How Do Sexual Assaulters Sleep At Night

Posted on August 27, 2018

Recent news both off and online have been swamped with reports of sexual assaults, with perpetrators ranging from high-flying executives to your everyday community person. It begs the question, just how does a person go from being the average daily person-next-door to committing unwanted sexual advances towards another?

Sexual harassment is intertwined with the concept of power – exerting dominance and control over another. It may not always just be about sex, but also about wanting to create a hostile, disparaging atmosphere aimed at coercing the other party into a more inferior position.

Harassment is different from unwanted sexual attention, in that in the latter situation, there is no explicit power structure. One can leave a situation whereby a stranger or someone else makes an unwelcome sexual comment or gesture without feeling like they will be penalized for it; on the other hand, when the same sexual comments and innuendos come from an employer or supervisor, it becomes harassment because the power status of the two (or more) parties involved are not equal and could lead to the perception of a lose-lose situation.

So why do people sexually harass? And how do they live with themselves after committing such an act? Here’s a quick psychology run-down.

Sexual harassers usually hold 4 main characteristics: The Dark Triad personality traits, moral disengagement from the act, holding employment in a male-dominated field, and possessing hostile attitudes towards women.

The Dark Triad refers to a cluster of personality traits – narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism. Narcissism is the holding of one’s own talents in excessively high regard, while simultaneously disregarding the value and feelings of others. In this way, narcissists justify sexual harassment because they don’t realize that someone could possibly be uninterested in them.

Secondly, psychopathy here refers to the ability and desire to exploit others. Psychopaths are manipulative in that they know how to present the right type of emotions that will turn the situation – and the victim – in their favour, all the while lacking the empathy to feel guilt for their wrongdoings.

Finally, Machiavellianism is the insistence to meet their “goals” using deceitful and sometimes despicable behaviour regardless of the consequences of the action.
In fact, research has found that with the addition of each of the abovementioned traits, the likelihood of the individual perpetuating sexual harassment increases.

Moral disengagement, as the name suggests, is a cognitive process whereby the individual removes himself from any moral judgment by attempting to justify their own behavior. Moral justification refers to the act of excusing bad behavior by portraying it as a normative or acceptable behavior, such as how Harvey Weinstein attempted to justify his sexual harassment behavior with “I came of age in the '60s and '70s when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different.” Like other sexual offenders, Weinstein also attempts to shift the blame and responsibility to external agents that falls outside their control, such as social environmental forces – “that was the culture then.”

People who engage in moral disengagement also tend to use advantageous comparison, whereby they attempt to downplay the severity of their actions by retorting that their behavior could have been worse – “I could have done more to hurt her/him, but I did not”. Similarly, they attempt to portray their bad behavior as mild by insisting that the harm done to victim was minimal.

Finally, what is perhaps an unfortunate sight in all too many cases of sexual assault is the persistent, wrongful attribution of blame to the victim. What separates sexual assault cases from other crimes is the unique perception that the victim “deserved” it in some way, either by way of his/her dressing, or some other actions and behaviours taken to be provocative by the offender – and this is actually perceived as a legitimate defense.

Hence, this is how sexual offenders sleep at night – they are able to justify their bad behavior to themselves through morally disengaging themselves from the act. They tell themselves that the fault does not lie with them because it either lies with the culture or the victim, and that what they have done in response to these circumstances, can only be perceived as normal or understandable.

Category(s):Abuse / Abuse Survivor Issues, Aggression & Violence, Sexual Abuse

Source material from Psychology Today