Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has delved into the deepest disturbing depths of sex crimes for almost two decades, but its season 18 episode “Genes” brought up one of its creepiest questions ever: is there a rape gene?
The installment centers around a so-called “support group” of men who believe they carry a “rape gene,” claiming they can’t help but sexually assault women — it’s essentially destiny. The SVU team comes upon the appalling group after a man confesses to raping a bartender in her car, but wants a lessened sentence in exchange for pointing police towards a serial rapist they’ve been searching for.
Both criminals have shared graphic details of raping women during their meetings since they blame their offenses on biology as opposed to their own violent decisions.
But, the “support group” members have a flaw in their logic as the theory of a “rape gene” is complicated at best and scientifically disproven at worst.
A 2015 study found fathers and brothers of men who commit sexual assault are more likely to also commit sexual assault. Yet, researchers denied they had “found a gene for sexual offending” or committing rape was “inevitable” for these male family members, UK publication The Telegraph writes. Instead, as with many negative behaviors, genes can “increase” the possibility of becoming a convicted sex offender.
That still doesn’t give men with these genes an excuse, as preventative treatment, interventions, and psychological support can lessen the possibility of a rape. Also, the possibility of comitting the crime is still 2.3% or less.
“The fact that genes play such a role does not mean that a person is less responsible for their offending or that offending is inevitable in someone at higher genetic risk, it just emphasizes that genes are an important part of a complicated jigsaw,” forensic psychiatrist Dr Rajan Darjee said.
Other scientists have studied whether we all have the “rape gene” due to evolutionary psychology, since men who raped in prehistoric times could have been able to father many more children than their less violent counterparts. That would mean current humans are all of the family trees of these ancient rapists. University of New Mexico anthropologist Kim Hill ran a cost analysis on the possibility and realized it’s more than unlikely.
The cost of prehistoric rape exceeds the reproductive benefits by more than a factor of 10, Hill told Newsday in 2009. "That makes the likelihood that rape is an evolved adaptation extremely low," she continued. "It just wouldn't have made sense for men in the Pleistocene to use rape as a reproductive strategy, so the argument that it's pre-programmed into us doesn't hold up."
So — as usual — we know not to believe the latest villain on SVU.