Via Amanda, and Scott in comments, Thomas MacAulay Millar takes a look at "who commits the vast majority of rapes, the nonstranger rapes." (By way of reminder, women are three times more likely to be raped by someone they know than a stranger, and nine times more likely to be raped in their home, the home of someone they know, or anywhere else than being raped on the street.)
It is notoriously tough to figure out who the rapists are. Reporting and conviction rates for acquaintance rapes are so low as to be useless as a diagnostic tool. And how else can we know? The rapists won't just tell us that they are rapists, right?This is something about which I've previously blogged: The more specific the description of an act of sexual assault or harassment, without actually identifying it as a act of sexual violence or harassment, the more likely (straight cis male) respondents are to admit having done it, whether in a structured study or even in casual conversation. I've also found, in speaking to straight cis men who firmly assert that they are have not sexually assaulted nor harassed anyone, nor do they know any men who have, that providing examples of sexual assault and/or harassment almost always proves "I don't know any men who do that" to be untrue.
That's what I would have though. Turns out I thought wrong. If a survey asks men, for example, if they ever "had sexual intercourse with someone, even though they did not want to, because they were too intoxicated (on alcohol or drugs) to resist your sexual advances," some of them will say yes, as long as the questions don't use the "R" word.
Have you or any of your friends touched or grabbed a woman without her consent? Pestered a woman who has already indicated disinterest in a sexual advance? Met a partner's refusal to have sex with emotional coercion (pouting, huffiness, anger)? Breached boundaries with a consenting partner during sexual activity? Fondled a sleeping partner? Masturbated onto a sleeping partner? Etc.
I don't believe I've ever gotten through one of these conversation (with a straight cis man asserting neither he nor any of his friends have ever sexually assaulted or harassed anyone) without either: A) His admitting with regret that he was wrong; or B) His responding angrily that the things I'm describing aren't sexual assault. Either way, same result.
We live in a rape culture in which men (especially straight, cis men) are socialized and encouraged to be sexually aggressive, and so it is no surprise that they are.
And it is no surprise that a portion of those men are thus sexually violent.
Anyway, back to Thomas, who looked at "two large-sample surverys of undetected rapists," the first of which was co-authored by our friend Dr. David Lisak and answered an important question about whether rapists are responsible for more violence generally.
Lisak & Miller also answered their other question: are rapists responsible for more violence generally? Yes. The surveys covered other violent acts, such as slapping or choking an intimate partner, physically or sexually abusing a child, and sexual assaults other than attempted or completed rapes. In the realm of being partner- and child-beating monsters, the repeat rapists really stood out. These 76 men, just 4% of the sample, were responsible for 28% of the reported violence. The whole sample of almost 1900 men reported just under 4000 violent acts, but this 4% of recidivist rapists results in over 1000 of those violent acts.That rapists are not merely misguided boys who just made a mistake, but in fact devious predators who attack again and again and again, was underlined by the findings of the second study, led by Dr. Stephanie McWhorter:
If we could eliminate the men who rape again and again and again, a quarter of the violence against women and children would disappear. That's the public policy implication.
McWhorter used a Sexual Experiences Survey tool that has been in use for more than 20 years. Of her 1146 participants, 144, or 13%, admitted an attempted or completed rape — substantially higher than Lisak & Miller. But in another respect, her work very much matched theirs: 71% of the men who admitted an attempted or completed rape admitted more than one, very close to Lisak & Miller's 63%. The 96 men who admitted multiple attempted of completed rapes in McWhorter's survey averaged 6.36 assaults each. This is not far from Lisak & Miller's average of 5.8 assaults per recidivist. Looked at another way, of the 865 total attempted or completed rapes these men admitted to, a staggering 95% were committed by 96 men, or just 8.4% of the sample.It's easy to see why there are astoundingly high rates of rape when those figures are juxtaposed with a justice system that generally presumes:
• Acquaintance rape is not all that prevalent.
• Acquaintance rape is really just a result of miscommunication.
• Acquaintance rapists are just good boys who made a mistake.
• Acquaintance rapists should be given a second chance, because they probably won't do it again.
Etc. Consider the number of times you've read or heard a man who's been accused of rape being cast as a boy who's life will be ruined, when the reality is that such apologia enables those men to escape arrest, conviction, or appropriate sentencing, ensuring they'll go on to ruin more lives themselves.
Cultural and institutional reform to reduce sexual assault begins with knowing who we're really dealing with. And it isn't otherwise good boys who just made a mistake. But they're sure grateful we think they are.