Over the past few weeks, Davidson College Associate Vice President Linda LeFauve and I published a series of articles criticizing the campus serial rapist assumption. This ubiquitous theory, championed by famed psychologist David Lisak, is an integral philosophical underpinning of the federal government's campus rape reduction policies. But the science behind it is remarkably inconclusive, according to our investigation—which included a revealing conversation with Lisak himself.
Responses to our articles have been overwhelmingly positive. John Tierney, the science columnist at The New York Times, hailed LeFauve's work as a "devastating critique of much-quoted study warning of serial rapists on campus." Hot Air's Ed Morrissey, The Washington Examiner's Ashe Schow, Bloomberg View's Megan McArdle, and several other journalists, lawyers, thinkers, and advocates all made supportive comments or penned favorable responses.
Which raises the question: Where are Lisak's defenders, and why are they so quiet?
In a recent piece for Real Clear Politics¸ LeFauve contemplates a depressing answer to this question:
I thought my critique of Lisak's work, cited by policymakers at the state and federal level as proof of a rape epidemic, might give pause to the higher education community. I hoped that belief in David Lisak's monstrous predator would be reconsidered.
When the article was published, I did hear from many people happy to see a light shone on such a flawed theory. Within 48 hours of the article's publication, I had been a guest on four radio shows whose conservative hosts were thoughtfully appreciative of the work. Most of the subsequent coverage was through conservative media, virtually all of it positive.
I found myself waiting for the other shoe to drop. I had certainly expected to hear from detractors. Lisak maintains a high profile as a campus rape expert and, by pointing a finger at a "cause" with a "solution," he had given college campuses an anchor around which to develop sexual assault programs, a godsend considering the pressure campuses are under to address the issue. (The irony that the pressure is in large part due to Lisak's influence with policymakers is an issue unto itself.) He has also generated near acolyte behavior among his followers, and I had prepared myself for accusations about my motivation or about the harm I was somehow inflicting.
I am still waiting. To date, I have heard from no one, and read nothing, defending Lisak or claiming harm to campus efforts to curb sexual violence because I had dared to call out this foundation of prevention efforts. Perhaps the article never made it onto the radar of people so inclined. Perhaps they didn't consider my critique or Robby Soave's revealing conversation with Lisak's former student, Jim Hopper, important. Or credible. Or relevant.
Or perhaps the fact that the media response has come from one end of the ideological spectrum has revealed this a political issue.
As LeFauve notes, most of the people who have responded to our Lisak investigation are either conservatives or libertarians, or work for right-leaning organizations (with Tierney being a notable exception). If writers, advocates, and experts in the "mainstream" left-leaning press—many of whom have enthusiastically parroted Lisak's views for years—accept our conclusions as well, one might expect them to say so. By the same token, if they think we're wrong, and that Lisak's theory still deserves its elite status, why aren't they rushing to his defense?
Anything, I suppose, is possible. Perhaps Lisak's defenders are waiting for him to respond first (he has not yet said anything publicly about our work).
But I can't deny a creeping suspicion that many in the Lisak camp now realize the serial predatory theory of campus violence is highly flawed, but don't want to criticize it, because doing so would give ammunition to opponents of the draconian anti-rape policies championed by the federal government.
In a recent interview, campus rape expert Mary Koss, a critic of Lisak, called the serial predator theory of campus violence "one of the most egregious examples of a policy with an inadequate scientific basis that lives on because it offers a simplistic solution." I suspect there's much wisdom in that observation. Too many people like the simple solution that Lisak provides—treat all rape disputes as showdowns with predatory sociopaths—and are thus loathe to acknowledge its shaky scientific basis.