He strikes on weekdays, usually in daylight. In the past 12 months he has raped at least nine women and attempted to rape a tenth — victims ranging in age from 10 to 52 years old. Police believe he preselects not the individual women but the place he will attack them, usually woods or parkland areas with access to the M25, the motorway around London. And after the assaults he often takes a memento — clothing, or a cell phone — from his victims, a modus operandi that led the media to name him the "trophy rapist."
Any rapist is unspeakably cruel; this one takes obscene delight in his cruelty. One anonymous victim has said the attacker took her cell phone and used it to call her mother and boast, "I've just raped your daughter." In October, the 52-year-old woman he attacked in August told Crimewatch, a British TV program in which police enlist the public's help to catch offenders: "I heard him slashing my clothes and I was just paralyzed with fear. I didn't know if he'd slash me, so I just ... you know, let him get on with it." While some suggest that the rapist's motivation for taking something from his victims is to remove evidence or prevent them telephoning for help, others see it as a sexual fetish. Or, says David Canter, head of the Center for Investigative Psychology at the University of Liverpool, "It could be a way of frightening his victims further — 'I've got something of yours.'"
The search for the trophy rapist has turned into one of the largest manhunts for a sex offender in British history, involving more than 100 officers from five forces bordering the London area. Initially, leads appeared scarce. Although police knew the attacker was between 30 and 50 and between 1.65 m and 1.77 m, his DNA did not match any samples on the national criminal database. And because he always approached his victims from behind, descriptions of him were sketchy. But early this month his tenth victim, a 14-year-old girl raped at knifepoint, gave police their first description of his face — round, with a long nose and light green or blue eyes. After a computer simulation was published, police received up to 5,000 telephone calls.
Police hope the trophy rapist's apparent lack of concern about grabbing victims in daylight or near houses may lead to his downfall. "He is a risk taker," Detective Superintendent Mark Warwick said. "By taking risks, you are going to slip up and give information away." In the meantime, authorities have some chilling advice for women in England's southeast who might need to pass through woodland, or use footpaths adjacent to residential areas: Don't go alone.
Despite the attention that the trophy rapist has generated, rapes and attempted rapes of this kind are still rare. In general in Britain, only 8% of rape victims are attacked by strangers — a figure that has remained static for several years — while some 45% of victims are raped by a husband or partner. Many others are victims of acquaintance or date rape, and know their attacker only slightly. But rape statistics are always imprecise because so few victims come forward. Although 9,008 women went to the police in 2001 saying that they had been victims of rape, the Home Office estimates that the actual number of rapes that year was about 61,000 — a reporting ratio of 15%. The Rape Crisis Federation notes that of the approximately 50,000 women who contact them following an assault, only about 12% go to the police.
In the face of evidence that acquaintance rape has been rising for several decades in the U.K., the British government last week — as part of a package of recommended measures regarding violent and sexual crime — published a series of proposed updates to the laws surrounding rape. One vital component: the issue of consent. The paper proposes that women who are unconscious or under the influence of drugs cannot be deemed to have consented to sex, a change that shifts the burden of proof of consent from a victim to her attacker. Police hope the proposed reforms will help raise the conviction rates for rape, which in parts of the U.K. are as low as 7.5%. For authorities, catching and convicting rapists — those committing high-profile attacks like the trophy rapist and those committing the less sensational but equally insidious assaults like date or spouse rape — is the highest priority