolated place without suspicion or resistance.
During this phase, the assailant will attempt to isolate the target.
In isolation, the likelihood of interference with the planned assault is less likely. Isolation also ensures that no one will witness the assailant’s actions.
Once isolated, the execution of the assault takes place.
Execution of the Sexual Assault
During the fourth phase—the execution of the planned sexual assault—the assailant will leverage the false intimacy of the relationship to disguise his intentions and execute the assault.
Because the target may have tolerated inappropriate sexual comments or touching, the assailant may imply that the sexual advances are the natural progression of the “relationship.” In other cases, the target may be incapacitated by alcohol or drugs and thus be be unable to understand what is happening.
For more information on non-stranger assailant methodologies, watch the following “Undercover Assailants” video from the Gracie’s Empowered Women program at the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy.
Stranger Assailant Strategies
Stranger assailant strategies also feature four phases, but these phases are different than the non-stranger assailant phases. Stranger assailants 1) identify an unsuspecting target, 2) subdue the target, 3) exhaust the target, and 4) execute the sexual assault.
Identify an Unsuspecting Target
Stranger assailants rely on the element of surprise. They approach a target undetected. An unsuspecting target is often someone who is distracted, inattentive, physically weak, timid, not making eye contact, wearing headphones, appearing to be lost, etc.
Stranger assailants will select locations that enable them to strike quickly and are out of view of other people.
After a stranger assailant identifies an unsuspecting target, he moves into phase two: subduing the target.
Subdue the Target
Subduing the target begins with initial contact, such as coercive language, verbal or physical intimidation, or a physical assault. Often, a stranger will attempt to overwhelm the target with force and then move the target to a secluded site.
Once the assailant has full control of the target, he moves into the third phase: exhaustion.
Exhaust the Target
During this third phase, the assailant attempts to physically and psychologically wear down the target’s will and ability to resist by pinning her to the ground, striking her, choking her, etc. He may expect the woman to exhaust herself by trying to break free. An exhausted and demoralized target is easier to sexually assault.
This phase ends when the assailant believes the target has physically and mentally surrendered.
Execute the Sexual Assault
This fourth phase begins when the assailant attempts to rape the target; it ends with the completion of the crime.
The assailant relies on the target’s exhaustion, demoralization, and fear.
For more information on stranger assailant strategies, watch the following “The Four Phases” video clip by Ryron and Rener Gracie or visit the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy.
Consider the following resources if you need help: