The Consequences Of The Discrediting Of The Lisak Rape Theory


Reason magazine is a libertarian magazine published by the Reason Foundation – a nonprofit advocacy organization to which I am a donor. Despite my political agreement with libertarianism, I have been critical of particular Reason articles in the past (see here: and additionally in a recent article ( the same journalist describes Roosh V of Return of Kings as an “MRA blogger” even though Roosh is anti-MRA and has clearly stated so).

Reason journalist Robby Soave, a journalist with impeccable anti-PC credentials who is hardly a devotee of feminist orthodoxy, as well as Linda M. LeFauve (the Associate Vice President for Planning and Institutional Research at Davidson College), have written a series of articles in which Dr. David Lisak’s theory about campus rape (i.e. that campus rape is primarily committed by sociopathic sexual predators who are completely aware of what they are doing) has been brought into question (links to these various articles can be found here: ).

The flaws they found in Lisak’s work are indeed troubling.

I do not wish to write this article to defend Lisak’s theory (although I do consider it the most plausible theory of campus rape that currently exists, but I am more than willing to reconsider that on the basis of evidence). Rather, I wish to say that if Lisak’s theory is either discredited or outright disproven, there may be negative consequences for the cause of the Men’s Human Rights Movement.

Koss, Lisak, And Two Theories Of Rape
The above linked Reason TV video shows an interview with Mary Koss, who’s own work on the subject of campus rape has been repeatedly criticized by Men’s Human Rights Movement figures.

Koss is the originator of the infamous “One In Four” statistic – a statistic which was built on mischaracterizing responses (73% of those whom Koss characterized as rape victims said that they had not been raped, and 43% of the alleged “rape victims” continued to date their alleged rapists). Several articles dissecting the statistic have been published here and on various other forums so I won’t repeat them. Koss has also been criticized for grossly underestimating the rates at which men are raped (by defining rape-by-engulfment as not rape), as several Honey Badgers have written previously.

The Koss Theory of rape is ultimately a product of the same Radical Feminism espoused by Susan Brownmiller and detailed in the watershed feminist text Against Our Will. Brownmiller’s argument was that rape is fundamentally an act of political terrorism by a man, who asserts his patriarchal authority over women through sexual violation. This attitude to rape is encouraged by gender roles, and thus permeates our entire society, meaning that rape becomes an omnipresent threat and thus constitutes a form of political intimidation by men collectively against women collectively. According to Brownmiller, traditional gender roles grant men a social license to use rape to put a defiant woman in her place.

In a 1982 article, Mary Koss echoed this same attitude when she wrote that “rape represents an extreme behavior but one that is on a continuum with normal male behavior within the culture.” Rape is culturally normalized as a political weapon for men to threaten and control women with; this is the Radical Feminist understanding of “rape culture.”

Therefore, according to Koss, rape is a widespread phenomenon which exists because traditional gender roles encourage men to assert their authority-as-men over women, and to employ sexual violence as their weapon.

The Lisak theory of rape, whilst often characterized by Reason as undergirding a lot of the unjust procedures employed by campus rape trials, is actually an alternative to the Koss theory. Lisak postulates that the vast majority of campus rape comes from a very small number of sociopathic men who are serial rapists that are absolutely aware of what they are doing (“Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Amongst Undetected Rapists” (2002)).

In short, Koss argues that rapes are a product of normal males being socially conditioned into rapists through normal male gender roles. An implication of Koss’ position is that if masculinity were reconfigured to suit feminist preferences, there would be no more rape. Lisak, on the other hand, argues that rape is usually committed not by normal men acting in accordance with normal male gender roles, but by mentally ill men who are not responsive to social norms in the first place. An implication of Lisak’s position is that the majority of rapists cannot be “taught not to rape.” The two theories cannot be more opposed; the Koss theory sees rape as socially systemic (i.e. a product of social conventions/expectations) whereas the Lisak theory does not. The Koss theory sees the rapist as fundamentally normal, the Lisak theory sees the rapist as fundamentally deviant. The Koss theory believes that cultural change through re-education is the solution, the Lisak theory sees this as a solution for only a minor fraction of the problem. The Koss theory believes that rapists are socially constructed and thus brainwashed by social norms into committing rape, the Lisak theory holds that rapists are individually responsible for their actions.

When the Rape And Incest National Network (RAINN) provided a report to the White House on how to deal with rape on campus, they wrote that “rape is not caused by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime.” In this statement, they gave voice to the Lisak theory of rape.

Lisak And Feminist Orthodoxy
It is therefore no surprise that the Lisak theory draws the ire of Radical and Third Wave Feminists; whatever Lisak’s position on the “One In Four” stat is, the theory of the sociopathic predator contradicts feminist orthodoxy on several levels.

First, the theory acknowledges individual agency. By treating the perpetrators of most rapes as consciously choosing to rape rather than being socially influenced into raping, Lisak asserts that human beings are in fact agents and not merely social constructs. This directly contradicts both Radical and Third Wave Feminist meta-anthropology.

Second, the theory rejects that male gender norms or male culture are responsible for rape. For decades, many feminists have made the claim that “male spaces” represent threats to women precisely on the grounds that said spaces spread (amongst other undesirable things) pro-rape attitudes (this argument has been used against college fraternities for decades). This claim regarding the danger posed by “male spaces” has underpinned many feminist campaigns to enter, police and regulate (and thus abolish) “male space” in general; the Lisak theory thus threatens several feminist goals and campaigns through discrediting the justification of these goals/campaigns (for example, “getting more women in tech” so as to break up the “misogynist boy’s club” is a lot easier to justify as a “protecting women from sexism” thing than as a “get more comfortable well-paying jobs in a lucrative industry for a small slice of middle-class college-educated women” thing).

As a consequence of the above, Lisak’s theory demolishes the intellectual underpinning for feminist assaults on freedom of speech (ranging from Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon’s campaigns against porn to Lindy West and Jessica Valenti claiming that rape jokes cause rape to the current panic over online ‘harassment’). If rape is primarily engaged in by a small number of sociopathic males, one cannot claim that porn or rape jokes or calling Melody Hensley “Smellody” on Twitter amounts to anything resembling incitement of sexual violence against women. One cannot claim that pornography, to which basically all males in the western world have been increasingly exposed to over the years, normalizes pro-rape ideas which in turn encourage men to rape women.

Additionally, the Lisak theory implies that “teach men not to rape” campaigns, which employ and generate publicity for many individuals, are misdirected efforts that address only a small portion of the problem. Several organizations, particularly those who sell “consent courses” to colleges, have their business imperilled by the serial predator theory. The entire “anti-rape culture” industry (part of the “Diversity Training” industry more broadly) rests on the presumption that rape is primarily a result of cultural conditioning rather than individual agency. Substantial investments have been made in the correctness of the Koss theory.

Finally, a huge amount of intellectual and scholarly investment has been made into Radical and Third Wave Feminist theory (including entire departments for Gender Studies). Decades of work and complex theorizing upon which initiatives, institutions, faculty jobs, student initiatives and campaigns etc. have been built would be shown as worthless. There would be, to put it gently, much egg on many faces. Powerful lobby groups could lose both influence and funding, too.

The Theory Vaccum
So it is no surprise that a Progressive Leftist like Mary Koss would be happy to be interviewed by the libertarian Reason magazine when they discovered flaws in the work of her principal theoretical alternative.

Whether we like it or not, there are only two theories about campus rape which have some degree of pull amongst advocacy groups and academics; the Brownmiller-Koss Rape-As-Patriarchal-Terrorism theory and the Lisak Rape-As-Sociopathic-Serial-Predation theory. These theories are absolutely incompatible (although Jessica Valenti, in her debate with Wendy McElroy, tried to reconcile the Lisak theory with concern with “Rape Culture” through understanding “Rape Culture” as things that society does which makes it harder to catch the serial rapists), they’re based on radically different theoretical underpinnings, and they both have very different implications.

Clearly “Feminism Inc” (lobby groups, diversity trainers, celebrity feminists on the speaking tour circuit, feminist academics, etc.) wants to get rid of the Lisak theory for good. They don’t like the idea that rapists are some aberrant, abnormal, bizarre deviation from the norm; to them, rapists are just the norm applied consistently. And since Feminism Inc. created the only competitor to the Lisak theory, if the Lisak theory is discredited then by default they will win.

Nature abhors a vaccum, and intellectuals hate theoretical vaccums (i.e. the absense of an explanation). If the Lisak theory gets thrown out, the Koss theory can be reasonably expected to undergo a resurgence.

If the Koss theory – a theory straight from Brownmiller-era Radical Feminism – undergoes a resurgence, we can expect a much more heated conflict. Slowly, a developing cultural resistance against “Social Justice” ideology is gaining speed in the West; even Hillary Clinton recently said on Twitter that people need to stop getting offended over everything. If the Radical Feminist theory of rape regains ground then we can expect a further escalation of the conflict between “SJWs” and the Anti-PC/Everyone-That-Isn’t-A-Progressive crowd.

So what consequences can we expect?

For one, we can expect more pitched, heated conflicts. If both sides continue on a radicalization trajectory, the “culture war” will become more, rather than less, intense. We can expect the conflict between the SJWs and the Anti-PC crowds to escalate. We can expect there will be more attempts at entryism into and regulation of spaces perceived to be “male spaces” than before, yet at the same time we can expect an heightened degree of resistance to said attempts.

I cannot predict how this will play out in individual situations or on a longer-term timeline. The results may be good or bad, but the battles will become more strident. On college campuses (where the controlling theory of rape will obviously have more influence/pull) we’re likely to see more rapid consequences.

The Importance Of Intellectual Honesty
Under no circumstances should this be interpreted as a desire to preserve a demonstrably disproven theory. If Lisak’s work is indeed worthless then it should be discarded.

But Mary Koss is hardly an empiricism-minded academic; her Radical Feminist perspective is obvious and she shot to fame because Gloria Steinem of Ms. Magazine commissioned the study that reached the “One In Four” conclusion. Even if Lisak can be demonstrably proven to be outright intellectually dishonest, that wouldn’t imply Koss has any more integrity.

Obviously, more empirical rigor is needed in the study of rape, and ideological preconceptions must be given far more scrutiny. If Lisak’s work is indeed as shoddy as Reason‘s reports suggest, he’s done a grave disservice to MHRM causes through casting doubt on the only alternative theory to the Radical Feminist theory.

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<span class="dsq-postid" data-dsqidentifier="154289">7 comments</span>

  • These theories do not appear to exclude each other. Yes, they describe different dynamics. But people are varied. There could very well be very bad people serially raping people even though they know it’s wrong. And there could also be decent people raping because they don’t realize it’s wrong. I don’t see the contradiction.

    • The theories are not necessarily 100% mutually exclusive, I agree, but if Lisak is right then “rape culture” is very much the smaller part of the problem.

      I think Lisak put the “serial rapist” figure at 90% of rape incidents. If 90% of rapes are committed by people who can NOT be “taught not to rape,” then “rape culture” is only (at most) 10% of the problem. This would indicate that feminist activism is very inefficient, as a method of rape reduction.

      That said “decent people raping and not realizing its wrong”… that’s crazy. Every decent person knows rape is wrong. They may, however, not know if they’re committing a non-consensual sex act in situations where sexual communication has been extremely unclear (i.e. they don’t know they’re committing a rape, they think its consensual). But like I said, Lisak’s findings would generally say that this is only about 10% of rape incidents.

  • Ugh, this hit on Lisak appears to be a political shitfight over federal
    intervention in college residential campuses, based somewhat
    inappropriately on Lisak’s work on a single non-residential university.

    LeFauve has pointed out how Lisak’s university is not a suitable
    example for on-campus rape on residential campuses. She makes it sound as if Lisak had not already explained that in detail within his study
    and she has discovered a discrepancy. She hasn’t.

    Her other points are all strawmen or wrong, including her main point that claims Lisak claimed to interview most of his rapists. The claim that the research is not his own and was borrowed from other studies is plain silly. He designed a wide-ranging standard questionnaire, it was used in four
    other studies, he used the data from those in his own study, and
    described the process in his own study.

    LeFauve discovered nothing.

    Each of her points is contradicted simply by reading his studies.
    Her audience won’t do that though, and if they try the Wikipedia link it
    is paywalled. So I’d call it a politically motivated hit job, which
    would explain why Lisak refused to speak further to her.
    The only thing she got right is that government has inappropriate faith
    in the applicability of Lisak’s studies to residential campuses.

    Here is Lisak’s 2010 false rape accusation study. He describes and
    comments on previous studies, including two pages criticising Kanin’s

    The thing someone kept saying that has not had peer review is not Lisak’s studies, it is a rapid-response letter from Allison Tracy et al
    pointing out severe data-handling errors in Swartout’s recent study,
    which cause it to undercount serial rapes by counting multiple rapes
    within a period as if they were single rapes.

    It looks like Lisak interviewed about 22 of the 160 rapists, (those
    from the one study for which he had contact details). The purpose of
    interviews was to see whether people gave the same answers on paper as in person. It turned out they do.

    He had in earlier studies interviewed most of the identified rapists, it appears this statement was misapplied to criticise the 2002 study.

    The other points look a bit desperate.

    The fact his sample was from only one university was already stated in
    the study. The implication that it could not be generalised did not
    need stating but Lisak did state it in the study.

    That UMass Boston is a commuting university, therefore less
    comparable to a residential university, is obvious. He describe the sample as “university men from the Boston area”, and detailed their

    The charge that survey participants were not necessarily students is
    getting rather silly. They set up tables on campus and invited passing
    men to participate, in return for three dollars for a seven page survey.
    Possibly they accepted the odd workman on his lunch break, or a
    house-husband who had brought the baby in for a feed. So what? Among
    1800 male students, there are not enough nonstudents wandering around
    campus to bias the sample. This is worth mentioning only to show how
    desperate LeFauve’s attack is.

    This reminds me of the nineties when I was naive enough to argue with
    global warming denialists. When politically motivated actors are
    getting involved in scientific debates the public is at the mercy of news media editors to sift out the crap. Unfortunately we have given up on editing, now everyone is an expert. Which means whoever has the biggest PR budget or the most rabid followers can swing public opinion.

  • This is the paper the hooha is about, not the one on false accusations I linked earlier. It is easy reading as academic papers go.

    Lisak – Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists 2002

    An easy to read article:
    Lisak – Understanding the Predatory Nature of Sexual Violence 2006

  • Lisak was the founding editor of Psychology of Men and Masculinity, an American Psychological Association journal.

    He is the Board President and a founding board member of 1in6, Inc., a
    non-profit organization with the mission of helping men who have had
    unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood live healthier,
    happier lives.
    Himself a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, Lisak was one of three men profiled in the Big Voice Pictures documentary, Boys and Men Healing.

    It suits the short term tactics of liberals to attack Lisak because one of his papers is being used (if somewhat inappropriately) in the fight over federal involvement in campus rape investigation law. I don’t see that it helps the MRM to attack this guy, even as a tactical move.

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