On a simple level, a rape fantasy is a sexual fantasy that features a rape or attempted rape, either as perpetrator or victim.
Past that basic, not-especially-enlightening definition, things get incredibly complicated in short order. The traditional male/female gender labels I'm using in this writeup break down at a certain point after which it's possibly better to talk about aggressive/submissive fantasy roles. But it's very hard to talk about rape without talking about males and females. (It's about as difficult as researching rape fantasies online without encountering some truly hideous pornography -- g'head, plug "rape fantasy" into Google and see what you get. I'll wait.) So, I'm going to break the fantasies into the typically "male" and typically "female" here and try to distinguish the aggressive from the submissive as appropriate within the two. Onward.
Male Rape Fantasies
This is the fantasy many men have of raping a woman or another man. As others have noted, this fantasy is all about power, domination, and sex, with the emphasis on power and domination. Such fantasies are a staple of a lot of Japanese porn.
If you're a male, the attraction of such a get-in-touch-with-your-inner-predator fantasy can be easy to see: there's a hot, vulnerable chick, and she's all alone, ripe for the taking. And take her, you will. You'll pluck the forbidden fruit. Maybe you'll mix a little bondage or breaking and entering in with your rape fantasy. Regardless of the scenario, you will take her, ravish her, bend her to your every will and desire.
This fantasy may be particularly attractive if in your real life you mostly feel powerless, haven't gotten to know any women as real human beings, and are regularly rejected by the few women you manage to meet socially. Consider the lonely, overworked Japanese salaryman who has never had female friends and whose contact with women is limited to girls in strip clubs and brothels: of course he might be attracted to a fantasy in which the women are passive objects who literally can't resist the hero.
And if the subject of the fantasy is more than just a pretty shell, if the fantasy involves even just a hint of an actual person with thoughts and feelings ... she wants you. Sure, she might fight at first (the beautiful, virginal princess has to fight to keep up appearances!) but she wants you to take her. You're the handsome stranger who's going to seduce her there in her own bedchamber, and she'll be begging you for more before the night is over. Certainly, though, the girl's not really hurt by your assault with a friendly weapon -- she wanted it, remember? It's the kind of guilty-pleasure fantasy many men can enjoy and still retain their nice guy status.
But some men aren't interested in anything resembling consensual sex. Their fantasies never involve real women, just objects they can use and abuse at will to work out their frustrations at a world in which they are completely inconsequential and powerless. Often these fantasies involve other torture besides rape, and they sometimes end in the woman's murder. In some men's minds, they seek to punish all the "whores" who reject, mock, and belittle them. And some men who indulge in such psychopathic scenarios take their fantasies on the road, and rape and kill for real.
Jan Looman writes in the research article "Sexual Fantasies of Child Molesters":
Deviant sexual fantasies have become one area of focus in the research on child molesters, as well as other sexual offender populations. For example, Dutton and Newlon (1988) reported that 70% of their sample of adolescent sexual offenders admitted having sexually aggressive fantasies before committing their offenses. Similar findings were reported by MacCulloch, Snowden, Wood and Mills (1983) and Prentky et al. (1989) with adult offenders. Rokach (1988) also found evidence of deviant themes in sexual offenders' self-reported fantasies.
Looman and other researchers lament the lack of study in this area to produce hard statistics many people crave; nobody is falling over themselves to fund the study of rape fantasies across a broad spectrum of men in order to determine what truly constitutes a "normal" fantasy that will stay safely in the confines of the imagination, versus malevolent fantasies that will spill over into real life and harm real people. (After all, how many of us entertain fantasies of killing obnoxious neighbors and unpleasant bosses without any intent or genuine risk of ever becoming real-life murderers?)
However, the FBI takes a much more black-and-white view of rape fantasy. In "The Criminal Sexual Sadist", authors Hazelwood, Dietz and Warren write:
All sexual acts and sexual crimes begin with fantasy. However, in contrast with normal sexual fantasies, those of the sexual sadist center on domination, control, humiliation, pain, injury, and violence, or a combination of these themes, as a means to elicit suffering. As the fantasies of the sexual sadist vary, so does the degree of violence.
The fantasies discerned from the personal records of offenders are complex, elaborate, and involve detailed scenarios that include specific methods of capture and control, location, scripts to be followed by the victim, sequence of sexual acts, and desired victim responses. Sexual sadists dwell frequently on these fantasies, which often involve multiple victims and sometimes include partners.
One offender, who is believed to have kidnapped, tortured, and murdered more than 20 women and young girls, wrote extensively about his sexually sadistic fantasies involving women. These writings included descriptions of his victims' capture, torment, and death by hanging. At the time of his arrest, photographs were found depicting the subject in female attire and participating in autoerotic asphyxia. The offender apparently acted out his fantasies on both himself and others.
The Fantasy of Victim Desire
I mean, guys are saying that sometimes "no" means "yes" ... and honestly, sometimes it does. But I don't think for one second that any guy who's pulled himself off a crying woman has been mistaken for one minute about what she wanted.
-- Julie in "The Maxx"
Another kind of rape fantasy is the delusion real-life rapists paint for themselves and others; it's those three little words that will warm a hurt, frightened girl's heart the morning after: "She wanted it."
Rape is evil; not naughty, not bad, it's plain ol' ugly evil. Rape is frightening, humiliating, and it causes real and lasting psychological and physical damage.
A close male friend of mine was raped when he was 7 by a group of teenage boys* who silenced him later by telling him he was "a little faggot who wanted it" because he had his first erection during the attack. In reality, his body was staging a wayward physiological reaction to the damage being done to him, one that is not that uncommon amongst rape victims, especially young ones. He was in no way enjoying what was happening to him; the damage was so extensive that, over 30 years later, he still bleeds internally. And because he was afraid of being considered gay (and thus ripe for more abuse), he never got medical treatment or told anyone about the attack until he was an adult.
What was done to him and all other rape victims is unspeakably evil. And very few people can live with themselves if they see themselves as regularly engaging in balls-out, no-justifications evil.
So, they justify their actions and create their own personal fantasy about what happened to make it all seem very reasonable to themselves.
The road to rape is easy enough when you add deep selfishness and variable amounts of anger, arrogance, and sadism to hormones. The mindset starts out something like "I'm the star of the basketball team; of course she'll want me!"
But then turns into "How dare she turn me down? I'm the fucking star of the fucking basketball team, and I'm gonna teach this little cunt a lesson about respect!"
And after it's all over: "I'm the star of the basketball team -- of course she wanted it! Hell, she was wearing that sexy little dress. I could have any girl I wanted -- why would a guy like me have to rape somebody?"
The boys who raped my friend justified their actions to themselves, certainly. I can imagine them:
- "He's just a little faggot" (dehumanization of the victim)
- "We didn't really hurt him" (denial of the harm done)
- "It wasn't my idea; I was just going along with it" (denial of responsibility)
- "We were drunk" (more denial of responsibility)
One of the attackers had his own selfish justifications stripped away years later when he was sent to jail for armed robbery; there he found himself repeatedly victimized by prison rape. The experience drove him to apologize to my friend after he got out of prison: "I never realized what we did to you."
Human beings lie, and certainly some have lied about being raped. And miscommunication, inebriation and morning-after regrets can surely lead to confusion over who really wanted what after a sexual encounter. But the "She/he wanted it" fantasy has been bought hook, line, and sinker by way too many people.
Female Rape Fantasies
Some women dream of dominating men, sure. For many women, the idea of ravishing some innocent young man is pretty hot. And for that matter, some men find the idea of being submissive to a sexual dominator/dominatrix pretty hot, too.
But the "classic" rape fantasy is one of a woman dreaming about being raped.
That kind of thing was a staple of old Victorian porn: the rakish rogue rapes the sweet young innocent girl and introduces her to the pleasures of the flesh. We've even seen it portrayed in some dearly-loved movies; many people remember the scene in Blade Runner in which our hero Deckard forces sex on his replicant girlfriend. Fewer people remember (or address) the scene in Gone With the Wind where Rhett slaps Scarlett, tells her "I've waited long enough for this!" and hauls her upstairs for sex; the next scene shows her waking, glowing, with an expression that says "Gosh, I didn't want it, but boy, I sure did need it!"
And that's where the trouble starts, because no woman really wants to be raped.
In "The Rape Threat Scene In Narrative Cinema," Julia Lesage writes:
What characterizes the rape fantasy is the masochist's pleasure in, control over, and prolonged staging of the imagined scene. Such fantasies stand in stark contrast to real rape, with its loss of control and erasure of identity.
Rape is a horrific experience, and the long-held myth that women fantasize about the real act feeds the "She wanted it" delusion. That kind of bad thinking hurts men and women both. Every rape harms not just the victim, but everyone who will try to be intimate with him or her down the road.
What some women do dream of, though, is of being dominated and seduced by a stranger.
So, what kind of a woman has that kind of submissive fantasy? Outside the modern world of the outright masochist or the collar-wearing BDSM submissive, such fantasies are mainly entertained by women and girls who've been raised in a repressive environment that has taught them that "good" girls don't have "dirty" thoughts.
Fundamentalist sects, be they Christian or Muslim or otherwise, seem uniformly terrified by the free expression of female sexuality. Women get swaddled in long dresses and obscuring veils, are denied basic information about their bodies, and are married off early. Some girls are sexually mutilated to guarantee that they won't enjoy sex (I spoke with a woman who ran a Planned Parenthood clinic here in Columbus, OH, and she reports that the practice of female genital mutilation is alive and well in some communities here in the States). Women in the fudamentalist world are expected to be passive and asexual except for producing babies and pleasing their husbands.
Is it any wonder, then, that a girl in the throes of guilt over feeling natural sexual desire would conform her fantasies so that they would cause her the least amount of guilt? Or that a girl who was raised to feel ashamed of her own body and gender would have fantasies that veer into the masochistic?
So, she dreams of the handsome stranger breaking into her bedroom at night to ravish her. Still, she is in control of her fantasy, and the handsome stranger does only that which she desires.
Thus, the repressed girl shares something in common with the BDSM submissive: they're in control of the fantasy. They make the rules about what does and does not happen, though to the casual observer the scenario seems the other way around.
A less-"classic" type of rape fantasy some women may have is one in which they are attacked -- and proceed to turn the tables on their attacker. In this kind of rape fantasy, the woman knocks out, beats up, shoots, or otherwise overcomes the man who intended to hurt her.
This kind of fantasy about personal empowerment can of course take a nasty turn: a woman who's been hurt in the past (or simply one with a sadistic streak) may fantasize about humiliating, disfiguring, torturing, and/or murdering a man who'd try to hurt her. Such a fantasy can become the analog to the male rape fantasy in which the "hero" dreams of punishing women for the wrongs they've done him. Aileen Wuornos was very likely driven by such hate-filled fantasies as she grew from a sexually abused child to an adult serial killer.
For More Reading ....
Looman, Jan. "Sexual Fantasies of Child Molesters". Available at http://www.cpa.ca/cjbs/looman.html
Barbaree, H.E., & Marshall, W.L. (1991). "The role of male sexual arousal in rape: Six models. " Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 59(5), 621-630.
Gardner, R.A. (2001). "The normal-sexual-fantasy consideration in sex-abuse evaluations." The American Journal of Family Therapy, 29, 83-94. Available at http://www.rgardner.com/refs/Fantasy.html
Lesage, Julia. "Rape Threat Scene in Narrative Cinema " Available at http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~jlesage/Juliafolder/RAPETHREAT.HTML
Hazelwood, Robert R., Park Elliott Dietz, and Janet Warren. "The Criminal Sexual Sadist". FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, February 1992. Available at http://www.criminalprofiling.ch/criminalsexualsadist.html.
Deu, N., & Edelmann, R.J. (1997). "The role of criminal fantasy in predatory and opportunist sex offending." Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 12, 18-29.
Leitenberg, H. & Henning, K. (1995). "Sexual fantasy." Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 469-496.
MacCulloch, M., Gray, N., & Watt, A. (2000). "Britain's sadistic murderer syndrome reconsidered: An associative account of the aetiology of sadistic sexual fantasy." The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry, 11(2), 401-418.
MacCullough, M.J., Snowden, P.R., Wood, P.J., & Mills, H.E. (1983). "Sadistic fantasy, sadistic behaviour and offending." British Journal of Psychiatry, 143, 20-29.
Prentky, R.A., Burgess, A.W., Rokous, F., Lee, A., Hartman, C., Ressler, R., & Douglas, J. (1989). "The presumptive role of fantasy in serial sexual homicide." American Journal of Psychiatry, 146, 887-891.
Rokach, A. "Content analysis of sexual fantasies of males and females." The Journal of Psychology, 124(4), 427-436.
Smith, A.D. (1999). "Aggressive sexual fantasy in men with schizophrenia who commit contact sex offences against women." The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry, 10(3), 538-552.
* The teenage boys were "supervising" a group of much younger boys they'd taken out camping. The teens had all just gotten their draft notices for Vietnam, and were scared, and angry, but outwardly pretending to be macho about it. That night, they built a campfire in the woods away from the kids' tents and started drinking cheap liquor and comparing rumors. They'd heard all kinds of stories about the atrocities American soldiers committed in the war. They started trying to prove to each other that they were tough and mean enough to do anything to survive their tours of duty. One of them drunkenly claimed that a "real soldier" would have to rape a lot of villagers to get the job done. So two of them stumbled to the tents to find a suitable "villager" to bring back to the fire, and found that my friend had gotten out of his tent to pee.
Two of the rapists were killed in the war. Another ended up a remorseful petty criminal. I don't know what became of the fourth.