Published on 3/19/99

Experts: No easy answers in rape case

Acadiana bureau

LAFAYETTE- After Randy Comeaux pleaded guilty to a string of rapes Monday, he told the court that he knew his victims wanted to know why. Why would a 20-year-veteran law enforcement officer who helped countless people by day rape women at gunpoint at night?

Comeaux said he wanted to know why, too. In the early 1990s, he sought help at different counseling centers in Alexandria and Lafayette. He even read a clinical textbook on the subject, titled "Men Who Rape; The Psychology of the Offender."

According to psychologists and forensic experts, there are no easy answers. Genetic and social factors, anger and other issues may combine to create a rapist, experts say. There are few avenues for treatment for serial rapists and sex offenders and differing opinions on how much treatment they deserve.

Dr. A. Nicholas Groth, who wrote the book "Men Who Rape," said he believes society needs to study these men to understand and prevent them from striking again.

"Sadly, this man caused a lot of suffering," said Groth. "The victims, their families, his family. A lot of people have been hurt. Had there been more help, had we been a more enlightened society, maybe we could have spared some pain."

Groth, a psychologist who has worked with hundreds of convicted rapists in prisons in Massachusetts and Connecticut, said that there are typically three general types of rape: anger rape, power rape and sadistic rape. Police say that Comeaux fits the description of a power rapist.

"In these assaults, it is not the offender’s desire to harm his victim but to possess her sexually," Groth wrote. "Sexuality becomes a means of compensating for underlying feelings of inadequacy and serves to express issues of mastery, strength, control, authority, identity and capability. His goal is sexual conquest, and he uses only the amount of force necessary to accomplish this objective."

Groth said often such offenders may have obsessive fantasies in which the victim initially resists his sexual advances, he overpowers her, and unable to resist his sexual prowess, she becomes receptive.

Groth stressed that this is deviant behavior by men who have blurred the boundaries between fantasy and reality. The need to rape is a test of the offender’s competency, he said, and the rapist feels a mixture of excitement, anxiety, anticipated pleasure and fear. Most rapists of this type find little sexual satisfaction in the rape because it never lives up to the fantasy.

That is why he must find another victim, Groth said. In his work with rapists, he found that most rapists had experienced sexual trauma during their formative years and had no one to go to for help. The trauma may be in the form of direct sexual abuse, but it could be the product of witnessing sexual abuse. Groth used the example of a son knowing his father was molesting his sister.

Comeaux’s lawyer, G. Paul Marx, said there have been conflicting reports about abuse in Comeaux’s family and how much it affected him. His sister claimed that he was once sexually abused by a relative. Comeaux’s mother had no comment.

The other contributing factor, Groth said, is an abnormally high testosterone level among some rapists. Testosterone is the hormone that fuels sexual drive. Groth said that too much of it is a biological flaw, and it may contribute to why some men rape.

Fred Berlin, founder of the Johns Hopkins Sexual Disorders Clinic in Baltimore, said it’s important to remember that rape is about eroticized power.

"It’s not just liking to push somebody around," he said. "It’s the erotic power tied into a biological drive that makes them dangerous."

About 40 percent of rapists report drinking before an intended rape. Groth said many do this as a way of blocking out their constant sexual thoughts, yet the alcohol only lessens their inhibitions.

While Groth said the fact that Comeaux was reading to understand his compulsion showed "something of a conscience," others say it wasn’t enough. He only stopped because he was caught, a victim said.

Brent E. Turvey, a forensic scientist and criminal profiler who works as a consultant in San Leandro, Calif., speculated that Comeaux may have been an officer who, after dealing with so many victims as a sheriff’s detective each day, began to think there are "no victims, only volunteers."

Comeaux typically entered homes through unlocked doors and windows. Once he told a rape victim that she should have locked her back window.

"The offender may rationalize ... that he is not abnormal and is entitled to rape," Turvey said.

Such rapists have a psychopathic inability to empathize with their victims’ suffering and a serious inability to take responsibility for their behavior.

He also said Comeaux may have gotten a secondary satisfaction or thrill from the fact that his fiancee worked at the Rape Crisis Center.

He said the fact that Comeaux occasionally wore women’s underwear during a rape and other times stole underwear from the women he was raping is a fetish, probably rooted in something in his childhood or adolescence.

Both Groth and Turvey said that typically such rapes do not escalate to murder.

Groth said drugs designed to diminish a person’s sexual urges and the need to rape have been in use since the 1970s. Depo Provera and Depo Lupron, when given to men in small doses, inhibits the production of testosterone and can stunt aggression.

Berlin said Comeaux should have sought help before the first rape. He said there are too many social misconceptions that rapists, child molesters and other sex offenders cannot be treated or rehabilitated. Some will recover with treatment and others won’t. Berlin said that society isn’t willing to discuss sex crimes because of conservative moral attitudes toward sex.

"That’s one of the problems," he said. "We’re where we were with alcoholism 100 years ago before Betty Ford clinics. ... There are no Betty Ford clinics for people with abnormal sexual cravings."

Comeaux committed depraved acts of violence, Groth said, but he is also the same person who did good work in his career in law enforcement.

Turvey warned against too much sympathy.

"Now his entire secret little life has been exposed," Turvey said. "Now he gets to play the victim."

Copyright 1999, The Advocate, Capital City Press, All Rights Reserved.