The Undetected Rapist (DVD)

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This DVD is a seven-minute re-enactment of part of an interview conducted by Dr. David Lisak.  At the University of Massachusetts Boston, Dr. Lisak is an Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of the Men’s Sexual Trauma Research Center. He and other researchers across the United States and Europe conduct research to answer a conundrum. The number of women who have been victims of rape vastly outnumbers the number of men indicted, much less convicted, of rape.1 Who are these “undetected” rapists?

The research methodology utilized by Dr. Lisak and others is this: men on university campuses are invited to participate in a written survey on life experiences, including sexual experiences. Embedded in the survey are questions such as: Have you ever had sexual intercourse with an adult when they didn’t want to because you used physical force (twisting their arm, holding them down, etc.) if they didn’t want to cooperate? These questions are framed to meet conservative legal definitions of rape, attempted rape, and other forms of sexual assault.  Respondents are only asked behavioral questions; they are not asked whether they have committed rape or other criminal acts. The researchers then interview the respondents who say “yes” to the questions about forced sex.

Dr. Lisak’s research has documented statistics like the following.  In one sample of 1,882 men, the subjects were representative of the diverse American population, had an average age of twenty-eight, and were employed and attending college part-time.  The results revealed that 120 men had committed 483 rapes against women they knew. None of these rapes were ever reported.

Of these 120 rapists, 44 men committed a single act of rape and 76 were serial rapists who committed 439 rapes, an average of nearly six rapes per rapist.

The research on undetected rapists shows the same pattern as is found among incarcerated rapists: a small number of men commit the majority of crimes. But these undetected rapists do not reflect the stereotypes about rapists that have been derived from the incarcerated population or invented to explain the phenomenon of rape.

In the course of twenty years of interviewing these undetected rapists, in both research and forensic settings, it is clear that the stereotypes about rapists are false.  The stereotype of a rapist is a ski-masked stranger who jumps from the bushes with a knife or gun and inflicts terrible, visible injuries on his victim.  The reality is 180° from this stereotype. 

In fact, the vast majority of rapists:

  • Know their victim;
  • Have access to consensual sex;
  • Are educated and employed;
  • Come from every racial, ethnic and economic group;
  • Are not mentally ill;
  • Plan and premeditate;
  • Rarely use weapons;
  • Rarely inflict serious visible injuries;
  • Use only instrumental violence, meaning only the level of threat or force needed to terrify and coerce their victims into submission;
  • Use psychological weapons—power, control, manipulation, and threats—backed up by physical force, and almost never resort to weapons such as knives or guns;
  • Use alcohol deliberately to render victims more vulnerable to attack, or completely unconscious;
  • Are as likely to be serial and multi-faceted offenders as are incarcerated rapists.

What is also clear from this research is that so-called “date rape” is not a pleasant evening gone bad because of too much alcohol. These undetected rapists plan and premeditate. They have a scheme for getting their victims into a secluded place where they will be vulnerable.  Alcohol is part of this plan, intended to make the victim vulnerable.

This video may be highly disturbing for many viewers and should be shown with a skilled discussion leader knowledgeable about sexual violence.


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