In the world of sexual assault prevention, the work of University of Massachusetts psychologist David Lisak has gained some serious traction. Lisak has spent the past 20 years studying men who commit acquaintance rapes. In the past year, that work has been dissected by feminist blogs, employed in an investigative report from the Center for Public Integrity, and integrated into the policies of campus safety nonprofit Security On Campus. Being a bit of a fan girl myself, I was happy to discover more from Liak: This CBS news interview in which the researcher talks about the ways in which non-stranger rapists operate, how they’re ignored by the criminal justice system, and why these men tell him about the rapes they’ve committed. Transcript after the jump.
The most common rape is a non-stranger assault where the victim is picked out by the offender at a party, at a bar. The degree of acquaintance between them is usually very, very incidental. It is really just the perpetrator finding a particular individual who they’re going to target. And so if they’re in a bar, if you’ve got a predator in a bar, he’s not going to look for the most sober individual in the bar. He’s going to look for the most intoxicated individual. In fact, he’ll look for the individual who is not only intoxicated but seems to be doing outrageous things.
Somehow all we can do is take the statement from the victim, take the statement from the alleged perpetrator, and then throw up our hands because they’re saying conflicting things and we don’t know how to resolve this. That’s not how we investigate other crimes. You know, in almost any other circumstance, if we have an alleged perpetrator, we begin an investigation. And it doesn’t end with asking the alleged perpetrator whether or not they did the crime. Rather than taking the report and investigating the alleged offender—-which is what we do in virtually every other crime and certainly in violent crimes, that is our approach—-and yet somehow that’s not the approach that’s taken in non-stranger cases.
The reason that this is such a common part of the scenario—-the non-stranger assault—-is that we know, and I’ve interviewed these rapists for 20 years and they have told me explicitly, they are predators. They go after victims in those kinds of circumstances, and they look for potential victims who are already somwhat vulnerable. They’re going to get her so intoxicated that she might have blackouts, she may be unconscious, she is much more susceptible to all the manipulations you would use. So for example, you get her completely intoxicated and then you say, “You know what? You really shouldn’t drive. I’ll drive you home.” And then, presto! The rapist has her in his car, and the assault can happen whether in his car, his apartment, or wherever, but she’s under his control. And that scenario has been described to me so many different times by these non-stranger rapists.
Predators look for vulnerable people, and they prey on vulnerable peope, and if as a criminal justice system, we’re going to essentially turn away from any victim who is drinking or any victim who is in some way vulnearble, we’re essentially giving a free pass to sexual predators. A lot of these men, especially the serial rapists, are very very narcissistic, there is nothing they enjoy more than to sit down in a room with a guy like me and impress me with all their sexual exploits. And that’s how they view them.