Profile Of A Campus Date Rapist

Statistics have shown that most men who commit rape or date rape are known to the victim: friends, friends-with-benefits, boyfriends, husbands, even family members, etc. But even as someone who is attuned to news stories about sexual assault, I was unaware that researchers have gathered more info in the past decade about who these men are, on the college campus, specifically.

For the past two weeks, National Public Radio and the Center for Public Integrity have aired four stories on NPR about how sexual assaults are handled on college campuses in a series called “Seeking Justice For Campus Rapes.” Their most recent story, entitled “Myths That Make It Hard To Stop Campus Rape,” absolutely blew my mind. I had no idea about a 2002 study of men on college campuses in which one in 16 admitted to behavior that meets the definition of rape or date rape and the overwhelming majority of these men were repeat offenders.NPR referred to “Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists,” [PDF] a 2002 study by David Lisak of UMass-Boston and Paul M. Miller of Brown University, which appeared in the journal Violence and Victims. The study examined all types of interpersonal violence — domestic abuse, date rape, etc. — among 1,882 men at a mid-sized urban university. Since the study occurred on a college campus but was not limited to only students enrolled in the college, men who participated ranged in age from 18 to 71. However, the mean age of men in the study was 26.18, meaning the majority of participants were younger.

Answering yes to either of two questions would classify a man in Lisak’s study as a rapist or attempted rapist:

  1. Have you ever been in a situation where you tried, but for various reasons did not succeed, in having sexual intercourse with an adult by using or threatening to use physical force (twisting their arm, holding them down, etc.) if they did not cooperate?
  2. Have you ever had sexual intercourse with someone, even thought they did not want to, because they were too intoxicated (on alcohol or drugs) to resist your sexual advances (e.g. removing their clothes)?

Of 1,882 men in the study, 120 answered “yes” to either of those questions. But what I found shocking was the discovery that the 120 rapists committed a total of 1,225 acts of interpersonal violence total (rape, battery, etc.) and the repeat rapists averaged 5.8 rapes each. That means a sexual assault on campus was not usually just the case of a guy who had too much to drink one night and raped someone; it means there are guys who are predators who rape frequently.

Interestingly, Lisak told NPR that the rapists did not think of themselves as rapists, especially since they often knew the victim and, presumably, had been in a social setting with them. He explained:

“The basic weapon is alcohol. If you can get a victim intoxicated to the point where she’s coming in and out of consciousness, or she’s unconscious—and that is a very, very common scenario—then why would you need a weapon? Why would you need a knife or a gun?

To me, the most startling part of the campus sexual assault situation is that these men, even the predators, were on a college campus when they participated, i.e., they are not in jail. Obviously there are many reasons for this: cultural attitudes pressuring victims to blame themselves, police backlogs of DNA rape kits, colleges and campus security who mishandle investigations, shame, fear, etc. But it underscores the point to me that everything possible needs to be done to put rapists behind bars — and keep them there — to halt their predatory behavior before there are more victims.

And there will be more victims.

["Repeat Rape And Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists" PDF; NPR: "Myths That Make It Hard To Stop Campus Rape," "Campus Rape Victims: A Struggle For Justice," "Failed Justice Leaves Rape Victim Nowhere To Turn," "College Justice Falls Short For Rape Victim"]