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.
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.