May 25, 2010

9 of 10 Campus Rapes Are Committed By Repeat Offenders [Updated]

A new study, replicating the research of older surveys, finds that a small group of men account for the majority of rapes and sexual assaults - up to about 90%.

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Update? Why Was This Post Updated?

This post was originally released on Monday, May 24th, 2010, including the abstract of the new study (described below) and an image of what appeared to be a woman walking down an alley in fishnet stockings.  Via Twitter and Facebook, a number of our readers brought to our attention that such an image reinforces the idea that women should be blamed for being raped or sexually assaulted if they are dressed in revealing clothing, walk alone at night, etc.  I changed this photo, for fear that the image would continue to trigger any notion of victim-blaming.  The original image actually portrayed a young man wearing heels and tights, participating in an anti-rape activity that encouraged men to “walk a mile” in women’s shoes.  Unfortunately, due to the way the picture was cropped, this positive portrayal of a man engaging in anti-rape work was not seen.  I hope that this updated post better presents the important findings of this research on rape and sexual assault.

Rape Myths Dispelled?

There are a number of myths that surround sexual assault and rape, including one that views the typical rapist as a stranger lurking in the bushes at night.  Myths such as these make it difficult to protect ourselves from, prevent, and report rape and sexual assault.  This sometimes can lead to blaming victims of rape and sexual assault for their own victimization, largely blaming them for failing to protect themselves from an otherwise preventable crime.  Yes Means Yes reports on a new study, replicating the research of a couple older surveys, that finds that a small group of men account for the majority of rape and sexual assault attacks – up to about 90%:

First, the stranger-force rape is a small proportion of rapes, and is all but absent from the samples of self-reporters…Second, the sometimes-floated notion that acquaintance rape is simply a mistake about consent, is wrong.  The vast majority of the offenses are being committed by a relatively small group of men, somewhere between 4% and 8% of the population, who do it again … and again … and again. That just doesn’t square with the notion of innocent mistake.

The Study

Using a sample of 1,146 new enlisted male navy personnel, McWhorter and colleagues found that 144 of the men (13%) reported engaging in attempted or completed rape, as indicated by their reported sexual behaviors that approximates legal definitions of rape, since the age of 14.  Among those 144 men, the majority were repeat offenders, averaging about 6 separate incidents of attempted or completed rape.  Further, the 144 more frequently noted drugging their victims than using force, and were more likely to know their victims than to target strangers.

What About College Men?

The study of navy personnel replicated an 2002 study, by Lisak and Miller, of 1,882 college students.  Among this sample, 120 men (6% of the sample) reported behavior that constitutes attempted or completed rape – the majority (76% of the rapists) were repeat offenders, averaging about 6 incidents of attempted or completed rape.  Combined, these serial rapists committed 439 rapes/attempted rapes.  Thus, 76 men – just 4% of the entire sample – accounted for over 400 attempted or completed rapes.


One of the primary obstacles of effectively preventing sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape is the myths that surround who does it, who is victimized, why, and who is at fault.  As the findings of these two studies suggest, a number of “rape myths” are dispelled, including (but not limited to) the exclusive fear of the stranger lurking in the bushes at night, the otherwise-innocent guy who makes a mistake, and, possibly more importantly, that something victims of sexual violence do/say (or not) leads them to be raped or assaulted.