They Walk Among Us

A while ago, I proposed one reason why colleges attempt to downplay rape:

In a study that surveyed college students, six percent of men admitted* to raping one or more people–two thirds admitted to sexually assaulting multiple people. Let’s say for argument’s sake that Harvard students are much more ethical than the typical college student, so the frequency of rapists is ‘only’ two percent. The typical graduating class at Harvard is around 1,500 students, half of whom are men (750 men). Put all of this together and the average Harvard graduating class contains fifteen rapists, nine or ten of whom are serial rapists.

Let’s repeat that: the average Harvard graduating class contains fifteen rapists, nine or ten of whom are serial rapists. Put another way, if a university isn’t punishing at least one student per month for sexual assault, then it’s whitewashing the crimes. In fairness, you could substitute any similarly-sized university with Harvard–this isn’t a Harvard-specific phenomenon (as noted above, most universities seem to think their students wouldn’t ever rape).

Oddly enough, this is one statistic that doesn’t find its way into campus brochures. Needless to say, it’s explosive. Public recognition of this phenomenon would shake any institution to its core.

In a very good article by Peter Aldhous, he writes (boldface mine):

The available data indicates that rapists are far more numerous than we’d like to think: When American men are asked whether they’ve performed specific acts that match the legal definition of rape, typically between 6 and 9 percent reveal themselves to be rapists.

It’s worth contemplating these figures for a moment. Did you ride the bus or train to work? If so, you probably shared your commute with a man who has committed a rape. Remember the last time you sat in a crowded movie theater? The statistics suggest that there was at least a handful of rapists in the room with you.

Expand the definition to include men who have groped someone or initiated other forms of unwanted sexual contact, and the numbers get even more disturbing. Some surveys indicate that more than a third of all men have perpetrated at least one sexual assault. And this may be an underestimate, because getting people to admit to felony crimes is incredibly difficult, even when anonymity is guaranteed.

Most of the men who commit serious sexual assaults are never arrested, but they turn out to be very similar to convicted rapists. In a 2002 study, David Lisak of the University of Massachusetts in Boston and Paul Miller of Brown University documented the “rape careers” of 120 rapists identified in four surveys of just under 1,900 American male college students. These men had not been apprehended for their crimes, yet nearly two-thirds were repeat offenders. They averaged almost six rapes each—a pattern that closely matched results from prior surveys of incarcerated sex offenders.

To put that another way: Your circle of acquaintances likely includes men who are every bit as dangerous as the known predators we urge the authorities to keep under lock and key for the rest of their days. This isn’t easy to accept, and you may be squirming at my assertion that there are rapists in your social circle. But we won’t be able to limit sexual violence if we deny its true nature.

Until we accept this reality and realize we have a systemic problem involving sexual predators–this is not a few bad apples, we will continue to read stories about assault. Aldhous describes some interventions that might work. As the kids used to say, read the whole thing.

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2 Responses to They Walk Among Us

  1. rijkswaanvijand says:

    The predatorial tendencies seem systemic on a much grander scale. I don’t want to equate rape of a human being to raping society and the planet, but there seems to be a strong ethos of power and abuse stemming from feodalism to colonialism up into modern western market-liberalism.

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