Rethinking Lisak & Miller – Checking the Math

Over the last month or so, I have received a lot of criticisms in personal messages and emails regarding the piece I published on the groundbreaking Lisak & Miller 2002 study.  In particular, many of the criticisms relate to the math done by Thomas MacAulay Millar in his piece, “Good Men Project’s Rape Faceplant, Predators and the Social License to Operate.”  Rather than continuing to respond individually to this concern, I figured it would make sense to post my response here as a quick blog post to further the discussion.

In his piece, Millar attempts to extrapolate the results of Lisak & Miller’s research to a larger population:

Let’s use Lisak & Miller’s numbers, with a population of a million men and a million women.  If 2% of the men are single-offense rapists meeting Lisak’s definition, and a further 4% are repeaters with an average of 5.8 victims, that implies that 20,000 of the men are single-offenders with 20,000 victims, and the 40,000 repeat offenders have 232,000 victims.  To oversimplify and assume that no women rape, no men are victims, everyone is either a man or a woman and there are no repeat victims, we then have 252,000 victims, or about a quarter of the population of women.  If we believe the various victim-report data, that’s about what we would expect.  So, while Lisak & Miller’s questions certainly will not capture every rape, they do capture the vast majority — they have to, unless she’s postulating a victimization rate much higher than the victim report data account for. If she’s saying that maybe half of all women are raped … well, you can say that, but where is the data to back that up?

If the reality of sexual violence were as simple as Millar’s “oversimplifications,” then his math would be spot on: The offenses committed by the men in Lisak & Miller’s study would account for 25% of women experiencing sexual violence, which reflects the common estimates of victimization rates.  Unfortunately, the reality of sexual violence is not so simple.

What does it look like to ACTUALLY stop rapists? First, we have to understand who the rapists are, and Lisak & Miller fall short.

What does it look like to ACTUALLY stop rapists? First, we have to understand who the rapists are, and Lisak & Miller fall short.

Millar’s oversimplifications are incredibly problematic if we are trying to understand the true nature of sexual violence.  To say that “no women rape” and that “no men are victims” ignores a few important realities: sexual violence happens in 14% of Lesbian relationships and 13% of Gay relationships, and approximately 8% of all men are raped by a former partner (both male and female).  Further, to simplify the gender spectrum by saying that “everyone is either a man or a woman” further hides the reality that as many as 50% of Transgender people , many of whom do not fit into the simple categories of “man” and “woman,” experience sexual violence.

Perhaps the most egregious oversimplification in its impact on estimates of sexual violence, though, is when he says “there are no repeat victims.”  In a review of the research on the subject, Classen, et al, found that two thirds of those who are victims of sexual violence will experience sexual violence more than once.  This is not one isolated study.  This is a review of the research, and TWO THIRDS of survivors are likely to experience sexual violence more than once!

Thus, if we grant the his oversimplifications that “no women rape, no men are victims, [and] everyone is either a man or a woman,” the numbers he posits are still wildly skewed by the number of repeat victims of sexual violence.

In order to make sure I did this right, I called upon my economist friend Rida.  He helped me to run the numbers again, assuming 1 million men and 1 million women, but taking into consideration that two thirds of victims have experienced violence more than once.  This is what we found:

While we may be able to assume 252,000 offenses from Lisak & Miller’s estimates, that does not indicate 252,000 victims.  To keep the math simple, let’s assume that none of the victims experience more than 2 assaults (something that is highly problematic but that we will do for simplicity sake).

For the sake of argument, let’s look at what happens to the number of survivors when only 1/2 have experienced multiple assaults: The number of offenses committed by 6% of men would account for approximately 168,000 victims or 16.8% of the female population (significantly lower than the 25% postulated by Millar’s math).

Now let’s use the number of re-victimized survivors as supported by the Classen, et al, review of the research and run a scenario where 2/3 of the survivors have been re-victimized:  The number of offenses committed by 6% of men would account for 151,200 victims or 15.1% of the female population.

That would mean, then, that if all victims are female, all perpetrators are male, everyone is a man or a woman, and that 2/3 of survivors (as supported by research) have been re-victimized 2 times (remember, a gross assumption considering that at least some would have experienced 3 or more rapes), then the Lisak & Miller study (and the McWhorter study which parrots its findings) only account for 60% of sexual violence.

That is a far, far cry from the 95-100% that Millar’s math postulates.  What’s worse, that number is likely an incredibly conservative estimate, as we are using the problematic assumptions that I laid out above and because it is possible that, considering the nature of the ways in which victim reporting data is collected – another discussion for another day – the real percent of women who have been victimized by sexual violence could be higher than 25%.

My point is this: We have to be more nuanced in our tactics for preventing sexual violence than simply saying that the vast majority of sexual violence is committed by a tiny percentage of men who must be rooted out.  Yes, we must root out the men that are included in Lisak & Miller’s research, but in doing so, we cannot ignore the minimum 40% of sexual violence that happens in other ways and that can have other explanations and causes than simply “stop the sociopaths!!”

We have to begin to envision solutions that prevent ALL sexual violence.  Don’t get me wrong – to simply root out the predators identified by Lisak & Miller would be a fantastic start.  Hell, I would love to end 50 or 60% of sexual violence.  But that still leaves the rest, and if we truly wish to end sexual violence, we have to do so comprehensively and with nuanced approaches that tackle sexual violence in all its forms.

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31 thoughts on “Rethinking Lisak & Miller – Checking the Math

  1. On there:

    http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/NISVS_Report2010-a.pdf#page=27

    You can see that the last 12 months rate for “made to penetrate” for men (rape by envelopment) and the last 12 months rate for rape for women are about equal. Too bad that study doesn’t count “made to penetrate” as rape.

    The last 12 months tell us more about current stuff, and avoid memory problems. 80% of perpetrators of “made to penetrate” men are women. As such, there is a high proportion of female rapists.

    Convincing men to not rape won’t stop rape, because it’s not a man thing at all.

    • The CDC numbers do bring up some important questions, but the difference between the Lisak & Miller numbers and the CDC’s numbers is that the Lisak & Miller’s numbers are longitudinal, whereas the CDC’s numbers are a snapshot of a given time. While there are problems with the Lisk & Miller numbers, this is one of the great strengths of Lisak’s research, and there isn’t much that is comparable elsewhere.

      However, the point that sexual violence can mean a lot of different things is an important thing to consider. Yet even by those CDC numbers, 1 in 2 women experience sexual violence and 1 in 5 men do: It is important to highlight this disparity.

      • I thnk Schala’s point is that that disparity you speak of is an artifact of the definitions the CDC uses, not an accurate representation of the situation.

  2. If you look at the way that the CDC defines things, I don’t think so because they are still measuring men and women who experience unwanted sexual contact that is called rape. Even by that measure, men are not nearly as likely to experience sexual violence as women, but there is an issue that the ways that rape is defined do not include ways that men can experience sexual violence.

    • In the last 12 months, 1.1% of women have been raped, and 1.1% of men have been made to penetrate.

      That’s a 1 for 1 ratio. Lifetime measures times when male rape wasn’t even on the radar (except rape by men, a much smaller proportion of all male rapes). I bet you most raped men don’t think the rape they had 20 years ago was rape. Because back then nobody would have seen it as rape.

      • But that begs the question of how they are collecting the data. In Lisak and Miller, for instance, the only way they could get men to admit to rape was to call it something else instead of rape. Do you know how the data was collected for lifetime experiences of unwanted sexual contact? It is possible that if men are asked, “Have you ever in your life been pressured into a sexual act that you didn’t want?” or “Have you ever in your life been forced into a sexual act that you didn’t want?” that the lifetime numbers are accurate.

        Again, I point out that in any academic research, a one month snapshot cannot be extrapolated to be reflective of overall experience. It is sampling error in the simplest form. To only look at one month is to fall into similar (though slightly different) sampling error that leads to Lisak and Miller vastly overestimating the prevalence of one form of sexual violence.

        As far as I can find, there is no information in this report about the research methods, and that is one of the key things we must pay attention to in sexual violence research.

        Do you see my point?

      • None of this is to say that men are not experiencing sexual violence, but there are whole bodies of research that indicate that men are significantly LESS likely to experience sexual violence than women and that are based in sound research methods.

  3. “In Lisak and Miller, for instance, the only way they could get men to admit to rape was to call it something else instead of rape. ”

    Yes, so ingrained the notion that rape “is something that happens to women” (and feminism is part of the reason of this), that men will deny their experience could have been rape. Even if it clearly was.

    Ideology trumps reality. And ideology says men need no DV and rape shelters either, because so few of them are victims, why help them?

    • You missed my point. The question was whether men would say yes that they had experienced sexual violence if it were called something else.

      This is not just something that men experience. Women regularly do not call their experience sexual violence or rape because of the shame that is placed upon any person who experiences this trauma.

      Your blindness to what the vast majority of feminists are actually working for limits your ability to see the ways that part of feminism is re-imagining masculinity so that men can more easily talk about their lives, emotions, and experiences.

      Additionally, I have worked as a sexual assault survivor’s advocate, and I have worked with many organizations that do advocacy. We were trained to support male survivors and their unique needs just as we were female survivors. These programs were overtly and unabashedly feminist, and they were not saying “men need no DV and rape support because so few of them are victims.” In fact, we were specifically trained to meet the needs of male survivors. It just so happens that the majority of survivors are women, and our system of patriarchal oppression makes it difficult for men to reach out for help when they are hurting.

      • ” It just so happens that the majority of survivors are women, and our system of patriarchal oppression makes it difficult for men to reach out for help when they are hurting.”

        That’s what the system assumes, patriarchy or Victorianism, same deal. That only or (95%) of victims can be women.

        Feminism built shelters for rape and DV, and THEN did outreach to victims “come use our services, we can help you”. Would be nice to do that with men too. Not assume “well, so few of them, they can be fine with just hotel vouchers, if anything at all”.

    • Feminism is not a part of why rape is generally thought of as something that can only happen to women.

      Rape, for generations, was defined as something that happened to women both legally and semantically. This has nothing to do with feminism, and in fact predates feminism.

      • “Yes, so ingrained the notion that rape “is something that happens to women” (and feminism is part of the reason of this)”

        You’re replying to the above.

        Feminism has often presented rape as something men do to control women. Presented in such a way, it’s difficult to even entertain the notion that other forms of rape even exist. It’s one thing to say Victorianism said so, but it’s another to just agree with it when you’re “the movement for sex equality”. I fault the latter more than the former. The latter should know better, the former doesn’t care.

  4. There’s no way for me to continue a conversation with you when you refuse to hear what I am saying.

    The vast majority of programs are training their advocates and professionals to serve male survivors. Now we need to transform patriarchal masculinity that tells men that they cannot seek help.

    The irony of the Men’s Rights Movement is that it directs its ire in the wrong direction. It should be angry at the patriarchy for the ways that restricts men’s abilities to fully express themselves, yet they direct their anger at women and feminists, which is why so few take them seriously.

    • I’m not a MRA by the way. I’m an egalitarian and disavow any label or affiliation, because I consider both camps to be flawed in major ways. If I identified as feminist, and didn’t excommunicate the radical segments and haters, I’d feel I’m supporting them. Same for the men’s rights movement.

      It’s easier to just disavow all the hate at once, as I have little power to convince influential people on either side to drop their haters.

      • Any person who considers themselves egalitarian but makes statements like this, “So ingrained the notion that rape “is something that happens to women” (and feminism is part of the reason of this), that men will deny their experience could have been rape” is fooling themselves into a false understanding of egalitarianism.

        I brought up the critique of MRAs because the rhetoric you are using is the exact rhetoric of MRAs. Whether or not you use the label, you are aligning yourself with them in your logic.

      • The appelation and calls to end “violence against women”, and suggesting that DV and rape are examples of “men’s subjugation of women”, inventing and then supporting the Duluth model (which says exactly that, outright denying female perpetrators can even exist, let alone male victims of them), are not stuff feminism has done?

        Why not just call it DV, rape, and call to end all of that violence, without making it gendered? It would solve the entire problem, and take no more effort. Splitting it in two has no logical, rational reason.

  5. Even by your own conservatively-estimating source, women are disproportionately effected by intimate partner violence and sexual violence. To ignore the ways that violence against women is tied directly into societal gender oppression is to miss important opportunities for creating change.

    Why not specialize? Why not talk about violence against women because of disproportionality, but then also talk about violence against men? That is what the feminist communities that I have come up in are doing, and that is what is likely to lead to effective change. The programs that reach male batterers and perpetrators of sexual violence are not going to reach female ones and vice versa, and the programs that support the needs of female survivors are not going to meet the needs of male survivors and vice versa.

    The logical, rational reason is because that is how you are going to effectively create change.

    • Men are 50% of victims of DV, and 33% of the injured, 25% of the murdered…and have 0% of the funding. And also 0% of the outreach.

      Outreach to men seems to be about them not beating women more than anything else.

      Men are 50% of victims of rape, 80% per female perpetrators (meaning a sizeable portion of rapists are female), yet efforts to prevent rape always portray a male perpetrator and very often a female victim. 0% of the funding there too.

      Why not specialize? Because you forget over 50% of the victims in the name of ideology (Duluth model ideology, patriarchy ideology, etc, everything that says men want to oppress women and thus victimize them, not leaving open the possibility of other reasons to victimize people, let alone victimize men).

      Feminism claim they got it ALL covered, and are against MRAs opening men’s shelters and getting public funding for male victims. Because feminism “got it covered” already, it’s for equality, and that means men too, right? But not their shelters it seems.

      • The problem with the way that you present your information is that you are acting as if the scale and level of violence against men is in any way comparable to the level and scale of violence against women, and it is not.

        Men are NOT 50% of victims of domestic violence, but even if they were, apparently they are rarely injured because even at your 33% level (an overstatement based on sampling bias), that means that 67% of those injured are women. Looking at your 25% of the murdered, many of the studies are simply looking at partner murder and not disaggregating the data for women who killed their male partner in response to domestic violence, but EVEN at that number, women are 75% of those murdered.

        You are just as guilty of sampling bias in presenting your numbers as Lisak & Miller, as you want one study that uses strict, conservative criteria to be the backbone for a shift in public policy. I’m sorry, but there is not any good, peer-reviewed body of research that will weigh out that men are 50% of the survivors of rape. Does that mean that we should not support men as survivors? No.

        We are living in times of incredible austerity where there is limited funding for shelters and advocacy programs. Hell, there is not a municipality in the country that isn’t backlogged at least two years on rape kits, and that is considering that only a tiny percentage of rapes are ever reported to the police. When the VAST majority of those injured, and an even MORE VAST majority of those seriously injured by domestic violence are women, shelters are sustained to serve the greatest need.

        The reason that feminist are opposed to MRAs opening men’s shelters is because there is next to no funding as it is, and when women are experiencing the brunt of the violence, feminist are doing their best to stem the tide of victims who need support.

        Again, I have worked with MULTIPLE advocacy organizations and shelters, and all but a few had programs and resources to support male survivors. They were better equipped to serve straight male survivors than Lesbian, Gay, or Bisexual survivors or Trans survivors.

        Could we do a better job serving ALL survivors? Undoubtedly. But we’re fooling ourselves and doing a disservice to survivors if we pretend that the level and scale of violence against men is in any way comparable to violence against women.

      • “Could we do a better job serving ALL survivors? Undoubtedly. But we’re fooling ourselves and doing a disservice to survivors if we pretend that the level and scale of violence against men is in any way comparable to violence against women.”

        That’s true, if you go outside the scope of relationship violence, men are way more victims of violence and murder (2.5-3x times as much for murder, and this includes domestic violence murders).

        And that’s random violence, often unprovoked, including muggings and random-murder victims. It’s not all about gang-related, mafia, etc stuff. That the perpetrators of that violence are also men does not make them feel any better.

        “The reason that feminist are opposed to MRAs opening men’s shelters is because there is next to no funding as it is, and when women are experiencing the brunt of the violence, feminist are doing their best to stem the tide of victims who need support.”

        You know about the cycle of violence and abuse, right? Unattended abuse can more easily make someone an abuser, because if people lack empathy towards your own victimization, why would you have any towards theirs? We’re just breeding apathic men by being apathic about their victimization, out of some zero-sum game money calculation where female victims need always come out on top, but the problem itself never solved (if you don’t take care of ALL victims, the problem breeds itself).

        “They were better equipped to serve straight male survivors than Lesbian, Gay, or Bisexual survivors or Trans survivors.”

        Given the proportion of the population they represent (47.5%, 5%, 5%, unknown% and 0.5%) of course they’d probably be better equipped for straight male survivors. It’s easier to meet more of them to tailor your program to meet their needs.

        Funny that Luke below assumes I’m a man. I’m a trans woman. I thought Schala sounded female enough, but apparently not.

        “Could we do a better job serving ALL survivors? Undoubtedly. But we’re fooling ourselves and doing a disservice to survivors if we pretend that the level and scale of violence against men is in any way comparable to violence against women.”

        Oppression olympics? Shouldn’t we strive to end it all rather than selectively do it? We don’t need oppression olympics. Patriarchy is slanted to see women as more oppressed and men as unable to be oppressed, as well. It’s not just a feminist thing, it’s also a conservative thing. We don’t need more of this, we need to end this.

    • @Schala I agree that we should be calling to end all of the violence. The point you are missing is that all of the violence, including that perpetrated against men, would be reduced if we listened to the numerous feminist and feminist-ally groups and individuals who are calling to redefine masculinity. The biggest hurdle in fighting violence against women is the objectification of women and resulting competition model of sex that result from a flawed masculinity that tells us we have to “get some” and “get laid” and treats us as men as failures if we either fail in this pursuit or rejects it all together. This is at least one of the products of patriarchal thinking that makes it difficult to end rape and sexual violence against women.

      However, the one of the biggest hurdles in fighting violence against men, getting them to report the violence and call it what it is, stems from the same flawed model of masculinity. The view that says men must be powerful, tough, and dominant, and the view that men must want sex all of the time no matter where it comes from are both created by the same flawed masculinity that objectifies women. This view is largely what prevents us from pursuing female perpetrators and form offering the necessary support to male victims. Most feminists want to redefine masculinity in a way that would at least begin to address the violence perpetrated against both men and women. As a man, you should support that cause because, even if you don’t care about the overwhelming and shocking number of female victims, although I assume you would, the work feminists are doing, at least on the gender-roles, rape, and sexual violence fronts, will benefit you as a man as well.

      • Offer shelters and rape crisis shelters first, then you can change societal attitudes. It will be way easier when you actually server male victims with the same services as female victims. Then statistics can speak for themselves and change attitudes about female perpetration and male invulnerability.

        And I’m a trans woman, Luke. Not a man.

        I do care about female victims, but they’re in no danger of being forgotten. I hear about violence against women 3 times a week. Male victims I advocate for because nobody cares. I like to fight for the underdog, the forgotten, the pariah.

        Of course I also fight for trans people and non-binary people in general, even if I personally identify within the binary as a non-conventional female (I intend to keep my penis, but fully identify as female, that can be unsettling for many).

        I fight all people who want to maintain a strict limitation of gender roles, especially as it pertains clothing and boys/men (as clothing for girls/women is pretty much everything-permitted already, including visibly male-looking clothing like a Tuxedo). I don’t think your bits or identification should limit your wardrobe options, and I’m someone who generally doesn’t care much about fashion (I’m even anti-fashion to an extent). I just think it’s unfair and stupid to limit males in that way (females too, if so limited).

  6. I can respect that you want to offer services to all victims equally. It is a great goal and a noble idea, but if that is going to become a reality we would need more funding. Until that happens I agree with Jamie that it is most productive to focus on the groups most affected, namely women. I sincerely apologize for mistaking your gender though. I made assumptions, which is something I am trying to get better at not doing, so sorry about that. I do think that more focus in our society really does need to focus on the roots of the problems. Of course it is vitally important that we provide resources and treatment for those who need them, but until we can make significant strides towards changing the attitudes causing the problems I can not see things getting much better. It seems that we are not that far apart, but just disagreeing on the focus of the problem. Hopefully we will not let that stop us from being productive in being a part of the solution.

  7. Schala,

    “Oppression olympics? Shouldn’t we strive to end it all rather than selectively do it? We don’t need oppression olympics. Patriarchy is slanted to see women as more oppressed and men as unable to be oppressed, as well. It’s not just a feminist thing, it’s also a conservative thing. We don’t need more of this, we need to end this.”

    I am not meaning to imply that one’s suffering is somehow measurably more hurtful, as would be implied by oppression olympics. What I am referring to is the measures that we have for understanding the scale and levels of violence: epidemiological research and rates of admission to emergency rooms for intimate partner violence. Both of these (even research that studies men) find that the rates of violence against Women are significantly higher (here’s a review of the research – sorry that I cannot link to article text, as I don’t have a way of sharing the actual article: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08964289709596729).

    The point is that the severity and the level of violence that women experience is much higher. Does that mean that men do not experience terrible violence? Absolutely not. But why not create shelters that are geared toward serving the vast majority of victims but that are also equipped to serve Lesbian and Gay survivors, Male Survivors, Trans Survivors, and others? That simply makes sense.

    It seems that we can go round and round on this issue, though. You dispute the numbers, and I present peer-reviewed study after peer-reviewed study.

    The point is not to minimize the violence that men experience, and we definitely do a pretty terrible job of serving Male survivors, but I simply believe that the models and solutions put forward by feminism have the ability to serve survivors of ALL genders if they are properly supported and funded.

    • “It seems that we can go round and round on this issue, though. You dispute the numbers, and I present peer-reviewed study after peer-reviewed study.”

      The numbers shouldn’t matter.

      Trans people represent between 0.2 and 0.5% of the population, and feminism wouldn’t say “well, let’s serve the majority of victims before we even think about having shelters for you”, they’d work to make the shelters inclusive of trans people, and give way more energy to that front than the cis men front, even if they’re 50-100 times less in amount than cis men.

      • But what you are missing is that many if not most shelters are doing what you just described for people of all genders. Their focus is on where there is greatest need, but they are working for inclusiveness for survivors of all genders.

  8. Just so that we are clear, I didn’t have time to respond to all of the misogyny and misinformation, as this post was linked on a few Men’s Rights Advocacy blogs and sites, so I closed the comments.

    Alas, if only blogging were my full time job.

  9. […] rape. However, rather than go into depth about the issues here, I’ll just link you to two articles that examine the Lisak and Miller study critically.* Instead, what I would like to discuss here is […]

  10. […] suggests that perhaps 50% of sexual violence is committed by men who set out to commit sexual violence like that described in Millar’s […]

  11. […] suggests that perhaps 50% of sexual violence is committed by men who set out to commit sexual violence like that described in Millar’s […]

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