Who Commits Sexual Assault & Why?

This post is a part of our guide series to support anyone who may have been sexually assaulted or has questions around the topic:

What is Sexual Assault? Definitions & Meanings of Rape
Who Commits Sexual Assault & Why?
What are the Signs of Sexual Assault?
Date Rape & Staying Safe
What Impacts Does Sexual Assault Have on Victims and Their Family/Friends?
Coping, Healing & Recovering From Sexual Assault & Rape
How to Help Someone Who has Been a Victim of Sexual Assault
How to report Sexual Assault (and Who to Report it to)
How is Sexual Assault & Rape Proven in Court?
Punishment and Sentencing for Sexual Assault
How can Sexual Assault and Rape be Prevented?
Sexual Assault Data & Statistics
Sexual Assault Helplines, Support & Further Reading


There are various theories explaining why people commit rape and it can be difficult to understand the motives of these individuals.

However, it is important to note that rape is wrong in any circumstance and that this article does not in any way intend to justify or rationalise this awful crime. Rather it intends to examine the various theories with a view to helping victims as part of their recovery process.

Why does Sexual Assault happen and what causes people to do it?

There are many factors that contribute to committing sexual assault but it is important to remember that it is always the perpetrator who is responsible for this happening and not the victim.  Some of the factors that may contribute to an individual committing this offence include;

  • Power and control – the perpetrator feels a strong sense of entitlement and uses this to commit the offence
  • Misuse of drugs and alcohol- the perpetrator may be under the influence or use alcohol or drugs to incapacitate the victims.
  • Desiressexual enjoyment or other motives
  • Delusions- the perpetrator is convinced that what they are doing is ok
  • Psychological issues- difficulties feeling for other people or understanding social rules
  • Life experiences- some perpetrators act out the same behaviour because it was done to them, almost a subconscious effort to resolve their own abuse
  • Opportunity- Most perpetrators will not be able to sexually assault anyone if they couldn’t find a way to be alone with them.

This list is indicative rather than fully comprehensive and there will be many other reasons why perpetrators commit sexual assault. However, this does not mean the perpetrator’s behaviour is justified but instead helps to give a better understanding of the type of factors that may influence their behaviour

Is sexual assault genetic?

Whilst some research suggests that sexual offences could partly be caused by genetics, this does not mean that individuals have no choice in their behaviour nor does this mean that these individuals are destined to commit sexual offences. In fact, some would argue that sexual offending is not written in DNA.

Who commits Sexual Assault?

Unfortunately, anyone can commit sexual assault and it is a choice that an individual makes, normally the perpetrators are known to the victim.  We can try to look for factors that may contribute to this choice but it’s only fair that perpetrators are held accountable for their actions. Whilst childhood abuse, trauma or other events could severely impact an individual’s behaviour into adulthood, it doesn’t change the fact that they had a choice, a choice not to cause harm or suffering to another person. The only exception would be if the perpetrator had a mental disorder in which they failed to understand the implications of their behaviour.

Why do people commit rape?

This can be a very difficult question to answer, even the strongest attempt to try and research why people commit rape could not provide you with a complete understanding of this. Although the various contributing factors have already been discussed, it is important to remember all sexual behaviour is a matter of choice and people who commit rape choose to commit this awful crime. The only exception would be if the perpetrator had mental a disorder and did not understand the implications of their behaviour

We understand how difficult it is to see someone you know or love experiencing abuse, sometimes trying to help a victim is not easy. It’s important to remember that you are not alone and the first step that you should take is to talk to someone. No one should have to deal with abuse alone.

Here at the Criminal Injuries Helpline, we help victims of violent crime and abuse recover compensation. You may want to help the victim gain some justice, get in touch with us today to see if the victim would qualify.

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