I've seen the term used for 2 reasons. The first is to intentionally minimize the responsibility and culpability of certain rapists. The second is because of cognitive dissonance when something about the rapist doesn't fit into people's ideas about who rapists are and how they interact with their victims prior to raping them and those experiencing dissonance choose to end this dissonance by denying the full reality of rape or rapists.
The most recent use I've seen of this term is in the comments on The Sexist's On the difficulty of saying no which began to move toward this idea when a commenter named Victor defined who he sees as rapists:
Rapists are predators, and like any good predator they will go where prey is at its most vulnerable, and they will stalk it. They will find ways to make themselves seem “safe”. These guys aren’t that hard to spot.These would be the non-accidental rapists. Anything about them which seems safe to potential victims is nothing more than a thin facade.
Fuchsia responded with a comment which contained the following:
[friend or acquaintance] can suddenly turn around a try to rape you and the reason for this is, as far as I can tell, that they don’t actually realise they’re doing anything wrong. They don’t name their actions “rape”...Victor's response included:
do you think rape is usually “accidental”? Because what you describe certainly sounds like it. A guy who is genuinely nice, respectful etc suddenly rapes a girl? What, did he have low blood sugar that day?This jump from what Fuchsia described to the label Victor is using is troubling. Once someone tries to rape you what they are doing is no accident. If you are trying to do something and you succeed that's a goal met not an accidental outcome and it certainly isn't something caused by low blood sugar.
It doesn't matter if a man didn't try to rape someone the day before and wasn't plotting this rape for days, weeks or months. People who are not ongoing predators commit all sorts of crimes against those they know. Employees who never thought about stealing from their employer or committing any crime may respond to what they see as an unfair performance review by stealing electronics and selling it online. Or they may decide to eliminate their boss from hell.
Yet when it comes to rape many people cling to the idea that what is true and understood for all other crimes is not true and is instead incomprehensible for the crime of rape.
A man who believes sex happens after the 4th date and who believes if a woman doesn't want to have sex then she shouldn't accept that 4th date may not rape or even try to rape unless or until he gets to the end of a 4th date and his date doesn't consent. If the woman talked to him prior to that date about not being ready for sex, and he let her know he understood, this may do nothing to change his belief or his behavior. Sex happens after the 4th date.
Instead of seeking specific consent from the girl or woman and respecting whatever decision they get from that specific individual, many rapists get their permission generically from any number of sources. And when these come into conflict those who rape will ignore the specific lack of consent in favor of the generic permission.
This is not an accident.
As I highlighted in an earlier post about advice given to girls about how to avoid being raped, much of the generic safety advice to girls can be misused to give rapists generic permission.
Being willing to rape isn't just about seeking out victims. It has to do with the ethics of personal interactions. Some rapists may never try to rape anyone but their wives. To these rapists their marriage license is generic permission.
To dismiss any of these rapists as accidental rapists is to feed their rationalizations and to help keep the numbers of rapes committed each year appallingly high while contributing to the post rape trauma of those raped by these rapists.