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No Safe Place: Violence Against Women
Interview: Michael Ghiglieri, Ph.D.

Biological Anthropoligist

Transcript of Interview

Q: What is your background that leads to your interest in male violence?

My background that lead to my interest in violence was very different than most people now who have to deal with violence in the United States because mine came through the ah -- violence was happening on among our non-human closest relatives, the great apes. And rather than me looking for the roots of human violence, it was kind of the other way around, what I saw was that a male chimpanzees and male gorillas commit a huge number of violent acts, probably far more often than the same number of humans on a per capita basis including rape, mortal combat, so on, abuse of females, all that stuff.

Q: How deeply entrenched in men's psyche are the triggers to male violence?

So when you say how deeply entrenched is it, it is at least as deeply entrenched in our genes so to speak, to some degree there's a propensity for this at least as far back as the common ancestor of a great apes and humans but also what we see in other species, it's as far back as the first mammal.

Q: Is it a common and instinctive strategy of males of all cultures and species, as you say?

Okay. There's not to quibble on it because I don't want to back off and negate what I've said but violence is not something that automatically programs just like an alarm clock at 7:30 goes off. Violence is a propensity as a strategy of behavioral strategy that emerges in an individual, male or female, but more often male, when other strategies seem to fail. And so I'd say it's very deeply entrenched but it's not inevitable, although in certain sets of circumstances, it's very likely and what if we were as a group of people trying to not just avoid those circumstances but maybe change the outcome of the strategy when an individual decides violence is the best way to get what he wants or the best way to effect what he desires. As a group of people we have to decide how do we make that not pay. How do we make crime not pay, how do we make violence not pay. And the answer is you have to punish the transgressor. Which is something we don't do very well right now.

Q: Is male violence inevitable?

I would say it's not inevitable. Although it sounds very right wing, one of the major problems we face as a group of people say in the United States is that there is a proportion of men and probably a growing one, who use violence to accomplish whatever their goals when other routes that they might have tried earlier don't work. And crime does pay in the United States. There are many career criminals. There are many, many career sort of violent men and there are many men who are violent for various reasons. And they will continue to be because that strategy works for them. Whatever they are seeking, they oftentimes gain through violence. And the down side is not really there. The downside is a suffered by the victim but it's not usually suffered by the violent perpetrator. And so not to go back to the middle ages, although in some ways they were, they're smarter than we are today. Violent transgressors have to be punished at least on a level commensurate with their crime or they won't stop using that strategy. It's clear-cut across the world, culture to culture.

Q: Why are men more violent than women? And who is more often vicitmized? Men or women?

Well, okay, are we talking about violence in, we have to narrow it down, 'cause violence can just mean, elbowing, it can be intimidating, it can actually mean homicide.

The expression of violence as a gender thing or sexual thing, in terms of men more than women and women more than men, is an interesting question on a lot bases because among most species, ourselves included, both sexes use violence in given situations. I puzzled over this a long time because there are many ways you can look and I say, well men are bigger and stronger and they can get away with using more violence because especially if they're against the women who is smaller, they have a better chance of winning and they know it. But even beyond that, I think if you look at, when you look at human beings as biological creatures and you realize the behavior that everyone does have some sort of purpose, in other words you are trying to gain something through behavior. Women generally use violence to protect themselves. Oftentimes they protect their situation, they may protect their marriage, their economic situations, their children. They are usually defending by using violence. And men oftentimes use violence for the same purposes but then escalate far beyond it because they use violent tactics to improve their situation well above and beyond what they currently possess. In robbery, in rape, in murder, many of those crimes and many of those violent tactics are intended to gain something they otherwise don't have whereas women don't normally do any of that stuff because they employ violence if -- for whatever reason, they're generally protecting what they already have.

Q: So male violence is universal from culture to culture?

When you look around the world at various tribes of people and you look at first world countries, third world countries, hunter-gatherers, horticultural tribe, different people we've had the chance in the last century to look at, violence is universal from culture to culture. Men are always more violent, and men are always the ones with weapons, men are always the ones who rape. Every culture experiences rape. Every culture experiences sexual jealousy. Every culture experiences male murders of their male rivals, whether they're real rivals or perceived rivals. And unfortunately as a species, we exhibit this propensity to kill other men and to control women as property virtually everywhere. Everywhere we settle, we do the same sorts of things. What each culture does about it varies, though.

Q: What about testosterone? How does it shape behavior? Is it to blame for male aggression?

Testosterone has gotten a bad rap for various reasons and the effects of that particular male hormone on behavior are pretty well known at this point and we and some recent evidence has shown that excessive testosterone makes weird behavioral changes to the point where people are wondering whether, well does it really matter. The fact is testosterone is a real kick-starter for violence. It's a kick-starter for every male trait, not just violence and it was, it is the responsible hormone for making males males and it starts in utero and continues on and in adolescence everyone knows it's been apparent of a teenager, it goes sky high. Levels surge one hundred times higher in teenage boys and in does affect behavior. It actually forces aggressive behavior. In humans, as in other species, even more in humans, we have the choice as individuals whether we are aggressive or not. But the fact is testosterone does affect human male attitudes and the propensities to violence.

Q: If violence is a male strategy for whatever reason, how do we conquer it? If natural selection predisposes men to be violent, is our destiny hopeless? Does even presenting this possibility create a license to be violent?

Right. The differences between men and women, whether they're perceived or real or the middle ground in between that most of us think we understand they're hormonal, they're environmental, they're biological, they're due to the school system, they're due to TV, whatever. There are, of course, a mix of factors that lead to our genderization and some major portion of that is biological. No question. In every other species where there are males and females, we see the same differences between human males and human females. But the argument that because there is a biological component to violence or if we admit there's a biological component to violence, we sort of doom ourselves to succeed against violence, is what I consider a spurious one because we have propensities for all kinds of things, that once we are aware of them and we take steps, to change the direction of our own behavior, we go ahead and try to do that. You say -- well, we have a propensity so therefore it's hopeless, I think is very short sighted. We have propensities to all kinds of things. Step on the gas at 65 but you know that red light behind us slows us down. There are many ways we modify our behavior whether they are propensities or biological or cultural.

Biology is not destiny.

Q: What would you say to the viewpoint that violence against women is rooted in male misogyny?

That it's a fairly extreme a viewpoint, the feminist viewpoint that men are in a conspiracy of some sort or at least are in cohorts in an effort to keep women face down in the mud and use violent tactics to do so. The idea has been around for around twenty years now and were I not a man and have experienced the companionship on men in violent situations, I might find that idea compelling. But knowing what I know and having seen what I've seen among non-human primates and all the research we've done in human violence, there's no way that anyone could biologically, there's no evolutionists I know of or biologists that I know of who works with a species of mammals or even human beings who can imagine that a species could evolve in which one sex hates the other sex. Or one sex is in a conspiracy somehow. And I certainly don't know any men who feel that way. Myself and I don't feel that way.

Q: So why are men violent toward women?

It's a really important question why men employ violence against women. And it's an important question to women, it's an important question to men because in fact men employ violence against everyone irrespective of sex and gender and even against other species if they get in the way. Violence is a male tactic. But one of the key points of why women are so often victims is that there are a couple of components to this question. They are somewhat separate but they both play a major role. One of the -- biologically speaking, probably the most important resource to a man reproductively is a woman. And among many other species including ourselves, there is a very strong male trait to control women, especially the woman who has betrothed herself or partnered up with you and men are often times very insecure about whether that partnership is secure. And among many species of primates including ourselves, men use violence to try and reinforce the attachment.

What's strange among many species including ourselves, women who are violently treated through spousal violence, domestic violence and so on, who are attempted to be retained by using violence, do stay. It happens in other species that the males would beat up the females, the most, the females that are most attached to them. It's a very strange phenomenon. But I think in general if you want to get the simplest perspective on it, males use violence to control females and they do it very often and they control those females for sexual reasons in and specifically from our point of view, women, the control of women is strictly about having a monopoly on the sexual activity of that woman. In other words, she's mine exclusively and the way I as a violent man keep her by intimidating her into staying into that state and not wandering somewhere else. It's done in every species. It's not necessarily admirable, but...

Q: Why do men rape?

Why men rape is yet an even bigger question and it ranks up there on the violence level. Women victims have told me that it's right up there with murder. And we've talked about the use of violence as a way of controlling women and rape itself is a very strange crime for a woman to analyze because the male perspective that leads to that crime is not available in a woman's mind. Men and women do have slightly different psychology's and we see it all the time. But men who rape are generally attempting, through force, to monopolize a moment in sexual time of that woman, and the woman's not willing in any way to mate with that man, it's done by force, it's also done in the wild life force, unfortunately and I think we've inherited that trait. But rape as a crime is strictly about robbery, armed robbery, forcible robbery of a woman's sexual life, so to speak.

Q: Is rape a sexually motivated crime? Is it sex these men want? Or control and domination? Or are they intertwined?

There is a school of thought and it's been pervasive for 20 years now that rape is a crime of violence. It's a sort of crime of excessive control and there's no question that both those things are correct. Rape is violent and rape is about control but those that violence and that control are instrumental means by which a male who is a rapist, controls a female's sexual life for that period of time that he has her, so to speak. Rape is a violent theft of a woman's sex life, so to speak. It's that rapists' chance to mate with a woman who otherwise under no condition would have anything to do with him.

It's the strategy of the last resort. But in the United States an many other cultures, rape actually works.

Q: Who rapes? Who is raped?

Some of the most interesting or enlightening data about why these, the crime of rape should happen ever, and especially why it happens so often in the United States revolves around who does it and who and who are the victims. Generally rapists are between the ages, I think, approximately ninety percent of it's in the ages of eighteen to thirty. So rapists are young men. But in that group of young men, most rapists, and again, a huge proportion, well over three quarters, are down and out. They're drop outs from high school. They have either few or no jobs. They make their living through other felonies. They're robbers, they're drug dealers, or whatever. They're what we consider the bad guys that our mothers warned about when we were little kids. They are people who do not join the mainstream and instead live life of lives of crime. But even within that group of lives of crime, they are the people who make the least money from their crimes. They're burglars oftentimes, they're car thieves oftentimes. They're just down and outers. Never been employed, are not employable because they don't have skills and as such they're not economically compatible, or excuse me, they're not economically competing with the bulk of other men who can attract a female partner just by being economically successful and by being normal people. So these rapists generally take a completely different strategy. They're on the level of socio economics where they have nowhere, they have no competitive ability against well earning mainstream men.

Q: You've said that to understand rape, we need to look at who gets raped. Could you explain?

Yeah, probably the most important single piece of information, the most important single fact that would explain why do men rape at all is who they choose as victims. And one of the most important governmental reports looked at about 1.6 million victims over, well over a decade, in the United States; it's a huge sample, unfortunately, a huge sample of victims. And it turns out that 88 percent of these women are between the ages of 12 to 28. So that, there's no question that rapists are seeking young, attractive women and that three-quarters of all victims fell between the ages of I think 18 and 25, somewhere in there. So rapists are seeking the women that young men everywhere are seeking but seeking more honorably. And apparently it's if the rapist mentality is -- if I can't have that the way the other men do, I'll just take it and rape is just an instrumental way to do that.

Q: What do rapists say? Why do they rape?

Probably the murkiest part of the crime of rape is determining what the rapist's motives are because among all the crimes that exist, only rape and child molestation perpetrators are the ones who will not admit their crimes. Murderers oftentimes will tell you exactly how they did it. You know, thieves, robbers, white collar crimes, men are not often reticent, once they're convicted, they're not reticent at all, they're rather proud of how they pulled it off. The contrary exists among rapists who rarely want to admit that they raped at all let alone why they might have done it. And oftentimes, the only confessions of these people come out in rehabilitation programs that they're put through in a social services where they are actually sentenced to go through a rehabilitation program and often times these rapists will learn what they're suppose to say which is I am a victim to society. You know we live in a macho society that made me the way I am, women are too attractive and they're not available to me and it's the women's fault and on and on and on. I think in reality when these sorts of interviews progress, if one has the ability to be there and listen, ultimately what rapists will talk about most is that they're victims, extremely attractive, she was exactly what they were looking for, they were sexually attracted to that victim and they knew what they would no other way on earth they would ever have a sexual relationship with that victim other than rape.

Q: Why won't rapists admit their crimes?

It's an important question why do rapists not talk about their crime. Most criminals, you know, it doesn't pay to admit you've committed a crime, especially before the trial. But even after the trial rapists don't admit their crime and oftentimes deny it and even die, you know, at some point in the future, denying it. And the truth is that most men do not rape. And most men end up married and most men have families and the daughters among those families and most men are concerned about the welfare of their wives and family and the last thing any such family man wants in the immediate environment of his family and that can be the entire nation, the way we live today, is a rapist, in society. And among men, anyone who rapes, a man who rapes among men is probably the most hated individual that can exist in a male society It's actually dangerous to admit that you raped anyone because the other men don't want you to, your life to continue beyond that point because they have a stake in which you are a dangerous item. So men don't admit to rape oftentimes even in prison because of fear of retribution by other men who are not rapists.

Q: Why are victims still reluctant to talk about what happened to them?

Well, the reason why women would decline to talk abut their rape experience is a bit harder for me to comment upon but I do know rape victims and who have been forthright in telling -- it's just that there are a couple of problems that arise if you admit you are raped. The first question is how many people will doubt that you were actually raped and that even instead had a sexual relationship on purpose, in other words the myth of the willing victim. A lot of women fall victim to that myth that rape victims actually wanted to be raped. Now, in general that myth is always false and we know It's false but the fear of being falsely labeled a willing victim would keep a lot of women from reporting it.

Q: Why have we avoided looking at rape as a sexual crime? How does that endanger women?

Yeah, another very important question in the 1990s in America, is why we are so consistently and often told that rape is a crime of control and violence but not a sexual crime. And for the last 20 years, in fact this, the social sciences have viewed rape or talked about rape from a framework of just, a control, hate, violent sort of crime and not a sexual crime. I think these ideas came to the front with the publication of Susan Brown-Miller's book Against Our Will, and the idea that no male could commit such a horrendous, cruel, degrading, injurious crime without also hating women or essentially being most motivated to control and punish a woman. And from a female point of view, I think that it's not strange that women would buy into that and think, "Well, of course, he had to hate me to do such a hateful thing."

But the reality is in the world of biology, and what biologists look at in what they see in the rest of the species that do these sorts of things is that that whole power and control thing as an end in itself is a myth. Power and control is used as an instrument to accomplish a sexual event with an unwilling victim. And to leave out that sexual event is to completely forget what the crime was, which was a woman, copulation was stolen from her against her will. And that if the copulation did not occur but she was beat up, degraded or anything else, it was not a rape, it was an assault. So we define rape by the actual sexual event. When you go to the police and say, "I was raped," they don't say, "Did they slap you?" No, they say, "What happened?" It was a sexual event. That's how we define rape. So to take the motive out of the actual definition is crazy. It's insane and it's essentially places women in a position where they no longer understand the motive of the rapist. And when women are faced with a rapist's motive, is to actual rape them sexually, and they think well, this guy's just angry at women in general, I can talk him down, they are completely on the wrong track because that's exactly what a rapist would like is somebody who is talkative and compliant, trying to be understanding. They don't want someone who fights back.

Q: How should women respond if attacked? Should they fight back?

It's a really important question if you find yourself as a woman in the position that you are now, facing a rapist, oddly enough most women who are, are faced with a rapist take quite a while to figure out this guy is a rapist and that's why he's accosting me, but as soon as you figure it out, you do have a choice, the statistics that are fairly massive dealing with well more than a million victims show that if you resist, by fighting back, using every resource you can imagine at the time, your odds of being raped are cut in half. Your odds of being injured are raised by ten percent. So if you have ten women who do this, one of them will be injured more than she would be otherwise but all of them cut their odds of being raped, in half by resisting as aggressively as you can. Resisting works. Police departments often times won't promote this attitude and certainly social services will advise women not to resist but not resisting is exactly what the rapist is looking for and resisting is exactly what he hopes not to have happen, that's why women escape rape through resisting.

Q: You've stressed that men and women have different biological sex drives. But does that give men an excuse to rape?

The male psychology in general, most of us, a lot studies have shown how often does a woman think about sex, it's not very often relative to a man. Men think about sex several times a day. And that's most men, most days and the fact that we as men have a psyche or libido that's jacked up a lot higher on testosterone, for whatever reason, than women do is certainly not an excuse to seek sexual experience at the expense of an unwilling victim. There's no inevitability to it and there's no necessary connection that there should be victims just because men are more, have a stronger libido. There, it's no excuse. Biology is no excuse for crime.

Q: So, if men have a higher level of sexual desire, does that make rape inevitable?

The final question is if men at a level of sexual desire which is fairly consistently higher than that of women around them, does that make rape inevitable and no the sexual desire of men doesn't make rape inevitable. What makes rape inevitable is that, as a strategy if a group of people, society looks away from rapists or considers it a minor crime or considers it too difficult a crime to prosecute or then when they do prosecute does not punish equitably on the level that the victim is injured. If a rapist gets away scot free or gets away with minor punishment, that means rape is inevitable if we don't punish it. On the other hand, if rape is costly to the rapist, if you pay a price that's much, much higher than the gain in sexual experience, then rape will diminish. It's what we do about rape that makes it inevitable or makes it unlikely.

Q: How does rape affect the victims?

The consequences of rape to a woman are often times not even imagined by a man, even by a man who never in his life would rape under any circumstances. The consequences are so numerous that they virtually change a woman's life and I think that's why many victims say I've never been the same, this is the same as dying and so on. The life I lived before, the life I had before, can never come back to me. And those things just on a short term level, a woman's sexual function is reduced. Her ability to have an attachment to the man she is with is severely impaired. Her choice about her, her own control over her body and her reproductive state is taken away from her. Many rapes do result in pregnancy. The pregnancy if it's carried to term and the woman keeps that child, just having that child by a rapist or having that child outside of wedlock or whatever, can completely change the woman's whole life and there's no way around it. What's stolen from a woman when she is raped is control of her own body, entire future relationship with other people, including men and women. It's all modified for the bad and it cannot be escaped. It cannot be just set aside.

Q: You've said that it doesn't help either gender to try and say that the sexes are the same. If we underplay the differences, it can actually be detrimental. Could you elaborate?

Yeah, all of the time when we grow up, these days, even when I was in school, there has been a lot of talk and I think most of us healthy me realize that men and women are equal. The difficulty comes in when we say men and women are the same, or identical or, the same things go on in their heads because they don't. We know in a huge number of ways that would fill an encyclopedia how men and women have different feelings, thoughts, attitudes, abilities and so on. Not to say one is better or worse, we've different. And if we, if I am a woman, which I'm not, but if I were a woman and I have to evaluate the motives of a man based on how I feel and say well, we're all kind of the same between the ears, then I cannot even imagine what motivates a rapist. And it's, so therefore I would say well, he's just angry at me for something or angry at women. And this person is a troubled person. I won't understand what he's actually trying to do is steal my sex life from me. And virtually control me sexually for a period of time, however long it lasts. And if I'm not thinking in the mode that yes, men are different and male psychology does lead certain men to use violent strategies sexually, I won't know how to respond. I won't be able to escape. I'm just, I'm a victim. I'm a helpless victim.

Q: What do you think is the most important thing for people to understand about rape?

If I had only a moment to talk about what I think are the most important lessons that are possible to learn current information about rape, the first one would be that in every society where there are a number of men, there always will be some men who decide that rape is a viable strategy. There will always be potential rapists. The second thing I think is most important that women know is that if women in general were taught that rape is a crime of hate or control and not necessarily aimed a sexual assault where the woman has to be copulated with, then women will not know how to respond and they will waste a lot of their time and lose a chance to successfully fend off the rapist by thinking his motives are not sexual. And so it's an immense disservice to women to tell them that sex is not the prime concern of a rapist, that it's control. Third issue is that if any of these events become real in a society, the most important single control that we as a group of people have over the rate of rape is what we do with convicted rapists. And if we're easy on them or their punishment is minor or they go to prison for an inconvenient amount of time, but not necessarily a punitive amount of time, rape will continue to be a viable strategy and it will continue to be a scourge that women face and they will often face it unprepared.

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No Safe Place: Violence Against Women is made possible in part by a grant from the Albert and Elaine Borchard Foundation and the Dr. Ezekiel R. and Edna Wattis Dumke Foundation. The documentary is a production of public television station KUED in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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