A study published on Monday in JAMA Pediatrics, a journal of the American Medical Association, has challenged the perception that most college men who commit rape are serial offenders.
A previous study, published in 2002, found that about 6 percent of men surveyed at the University of Massachusetts at Boston had acknowledged committing acts that met criteria for rape or attempted rape. That research attracted widespread attention in part because 63 percent of those who admitted to such behaviors reported that they had committed repeat offenses.
Kevin Swartout, an assistant professor of psychology at Georgia State University, led a team of sexual-assault researchers who looked again at the question of whether men perpetrated rape consistently through their high-school and college years. The study examined two longitudinal data sets involving men at two large universities in the southeastern United States. It limited its focus to behaviors that met the FBI’s definition of rape and counted only completed acts, excluding attempts that failed to result in penetration.
The study found that among men who reported committing rape, 74.7 percent said the activity had been limited to one academic year. The group of men who perpetrated rape across multiple college years was a “significant minority” of those who committed college rape, the study said. “Exclusive emphasis on serial predation to guide risk identification, judicial response, and rape-prevention programs is misguided,” it added.
The study found, however, that 10.8 percent of men in the combined samples reported perpetrating at least one rape from the time they were 14 through the end of college, “indicating that there are approximately twice as many men on campuses who have committed rape than previously reported.”
The findings emphasized the need to recognize the “heterogeneity” of rapists and avoid “one-size-fits-all” approaches to preventing sexual assault and resolving misconduct cases, the authors concluded.