One of the most widely cited and uncritically questioned surveys on campus sexual assault has just unraveled.
No, it's not yet another 1-in-5 study, which purports to show that one in five women are victims of sexual assault in college. This one claims to show that the majority of campus rapes were perpetrated by a small number of repeat offenders. The study, authored by David Lisak, was first questioned last year by Slate's Emily Yoffe, who pointed out that the study's respondents were not limited to college students and couldn't be used as a representative sample of national college students.
Now, Reason contributor Linda M. LeFauve takes an incredibly detailed look at just how flawed Lisak's study truly is.
The most damning evidence LeFauve presents is that Lisak's study — which has since been used to claim that students accused of campus sexual assault are probably potential serial rapists — had nothing to do with campus sexual assault.
"Nothing about the studies from which he repurposed data depended on survey respondents being students, or acts they reported taking place while in college. Nothing in the research protocol indicates prospective respondents were even asked whether they were students when they agreed to complete very personal surveys in exchange for $3," LeFauve wrote. "There is not a single statement in the paper about assaults taking place on or near a campus; there is not a single reference to the campus environment."
Lisak didn't even complete original research; he based his findings on data presented in four other studies. When LeFauve asked Lisak about those other studies, he couldn't recall their topics or even who authored them.
Lisak has also claimed at various times that he conducted follow-up interviews with some of the subjects of his study. This seems improbable as the surveys conducted in his study were apparently anonymous. When LeFauve asked Lisak how he was able to conduct follow-up interviews with anonymous respondents, he hung up on her.
Lisak's severely flawed study has contributed to the enactment of many draconian campus sexual assault policies that presume guilt based solely on an accusation. His study, like the dubious "1-in-5" studies, are creating an atmosphere in which false accusations are acceptable and misread romantic signals are elevated to charges of rape.
Lisak has even said in the past that every accusation "should be viewed and treated as an opportunity to identify a serial rapist." And they have been. Colleges, under pressure from the Obama administration, are eviscerating due process rights for accused students in order to appear tough on campus sexual assault.
And it's not difficult to see why. If one believes that 20 percent of college women will be raped by a small number of serial rapists, and that very few of those women are lying, then there's a good chance that each new accused student is a serial rapist-in-waiting.
If any part of that were true then perhaps the extreme measures being taken to remove due process in favor of more convictions would be warranted. But time and time again we see the 1-in-5 studies fall apart due to sketchy methods and leading questions. We see the claims that just 2 percent of accusations crumble under scrutiny, and now we see the idea that campuses are swarming with serial rapists has also collapsed.
Yet all of this is ignored by the activists and politicians who have a stake in the issue and are dead-set on passing more and more legislation to show they are on the right side. In the meantime, these flawed studies will continue to be used to justify passing draconian legislation and policies that ruin innocent lives.