Preventing Sexual Violence – Rethinking Lisak & Miller

My friend Dave and I have a unique connection. Both of us work with young men in the effort to build more inclusive, less violent understandings of masculinity.  As a former sexual assault survivor’s advocate and someone who travels the country to talk to young people about healthy sexuality (among other subjects), I value the opportunity to talk to men like Dave, who regularly works with middle school or high school boys and men to re-envision masculinity.  I was anxious to get Dave’s opinion about a controversial subject I’ve been mulling over for a while: the oft-cited Lisak & Miller 2002 study.

Me: “Do you think it’s possible that 96% of rape is committed by 4-8% of men?

Dave: “It just doesn’t seem possible! Nearly every single man is brought up in a culture where we are taught to objectify, speak disrespectfully about, and sexualize women.  I, like many young men, learned about sex from porn and locker room culture.  How can someone be conditioned in this way and not be a risk for committing sexual violence?  We are not taught how to have responsible, healthy sexual relationships!  When I was young, I literally couldn’t conceive of a respectful sexual encounter because I had never seen one.  Until I was mentored to understand a more non-violent masculinity, I very well could have hurt a woman in a way that we would describe as sexual violence, though no particular memory comes to mind.  Until we teach young men how to understand sex through the lens of communication and non-violence, we won’t stop the problem of rape.”

Much has been said about the Lisak & Miller 2002 study (and Predator Theory in general), particularly in the wake of the “Nice Guys Commit Rape Too” piece at Good Men Project and the subsequent criticism, most notably over at Feministe.  In particular, many have argued that it’s impossible for someone to commit rape without setting out or intending to do so because, in the words of David Lisak, “the vast majority of rapes are perpetrated by serial offenders who, on average, have six victims. So, this is who’s doing it.”  This has left me unsettled, so over the past few weeks, I have spent a lot of time reading and rereading the Lisak & Miller study and the work that uses it to extrapolate the number of men actually committing rape.

My conclusion? Lisak & Miller and all of the studies they cite (as well as the McWhorter study cited in the phenomenal piece by Thomas Macaulay Millar at Yes Means Yes) are vitally important for understanding and isolating the “undetected rapists” who are committing a tremendous number of rapes.  As Millar points out, “We need to revoke the rapists’ social license to operate.”  We must change the culture of our social spaces, our parties, our relationships (particularly men’s relationships with men) so that those committing the kinds of rape discussed in the scholarship of Lisak & Miller have the rug pulled out from under them.


In the words of my friend Sara, a former career sexual violence prevention specialist and survivor’s advocate, “It’s really important to think about the historical significance of Lisak’s work. He was doing this work back when ‘date rape’ was a new word and the common belief was that rapists were in the same category as psychopaths and murderers. The idea that a seemingly ‘normal’ man would prey upon women in social settings was a BIG deal for people that worked in victim services.  His study gave a voice to women who had been assaulted by men like the ones he interviewed and gave law enforcement a broader picture of who perpetrates rape. This was a big step in our understanding about the power and control dynamics of rape.”

That said, does the Lisak & Miller 2002 study (and similar research) describe all of sexual violence?  No.  Are there forms of sexual violence that are not and could not be captured by the study and the others that support its claims?  Definitely.  And to ignore this fact is tremendously dangerous, particularly if those who are adhering so closely to the findings of Lisak & Miller are the ones doing the daily, on-the-ground work to end sexual violence.

Limitations of Lisak & Miller 2002

“Several limitations of this study bear mention . . . Because of the nonrandom nature of the sampling procedures, the reported data cannot be interpreted as estimates of the prevalence of sexual or other acts of violence” (Lisak & Miller 2002).

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“This is My Body.” – A Feminist Manifesto

I feel like a bad blogger!  While I was able to put together a piece last week on Idle No More, the week before that I had a guest post up, and this week is similar.  It’s not because I’m not writing though!  I have two big pieces waiting in the wings as they are mulled over by a few larger publishers.  If they are not accepted for publication over there, I will publish them here.  So keep an eye out.

That said, I only have time in a given week to write one major blog post, and I put that energy this week into a piece that should be up on Everyday Feminism at some point in the near future.  So until I can share that one with my readers, check out this INCREDIBLY POWERFUL video.  It originally came out during the election campaign season when politician after politician was telling women what they should and should not be able to do with their own bodies.  Someone posted it the other day on Facebook, and I thought it deserved a share over here on Change From Within.

“Do not be afraid of a world in which women know themselves, their voice, and their power . . . That world has arrived.”

Talking Solidarity: #IdleNoMore and How You Can Help

idle no more

The more Idle No More grows, the more White folks seem oblivious.  The movement has grown into an international movement of Indigenous solidarity and activism, yet average White folks don’t even know what #IdleNoMore is.  Further, I would expect to see more support of the movement from mainstream White feminists, yet it’s all but crickets!  After all, the movement is largely female-led, and Chief Theresa Spence could not be a more powerful and inspiring feminist leader!

Photo Credit: Lauren Cartwright

Photo Credit: Lauren Cartwright

I can’t help but think this is related to the ways in which White people have been conditioned to ignore Indigenous people and movements.  We’ve been taught to see “Indians” as a remnant of a bygone era, as an extinct, monolithic culture of bows and arrows and headdresses.  “Indians” in the White psyche are not modern nations, tribes, or families.  “Indians” in the White psyche are not living, breathing, changing, and growing cultures of tremendous diversity.  As such, “Indians” in the White psyche are not capable inspiring and enacting a grass-roots movement for racial, economic, and environmental justice in Canada that has spread throughout the world.

But while Idle No More’s goals have nothing to do with changing White people’s perceptions of Indigenous people and struggles, this is one powerful side effect that can come from the movement.  In the words of Andrea Landry, “I think it’s definitely redefining the stereotypes of aboriginal people in Canada and in the States and around the world on a global scale.”  It is clear at this point that the movement is not going away.  It will undoubtedly change and grow; it already has greatly. But it ain’t going nowhere.

So progressive White folks . . . It’s time for us to start acting like better allies.  Here are a few simple ways that we can do that.

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Guest Post: “Colorblindness” is Denial

I spent the vast majority of my week working hard on a piece for Everyday Feminism (look for that one next week, as my post here will be a link to that one).  In the midst of that and preparing for a business trip, I didn’t have time to write something just for my readers at CFW.  Thus, I am excited to share a guest post from Warren J. Blumenfeld, associate professor in the School of Education at Iowa State University.


Post Racial Obama

With the ascendency of Barack Obama during the primaries and his election as the forty-fourth president of the United States in 2008 and to the current time, on numerous occasions the media have asserted that the United States can now be considered as a “post-racial” society, where the notion that “race” has lost its significance, and where our country’s long history of racism is now at an end.

For example, National Public Radio Senior News Analyst, Daniel Schorr, during the presidential primaries on January 28, 2008 on All Things Considered noted that with the emergence of Barack Obama, we have entered a new “post-racial” political era, and that Obama “transcends race” and is “race free.”

And according to MSNBC political analyst, Chris Matthews, responding to Obama’s State of the Union message on January 27, 2010: “He is post-racial by all appearances. I forgot he was black tonight for an hour. You know, he’s gone a long way to become a leader of this country, and past so much history, in just a year or two. I mean, it’s something we don’t even think about.”

These commentators and others imply a number of claims in their statements: The first that we have become a “race-blind” or “colorblind” society – that race has become unimportant, that we don’t see “race” anymore. The second implication states that racism (i.e., prejudice along with social power to enact oppression by White people over People of Color) is a thing of the past.

Is the United States now a “colorblind” society? Or even more importantly, should the United States be a “colorblind/race-blind” society? I find the very notion of “race-blindness” as deeply problematic.

"I don't see your race;"

“I don’t see your race; I just see you as a human being.”

Though when we tell another that “I don’t see your race; I just see you as a human being,” may seem as a righteous statement, what are we really telling the person, and how may this come across: “I discount a part of you that I may not want to address,” and “I will not see you in your multiple identities”? This has the tendency of erasing the person’s background and historical legacy, and hides the continuing hierarchical and systemic positionalities among White people and racially minoritized people.

In addition, the assertion that we have fully addressed and finally concluded the long history of racism in the United States with the election of Barack Obama is simply unfounded.

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