Paper on Campus Sexual Assault Called Into Question

July 29, 2015

An influential and frequently cited study on the prevalence of repeat sexual assault offenders is riddled with inconsistencies and possible errors, a new analysis of the paper asserts. The study in question is David Lisak's 2002 paper “Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists,” which argued that 90 percent of campus rapes are committed by serial offenders. His work has been cited by Inside Higher Ed, by the White House, in the documentary The Hunting Ground and in Jon Krakauer's most recent book, Missoula.

Writing for Reason, a libertarian magazine, Linda LeFauve, associate vice president for planning and institutional research at Davidson College, stated the paper is based on four other studies that were possibly conducted by Lisak's doctoral students in the 1990s. The studies were not entirely focused on campus sexual assault, and were based on surveys that mostly asked questions about child abuse. In an interview with Reason, Lisak was unable to identify the lead investigators of the studies.

LeFauve also criticized the paper for making claims about campus sexual assault when the studies referenced in the paper do not specify whether the assaults happened on campus or if the respondents or victims were actually students. The surveys were handed out to random men on a commuter campus. Lisak, according to LeFauve, told her he had subsequently interviewed those respondents. “When I asked how he was able to speak with men participating in an anonymous survey for research he was not conducting,” LeFauve wrote, “he ended the phone call.”

Lisak did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

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