Campus Predators: Who Are They?

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In his article, Understanding the Predatory Nature of Sexual Violence, Dr. David Lisak criticizes the use of the term “date rape” on college campuses. He explains:

[the term date rape] has served to obscure one of the unpleasant facts about sexual violence in the college environment: that just as in the larger community, the majority of this violence is committed by predatory individuals who tend to be serial and multi-faceted offenders.

Research has discovered that each campus rapist averages between seven and eleven victims. Clearly a small number of perpetrators can result in a huge number of victims; just 40 rapists can sexually assault and rape upwards of 400 women.

The age range of maximum vulnerability to sexual violence is 18 to 24 years, making college women the most likely to be victimized. As Lisak explains, most people believe that rapists are “knife-wielding men in ski masks who attacked strangers.” In reality, most rapes are committed by non-strangers and are never reported.

In order to protect yourself from predatory rapists, it helps to understand the motivations, behaviors, attitudes, and modus operandi of these serial offenders.

According to Lisak, college rapists:

  • Are extremely adept at identifying “likely” victims, and testing prospective victim’s boundaries;
  • Plan and premeditate their attacks, using sophisticated strategies to groom their victims for attack and to isolate them physically;
  • Use “instrumental” not gratuitous violence; they exhibit strong impulse control and use only as much violence as is needed to terrify and coerce their victims into submission;
  • Use psychological weapons—power, control, manipulation, and threats—backed up by physical force, and almost never resort to weapons such as knives or guns;
  • Use alcohol and drugs deliberately to render victims more vulnerable to attack or completely unconscious.

Despite the popular belief that college rapists are somehow less serious than those who attack strangers, Lisak discovered that these men are just as likely to be serial offenders as the more ‘violent’ stranger rapists.

Research conducted in the Boston area discovered 120 rapists in a study of 1,882 university men. These 120 rapists were responsible for 483 rapes. Of the 120 rapists, 76 (63%) accounted for 439 of the 483 rapes (91%). These serial rapists were also responsible for over 1,000 violent crimes including non-penetrating acts of sexual assault, physical and sexual abuse of children, and batteries of domestic partners. While these men admitted to these crimes for the study, none of them were ever prosecuted. The study further found that the “most powerful predictor of committing rape during college was a history of having committed rape during high school.”

Campus rapists are often very similar to incarcerated rapists. Lisak explains:

They share the same motivational matrix of anger, dominance, hyper-masculinity, impulsiveness, and antisocial attitudes. They have many of the same developmental antecedents. They tend to be serial offenders, and most of them commit a variety of different interpersonal offenses. They are accurately and appropriately labeled as predators.

Further, Lisak points out:

This picture conflicts sharply with the widely-held view that rapes committed on university campuses are typically the result of a basically “decent” young man who, were it not for too much alcohol and too little communication, would never do such a thing. While some campus rapes do fit this more benign view, the evidence points to a far less benign reality, in which the vast majority of rapes are committed by serial violent predators.

Lastly, Lisak criticizes the use of university judicial processes to deal with sexual predators:

Further, cases of non-stranger rape are extremely difficult to properly investigate and prosecute – they are in fact far more complex than the majority of stranger rapes. A proper investigation requires skilled and specially-trained investigators working closely with specially-trained prosecutors. Absent a proper investigation, almost every non-stranger rape case quickly devolves into the proverbial “he-said-she-said” conundrum, and judicial board members are left helpless to discern what actually may have occurred. This situation increases the likelihood of inadequately or even poorly-handled cases, thereby increasing the harm done both to the victim and to the larger community.

Most importantly,

Colleges and universities do more than provide young people with the credentials to make their careers. They also help to socialize young men and women and prepare them for responsible citizenship in their communities. What lessons do we teach these young people when we allow sexual violence to flourish in the college community? The predators graduate, taking with them increased power and authority—the tools they turn into weapons of violence—and find new victims in the larger community beyond the ivied walls. The bystanders graduate with lessons in passive cooperation with criminal conduct, surely the opposite of what we would have wished for.

Lisak, Predators: Uncomfortable Truths about College Rapists, Connection (Summer 2004)

Campus rape and sexual assault dominate the headlines. Knowing what to look for and how the most dangerous predators operate is essential to keeping campus communities and students safe.

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Katie M. Shipp
Katie M. Shipp graduated cum laude from Allegheny College and the University of Pittsburgh School of Law where she received the CALI award for Family Law and Business Organizations. Katie was also the Lead Articles Editor for the Journal of Law and Commerce. Prior to joining the Marsh Law Firm, Katie served as an advocate for children at KidsVoice in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and the Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts.
Katie M. Shipp

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