Debra W. Soh is a Provost Dissertation Scholar and PhD. candidate in psychology, specializing in the neuroscience of sex, at York University.
While following the rapid succession of news and social media updates on Jian Ghomeshi's acquittal, I have come across many anecdotal stories from women who have dated sexually violent men. Many mention cues that seemed benign to them at the time, but to someone who studies sexual deviance, they stand out as clear warning signs.
It is never someone's fault if they are sexually assaulted and it is certainly never a woman's responsibility to prevent an assault from happening. Simply put, men should not rape. However, most of us would agree that knowledge is power, and that additional knowledge on this subject never hurt anyone.
Studies in sexology have shown that if a man likes something sexually, he really likes it, and probably always will. In the context of a paraphilia, which is defined as an atypical or unusual sexual interest, it will be his primary sexual interest over the course of his life.
Paraphilias are harmless if they are consensual. For example, BDSM revolves around the role-playing of sadistic acts, but this is with the goal of pleasuring one's partner, not causing actual pain and suffering to them.
However, in the event that a particular sexual act makes a woman uncomfortable, she will often stay in the relationship with the hopes that her partner will change his mind. From a scientific perspective, there is no evidence to suggest that a man's sexual preferences can be changed, even if he is deathly afraid of losing his partner. (At best, they can be managed with therapy and sex-drive-reducing medication.)
As a result, it is particularly concerning if he shows an appetite for non-consensual sadistic acts, such as humiliating, degrading or physically hurting her. He might say he can live without these behaviours, but even in the event that he is able to refrain from enacting them with his primary partner, it is likely that he will be engaging in them elsewhere.
Research has additionally shown that some men who commit sexual assault have what is known as a "coercive paraphilia," which is a sexual preference for rape. About 60 per cent of convicted rapists exhibit this preference. Signs that a partner is resisting or abhorring a sexual encounter typically inhibit male sexual arousal, but for men with coercive paraphilia, this is what they find enjoyable.
In the dating world, signs of sexual coercion are often overlooked because persistence in the face of rejection is interpreted as a sign that a man is romantically interested, as opposed to pushy and disrespectful. What is important to note with these men is they prefer unwilling partners. They are more likely to commit predatory sexual violence, and will seek out non-consenting partners even when they have a spouse or girlfriend at home, simply because consensual sex does not interest them.
A final common thread among men who commit sexual violence is antisociality, an indifference to the well-being of others. At first glance, many antisocial men are seen to be charismatic – and at worst, arrogantly confident – because of their adeptness at lying and how fearlessly they override social conventions.
Though our society hails "bad boys," a man's behaviour in the bedroom is (perhaps unsurprisingly) not terribly different from his behaviour outside it. Someone who revels in bending rules and exploiting those around him to get his way is not often kind to his partner once she is alone with him.
Many disappointed with Justice William Horkins's decision are calling for reforms to our legal system, concerned that the Ghomeshi trial will discourage sexual-assault victims from coming forward.
From the perspective of preventing assaults, however, a more punitive system will not deter these men from these committing offences; if anything, they will seek out more elaborate ways to avoid being caught.
An effective solution will include improvements to public education around this issue and changes to the way we, as a society, tell women to appraise situations in which they experience discomfort.