How to Make a Rapist

Spencer Wharton

Illustration by Julie Peterson
Illustration by Julie Peterson

(Content warning: This column discusses rape, rape culture and sexual assault.)

Several weeks ago, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, the boys from Steubenville, Ohio who raped an unconscious girl, were both found guilty and sentenced. This doesn’t mean it’s time to stop talking about rape. On the contrary, we need now, just as much as ever, to talk about how we raise our children––especially our boys––to become rapists.

Of course, not all rapists are men, and not all men are rapists. These facts are indisputable and I would never argue otherwise. But we cannot beat the drum so vigorously in defense of men who aren’t rapists that we forget some men are. If we want to move productively toward eliminating rape, we need to accept the uncomfortable truth that rapists are not born, they’re raised, molded by a culture that normalizes and excuses rape.


Start by teaching a boy that there are fundamental differences between men and women––not just in anatomy, but in behavior. Tell him that masculinity naturally means aggression and competitiveness, and that femininity naturally means timidity and an attentiveness to emotions. Encourage him to be “masculine” by surrounding him with masculine peers. Show him that there’s something inherently unacceptable about displaying “feminine” traits––like wanting pink toenails.

Expect him to be a winner. Teach him that seduction is a sport, a competition between his natural offense and the other side’s naturally guarded defense. Drill him on a gameplan that involves scoring by whatever means possible. Keep sex a highly valued commodity, in low supply and high demand, so that when he does score, he knows he’ll win the status of a victor.

Teach him he has a right to others’ bodies. Show him through shock and scorn that it is unusual to not want physical contact––that by default, he’s free to touch other people as he wishes. Raise him to understand that in certain circumstances, others owe him access to their bodies.

Never expect him to control himself––least of all when he’s horny. Make that someone else’s problem.

Water down what the word “rape” means. Use it to talk about video games, football games, tests––make it sound like a minor inconvenience, like stubbing your toe. Show him that the wholesale violation of another human’s will is something you should be able to laugh about or wish on someone.

Demonstrate to him that he will always be protected. Show him that his community, his teachers and his coaches will support him, no matter what he does or how clear the evidence against him. Impress upon him that his sex will excuse any “mischief” he causes, because “boys will be boys.” Teach him through a sympathetic media that if he rapes, it will be a crime against himself and his bright future, not against the person whose humanity he ignored and whose body he violated. Show him a world that will make every excuse possible to make it not his fault.

And never once talk to him about consent.

Give him years of sex education where the only time he sees the word “consent” is on parental permission forms. Never tell him that just like turning an invitation to coffee down without saying the word “no,” someone––no matter their clothes, their makeup, their history or their behavior––can say “no” to sex simply by not saying yes. Never tell him that people who are scared or intoxicated might be unable to say “no,” and that he has the power to put his libido on hold in order to respect what they may be unwilling or unable to say.

Then tell him that rapists are psychopaths and monsters who can’t be reasoned with––not normal people like him. Tell him rape is committed by strangers in dark alleys––not him, with someone he knows, in his bedroom. Suggest to him that rape is only “legitimate” rape when it’s violent.

Tell him he is not, and will never be, could never be a rapist.

This is what “rape culture” means. If we want to fight rape, any single one of these points is a good place to start.

Or we can sit on our hands and continue to make excuses.