“One-time bad decisions” that rapists keep on repeating

Jill at Feministe: Profile of a College Rapist

There’s a common assumption about men who commit sexual assault on a college campus: That they made a one-time, bad decision. But psychologist David Lisak says this assumption is wrong —-and dangerously so.

It might seem like it would be hard for a researcher to get these men to admit to something that fits the definition of rape. But Lisak says it’s not. “They are very forthcoming,” he says. “In fact, they are eager to talk about their experiences. They’re quite narcissistic as a group — the offenders — and they view this as an opportunity, essentially, to brag.”

What Lisak found was that students who commit rape on a college campus are pretty much like those rapists in prison. In both groups, many are serial rapists. On college campuses, repeat predators account for 9 out of every 10 rapes.

Read Jill’s whole post. I just wanted to highlight the above quote from an NPR radio segment about David Lisak’s 20 years of research with college rapists*. Let’s just repeat that one really important line:

On college campuses, repeat predators account for 9 out of every 10 rapes.

In Lisak’s 2002 study, and supported by the findings of McWhorter (2009) amongst navy personnel, these repeat offenders also admitted to seeking out victims who they knew would be unwilling rather than attempting to date women who probably would be willing – it was the unwillingness that they found appealing. As long as the researchers didn’t use the actual word “rape”, these men were willing to talk about the many ways they deliberately sought out unsuspecting/unwilling women, manipulated them into isolated locations and then coerced them into sex. No matter how many legal definitions of rape these men’s self-confessed behaviour met, to them it wasn’t really rape because they didn’t jump out of the bushes with a knife.

As Thomas at YesMeansYes has highlighted in his excellent articles (Meet The Predators, Predator Redux) these and other studies show that there are almost certainly warning signs that many people are ignoring when in the company of these undetected rapists:

Guys with rigid views of gender roles and an axe to grind against women in general are overrepresented among rapists. That won’t come as a surprise to most readers here, I expect. But it is important confirmation. Guys who seem to hate women … do. If they sound like they don’t like or respect women and see women as impediments to be overcome … they’re telling the truth. That’s what they think, and they will abuse if they think they can get away with it.

The take home message: if someone in your social circle talks about people who have passed out as sexual opportunities, seems to seek out people whose judgment is impaired by intoxicants (and/or facilitates that impairment), keeps mentioning having sex with intoxicated people? Have you heard more than one complaint about them from people whom they have had sex with, but you previously dismissed it as just “regret” on their part? It would be a damn good idea to take a long hard look at them and analyse whether they’re not just making a series of “one-time bad decisions” but whether they are, on the balance of probabilities, a likely undetected serial sexual predator.

So what do you do if you decide that this person in your social circle is, on the balance of probabilities, a likely undetected serial sexual predator? If they’re like most undetected rapists, Thomas points out that their modus operandi is organised and calculatedly based on what they’re most likely to get away with time and time again, which will mean that their sexual assaults fall outside the boundaries of what most people are comfortable in clearly labelling as rape: they will have manipulated women they know into being alone with them after drinking with them before the attacks take place, the attacks will not use overt physical force that leaves marks. So there will be no evidence to take to law enforcement, even if the victim(s) were willing to lay a complaint. If you make a public accusation, the probable predator will have grounds for a defamation action.

In an ideal world, you could just cut him from your social circle entirely. But other people might demand an explanation, and if you tell them that you think he’s a rapist then here comes that defamation action again. So there are probably going to be times when you will not be able to avoid his company because of your shared social circle. However, there are two simple things you can do to help prevent him grooming victims anywhere around you, without the need for a confrontation that he could twist to make himself look like the injured party:

1. Refuse to socially affirm him when he makes statements that stereotype women as lying bitches about rape or just needing a few drinks to “loosen up” so that they have “an excuse for having sex”, or that solicit a nudge-nudge wink-wink approval of having sex with an intoxicated person, or that seek congratulation for having had sex with an intoxicated person. Just a frown and a “that shit’s wrong” will suffice – just deny him the social affirmation he is looking for that helps him self-justify his attacks. If he retaliates with digs about you being “too PC” or having “no sense of humour” just stick to “that shit’s not funny” and refuse to be shamed for it. Don’t let him distract you into trying to defend your stance, just stand your ground (he’s probably much better at manipulating the opinion of others than you are if you let him goad you into debating it).

2. Chaperone intoxicated people when he’s around – you be the one who puts them on a couch or beanbag in the corner rather than let him take them to a quiet room upstairs or outside to a dark garden (“we’d better keep her close to us in case she’s sick so we can make sure she doesn’t choke”). If he tries to insist cast it as concern for him (“but if you stay there watching her you’ll miss out on all the fun – she’ll sleep it off fine just here in the corner”). If he offers to drive her home, you offer to go along with him for company so you can help him get her inside and then you can all get back to the party/pub. Persuade someone else to go along for the ride as well, to emphasise that your company is meant to be purely a friendly thing (besides, they’ll probably be more comfortable conversing with him since they don’t share your suspicions).

If you do (1) and (2) properly, then you are never doing anything that could hurt this person in your social circle if your suspicions are wrong and that person is not actually a serial sexual predator. In fact, doing (1) and (2) should be the social default, because they are the right things to do all the time, not just in the presence of a suspected predator.

Refusing to affirm speech that is abusive of women and supportive of rape culture is a mitzvah, because that shit is wrong whether the person saying it is a rapist or not, and if people are “just” saying it without thinking it through then this might make them rethink and stop doing that, which will do them and the people around them nothing but good.

Looking after intoxicated people so that they are not hurt while they are intoxicated is also a mitzvah, whether they are the target of a rapist or not. If the person you suspect really is just being a nice guy to the intoxicated people as everybody else thinks, then you are simply helping them while they are being a nice guy. You can all be nice together.

Everybody wins. Are you up for it? If not, why not?

* Note: both Lisak’s and McWhorter’s studies are confined to males raping females. Obviously this will lead to an undercount on both the number of rapists and the number of rapes that they commit.

Categories: gender & feminism, Science, violence


8 replies

  1. I love this post. Just as I was thinking “but what to do if I identify such a person?” you answered it, and really well.
    It’s not rocket science, but it could be culture changing if these simple steps become part of our day to day. I’ll be doing my bit to encourage others to read it and do it.

    • Thanks, Ariane! One of the most common objections to any sort of social sanctions against suspected sexual predators is “but what if we’re wrong about this person?” and I thought hard about how to act with the best interests of everybody first and foremost.
      The culture where men are encouraged to trashtalk women and “joke” about forcing themselves on women who are unable to fight back, these remarks that other men don’t object to, or where it is the objectors who end up shunned for not giving a pass to other men “just letting off steam”, this is IMO the fundamental, the sine qua non of rape-culture. (The mechanism seems to work very similarly in lynch-culture where most folks who trashtalk people of colour and “joke” about “teaching them a lesson” just look the other way while some of the men they know deliberately go “nigger-hunting” in order to maim and kill.)
      Standing up and calling out that talk as unacceptable is one of the most important things somebody can do to stop its unquestioned perpetuation. And it doesn’t have to be done with a manifesto – just a quiet assertion will do – “that shit’s wrong”, “that shit’s not funny”.
      The second act, chaperoning the intoxicated, I see as much more important for people generally than simply a rape prevention issue, although obviously it would be important enough if rape prevention was the only benefit. Intoxicated people also fall down stairs and break legs and skulls. Intoxicated people suffer adverse physiological reactions and die because other people have left them alone and unmonitored. Intoxicated people trip on the gutter and fall into the path of an oncoming car.
      None of us should think that our own social enjoyment is more important than the safety of an intoxicated person. Even when “they’ve brought it on themselves by drinking too much”. If you would be ashamed if you had to explain to a bereaved relative how you let their intoxicated loved one die while you were close by, how can you possibly not be equally ashamed to try to explain to an intoxicated friend how you let them be isolated and vulnerable to a rapist while you were close by?

  2. “If you make a public accusation, the probable predator will have grounds for a defamation action.
    In an ideal world, you could just cut him from your social circle entirely. But other people might demand an explanation, and if you tell them that you think he’s a rapist then here comes that defamation action again.”
    This meshes really nicely with a recent post over on Fugitivus: http://fugitivus.wordpress.com/2010/03/05/im-back-part-i/ In it, Harriet talks about getting out of her abusive marriage, and speaks at great length about the social cost of trying to get safe.

    • Selfishly I’m very glad to see Harriet blogging again. I’m sad that it’s all seeming so challenging for her, both in terms of her sense of safety and how she feels it is affecting her writing-under-her-own-name aspirations.

  3. Nice post. Although keep in mind that some people just enjoy politically incorrect humor.
    I know plenty of people who laugh at and retell rape-related jokes — just as they do racist jokes, genocide jokes or dead-baby jokes for that matter.

    • They “just enjoy” it, do they? Not even a hint of insensitivity to others who could be gratuitously offended and/or retraumatised underlying their enjoyment? So it’s just not a symptom of any empathy/prejudice problems at all that could ring a bit of a warning bell for interpersonal relations?
      There’s also a huge difference both in intent and possible reaction between jokes based on harmful stereotypes about the living (rape, racism), black humour about disasters/atrocities that haven’t affected us (and genocide jokes can often really be based in racism, let’s not kid ourselves) and black humour based on absurd fantasy scenarios such as your average dead-baby joke that have never happened to anybody anywhere.

  4. Yep, and some people are just arseholes too.

  5. Christer: We should “keep in mind” that there are plenty of bigoted douchebags in the world? Thanks so much for mansplaining that. Such a thing never occured to me before. I’ll get right on it.

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