O N A FOGGY SUMMER NIGHT IN 1982, John Belcher got drunk and broke
into his next-door-neighbor's house to steal money so.he could buy more alcohol. He
didn't think his neighbor, a 19-year-old woman named Lisa, was home. But she was.
She startled Belcher and confronted him before he could escape. "I was kind of
stunned, because I didn't think anybody was going to be there, and she went off into that
screaming and hollering, 'Don't hurt me, don't rape me.' And something clicked."
The police caught Belcher soon after he raped Lisa and -_
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State Prison. He will be eligible for parole in January,
but he figures that he won't be released at all for at least
another four or five years.
It wasn't the first time Belcher had trouble with the
law. Eleven years ago, he was convicted of killing his
first wife during an argument.
Since February, Belcher has been attending weekly
group therapy sessions with six other convicted rapists to
try to figure out what made him attack Lisa five years
"Why do I think I did it? A whole lot of different
reasons," he says. "First I denied it, the whole thing. No
red-blooded American boy goes around raping girls, so I
denied the whole thing-all through court, the county jail,
even when I first got here. If anybody asked me what I
was here for, I'd tell them anything but that.
"When people did find out about it, I blamed it on the
alcohol, but I used the alcohol to cover up what was
really bothering me: all the insecurities, and self-doubt,
and the inability to deal with reality, and maturity, and all
the shit like that."
Belcher sits talking in a small room, looking even
more apprehensive than his interviewer. He's wearing an
Adidas T-shirt, a blue windbreaker and blue jeans. At 35,
he sports a well-trimmed beard and wavy brown hair. He
stands about 5'8".
He doesn't look like a rapist.
Of course, nobody can tell if someone has committed
rape just by looking at them. They don't look like
rapists. They just look like men.
That's the one characteristic most rapists have in
common-their sex. Most rapists are between 16 and 24,
but the crime knows no social bounds-white or black,
young or old, blue-collar or white-collar. These men
have different reasons for committing their crime, but they
all suffer from the same struggles with aggression, sex
roles and sexuality that affect their peers.
Counselors who have worked with rapists agree that
rape is often primarily a violent act, but the reasons men
rape are more complicated than simple aggression. They
are also controversial.
Most experts suggest that problems with sex roles and
sexuality-both in society and individually-are the main
causes of what they term America's "rape culture," where
the attitudes that can lead to rape are accepted, even if the
act itself is not.
The discussion about all that is clouded by a question
that would seem easy to answer: What is rape?
What Belcher did is closer to the stereotypical rape,
when a stranger breaks into a house or leaps out from
some bushes and attacks his victim.
But most of the rapes thatroccur-some experts
estimate as many as 80 or 90 percent of all rapes-are date
or acquaintance rapes. Surveys on college campuses,
where rape is more common than in other areas, indicate
that about 20 percent of female students have been victims
of sexual assault.
That 20 percent figure is tricky. If a survey asks flat
out, "Have you ever been a victim of date rape?" the
affirmative response is much lower. When the question
becomes more specific, however, the number of positive
responses skyrockets. Sometimes women are raped and
they don't even think of it as rape.
So it's easy for people to think all rapists are like the
ones who are convicted. The more "innocuous" rapes can
be ignored or forgotten.
Suppose a man takes a woman out on a date. They go
to dinner, have a few drinks, go to a bar, have a few more
drinks, then head back to her place. They start fooling
around, and the man thinks they're going to have sex.
When he makes that clear to the woman, she hesitates;
she's not sure if it's such a good idea. He coerces her, and
finally, she seems to relent. Is that rape?
Prof. Sylvia Hacker, who has done extensive research.
in human sexuality, would answer with an unequivocal
"yes." Even though the man may have been led to believe
that the woman wanted sex, in the end he intimidated her
"She may tease you," Hacker says. "She may be
guilty of that-there are plenty of teases out there. But
why not get angry at her and say, 'I'm disappointed,' or
I'm angry because you led me on.' You have to rape her?
That's irresponsible, childlike behavior."
Hacker theorizes that the sexual freedom born in the
60s contributed to the recent dramatic rise in the number
of date rapes. Before the sexual revolution, Hacker says,
the "good girls" were seen more as potential marriage
partners than as potential sex partners, so men didn't
normally feel they were entitiled to sex when they went
out on a date. The number of date rapes was further
constrained by the notion that sex was wrong except in
That all changed in the '60s. The development of the
Pill and the erosion of repressive attitudes toward sex
meant that women no longer had to give sex for love, and
men didn't have to give "love" for sex, Hacker says.
While she approves of the liberalization of attitudes
toward sex and the expansion of freedom of choice, Hacker
says it also brought the feeling that the "me" was more
important than anything else. "It almost got out of hand.
It started expressing itself in selfishness instead of self-
actualization," she says.
"The perception became, 'I'm going to go out with
this girl'-this is the male perception-'she's on the Pill.
I don't have to make a commitment.'
"Then if a woman resists at all on a date, he feels he's
entitled to it. And that's where the date and acquaintance
rape comes in. There's that sense of entitlement, there's
that sense of the 'me' going overboard. 'I'm going to
gratifymyself,' and 'You owe it to me, honey. You turn
"The unwritten rules used to be very clear. Now
they're not clear anymore," Hacker says.
h she "rules" about the way men and women relate
haealso contributed to the apparently chronic rape
epidemic. Boys are generally taught that they need to
have sex with many women in order to become "real
men," and interpreting a female's "no" as "yes" is
considered an acceptable way to reach that goal.
Boys are also brought up to be aggressive and to try to
become powerful, while girls are taught to be nice and to
consider others' feelings. Some scientists say that's
explicable, at least in part, by males' biological
predisposition to be aggressive. But even the advocates of
biological theories concede that much of men's
aggression is learned.
Whatever the cause of men's aggressiveness, it can
result in rape-often a manifestation of a man's desire to
dominate a woman and keep her under control.
"I think the basic problem that we have to deal with is
the imbalance of power between men and women. Men
can commit rape be
over women," says J
have failed to comp
about society. Ever,
women are not consi
Not only are wo
they are also, in sor
marriage, for instance
husbands and provid
her husband attacks I
Michigan, at least. I
rape laws, there are n
not even considered a
That's one reasor
society accepts rape-
defined. Nobody put
out of the bushes and
friends or spouses is,
"Marriage is the
Lewis Okun, a U
psychologist, has cc
"The family, as all s
a lynchpin institution
this keystone instituti
not even identified as
t the cent(
key to why men rap
sex, some experts say
Okun says much o
"sexual" really has r
domination by men
When the drive to
affirmation of masc
result in rape.
"I think that most
really for power and
have "isn't really exp
"In our society we
and men and among
get sex confused wil
says. "Rape is a vei
attitudes about sex."
movement who wrc
Martin's Press, 1982
much the same v
rape-except they tak
"The most basic r
somebody-' I wantt
idea of fucking some
toward them and sort
violence, not lust.
nature of rape, but a
sex drive has someth
Hacker's theory :
Okun or Beneke. I
abuse and rape w
component are leavin
with date rapes, the
gratification from hi
too, Hacker says.
But above all,
control. That's howJ
committed five years
Belcher grew up i
BY ERIC MATTSON
Mattson is The Daily's Editor-in-Chief
PAGE 6 WEEKEND / SEPTEMBER 19, 1986
WEEKEND / SEPTEMBER 19, 1986