What happened when new research undercut the prevailing justification for the public panic about serial rapists on college campuses? Psychologists deeply invested in their discredited theory launched a crusade of retaliation against the people who proved them wrong.
“There’s been a scientific misconduct case filed against us,” Mary Koss, a professor of public health at the University of Arizona and a critic of the serial predator assumption, told Reason. “It’s frustrating.”
Last year, a team of social scientists including Koss, Georgia State University’s Kevin Swartout, and four other researchers made a startling discovery about the assumption that most campus rapists are serial perpetrators. The ubiquitous theory—constantly cited by activists, policymakers, and even the Obama White House—was false. New data just didn’t support it.
Their findings were in line with the conclusions of Reason’s recent investigation into psychologist David Lisak—author of the canonical 2002 study on serial predators—who routinely exaggerated his findings. For years, Lisak was recognized as the nation’s leading expert on campus sexual violence, consulting with college administrators, lawmakers, and activists about the best strategies for identifying and stopping student rapists—most of whom are repeat offenders who plan their attacks, according to Lisak.
But Lisak’s theory is at odds with more recent research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association by Swartout and Koss’s team. Their paper, “Trajectory Analysis of the Campus Serial Rapist Assumption,” disputes Lisak’s main finding. Most men who committed rape while in college could not properly be classified as serial offenders, according to their paper.
“If colleges and policymakers continue to focus on a serial rapist conceptualization, they are going to miss more than three-quarters of the rapes that happen on campus,” Koss told Reason.
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