David Lisak, Ph.D.
- are extremely adept at identifying “likely” victims, and testing prospective victims’ 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 deliberately to render victims more vulnerable to attack, or completely unconscious.
In a study of 1,882 university men conducted in the Boston area, 120 rapists were identified. These 120 undetected rapists were responsible for 483 rapes. Of the 120 rapists, 44 had committed a single rape, while 76 (63% of them) were serial rapists who accounted for 439 of the 483 rapes. These 76 serial rapists had also committed more than 1,000 other crimes of violence, from nonpenetrating acts of sexual assault, to physical and sexual abuse of children, to battery of domestic partners. None of these undetected rapists had been prosecuted for these crimes.
The implications of the research on undetected rapists – research that has largely focused on men in college environments – point to the similarity of these offenders to incarcerated rapists. They share the same motivational matrix of hostility, 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.
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.
This less benign reality has potentially significant implications for how universities deal with sexual violence within their community. Prevention efforts geared toward persuading men not to rape are very unlikely to be effective. Lessons can be drawn from many decades of experience in sex offender treatment, which have demonstrated that it is extremely difficult to change the behavior of a serial predator even when you incarcerate him and subject him to an intensive, multi-year program. Rather than focusing prevention efforts on the rapists, it would seem far more effective to focus those efforts on the far more numerous bystanders – men and women who are part of the social and cultural milieu in which rapes are spawned and who can be mobilized to identify perpetrators and intervene in high-risk situations. [Emphasis added -C.S.]