David Lisak

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David Lisak
Institutions University of Massachusetts Boston
Alma mater Duke University
Thesis Motives and psychodynamics of non-incarcerated rapists (1989)
Main interests
Clinical psychologist (retired)
External video
The 2013 Women's History Month Keynote Address at Emory University, 28 March 2013
David Lisak: Confronting the Reality of Sexual Violence on the College Campus via YouTube[1]

David Lisak is an American clinical psychologist. He received his PhD from Duke University, and is a retired Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Boston.[2] Lisak's research focuses on "the causes and consequences of interpersonal violence...motives and behaviors of rapists and murderers, the impact of childhood abuse on adult men, and relationship between child abuse and later violence."[3]


Lisak began his research in graduate school at Duke in the 1980s. He had noticed that most of the research on rape and sexual assault consisted of interviews with victims, who reported almost exclusively acquaintance rape rather than stranger rape, and studies on incarcerated rapists, who were almost exclusively stranger rapists. Lisak became interested in studying the rapists who committed the most common form of rape but who did not get caught and go to prison.[4]

Over a period of 20 years, Lisak surveyed 2,000 male Boston college students, resulting in a landmark study of undetected rapists that was published in 2002.[5] The study began with a questionnaire, and then Lisak allegedly did long follow-up interviews with each respondent,[4] however, when asked by a reporter how he conducted follow-up interviews based on responses to an anonymous survey, Lisak hung up the phone.[6] The questions included things like "Have you ever had sexual intercourse with someone, even though they did not want to, because they were too intoxicated [on alcohol or drugs] to resist your sexual advances?" and "Have you ever had sexual intercourse with an adult when they didn't want to because you used physical force [twisting their arm, holding them down, etc.] if they didn't cooperate?"[7]

As with other social science interviews and questionnaires about interpersonal violence, Lisak avoided the use of terms such as "rape," "assault," and "abuse," instead describing in detail the behavior in question, without applying labels that the perpetrators might not identify with.[4] Although the situations described are legally rape, Lisak found the men were not reluctant to talk about them, seeing them as sexual conquests to brag about, and did not think of themselves as rapists; according to Lisak, such men are narcissistic and "like nothing better" than to talk about their "sexual exploits."[8] Approximately 5% of the study participants reported having committed rape.[9]

Lisak notes that most rapists who are prosecuted are convicted on a single count of rape, and describes as sobering studies that find incarcerated rapists typically have raped multiple people, with findings ranging from an average of seven to an average of 11 victims.[9] His own research found the same was true for undetected rapists, with serial rapists accounting for 90% of all campus rapes[9] with an average of six rapes each.[10][11] He found that both undetected and convicted rapists held prejudiced attitudes towards women and a need for dominance.[4]

Compared with non-rapists, Lisak found that rapists are measurably more angry at women and more motivated by a desire to dominate and control them, are more impulsive, disinhibited, anti-social and hyper-masculine, and less empathic. Lisak characterized rapists as extremely adept at identifying potential victims and testing their boundaries, and said that they planned their attacks and used sophisticated strategies to isolate and groom victims, used violence instrumentally in order to terrify and coerce, and used psychological weapons against their victims including power, manipulation, control and threats.[9] Lisak also says that rapists target vulnerable victims, such as female freshmen who have less experience with drinking and are more likely to take risks, or people who are already intoxicated; they use alcohol as a weapon,[8][9] as it makes the victim more vulnerable at the time but also impairs their credibility with the justice system should they choose to report the rape.[12]

Similar results were found in Stephanie McWhorter's 2009 Reports of rape reperpetration by newly enlisted male navy personnel, a study done on Navy recruits at RTC Great Lakes.[4][13]

Lisak has also noted that recent research has contradicted the long-held assumption that rapists specialize in particular types of victims with the reality, he says, being "far murkier." "Multiple studies," he has written, "have now documented that between 33% and 66% of rapists have also sexually attacked children; that up to 82% of child molesters have also sexually attacked adults; and that between 50% and 66% of incest offenders have also sexually attacked children outside their families."[9]

Lisak argues that his and similar findings conflict sharply with the widely held view that college rapes are typically perpetrated by "a basically “decent” young man who, were it not for too much alcohol and too little communication, would never do such a thing," with the evidence actually suggesting that the vast majority of rapes are committed by serial, violent predators. Therefore, he argues, prevention efforts aimed at persuading men not to rape are unlikely to work, and universities should instead focus on helping non-rapists to identify rapists and intervene in high-risk situations to stop them.[9] He also argues that whenever a nonstranger sexual assault is reported, it represents a window of opportunity for law enforcement to comprehensively investigate the alleged offender, rather than "putting blinders on looking solely on the alleged 45-minute interaction between these two people."[4][14]


Lisak has criticized the justice system's approach to rape: "Somehow all we can do is take the statement from the victim. Take the statement from the alleged perpetrator and then throw up our hands because they are saying conflicting things...That's not how we investigate other crimes." If, Lisak says, police discount the report of a victim who was intoxicated or otherwise vulnerable, they are "giving a free pass to sexual predators."[8] Especially because of the prevalence of repeat offenders, he encourages police departments and prosecutors to investigate the background of people accused of sexual assault, as they do with, for instance, accused drug dealers, and also to investigate post-assault evidence such as PTSD in the victim.[4]

Lisak was the founding editor of Psychology of Men and Masculinity, an American Psychological Association journal.[3] He is the Board President and a founding board member of 1in6, Inc., a non-profit organization with the mission of helping men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood live healthier, happier lives.[15] Himself a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, Lisak was one of three men profiled in the Big Voice Pictures documentary, Boys and Men Healing.[16][17] He has also been on the faculty of the National Judicial Education Program and American Prosecutors Research Institute, served as a consultant for the U.S. military, universities, and judicial and law enforcement agencies, and appeared as an expert witness.[18]

Selected publications[edit]

Ph.D thesis[edit]

Book chapters[edit]

  • Lisak, David (1998), "Sexual aggression, masculinity, and fathers", in Odem, Mary E.; Clay-Warner, Jody, Confronting rape and sexual assault, Wilmington, Delaware: Rowman & Littlefield, pp. 145–162, ISBN 9780842025997.  Preview.
  • Lisak, David; Miller, Paul M. (2003). "Childhood trauma, posttraumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and violence". In Ouimette, Paige; Brown, Pamela J. Trauma and substance abuse: causes, consequences, and treatment of comorbid disorders. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. pp. 73–87. ISBN 9781557989383. 

Journal articles[edit]


  1. ^ David Lisak (speaker) (8 April 2013). David Lisak - Confronting the Reality of Sexual Violence on the College Campus (YouTube). Emory University. Retrieved 20 November 2015. 
  2. ^ "Clinical Psychology — Faculty". University of Massachusetts Boston. Retrieved 2010-12-25. 
  3. ^ a b "David Lisak". University of Massachusetts Boston. Retrieved 2010-12-25. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Madigan, Tim (August 20, 2012). "Q&A with David Lisak, a leading expert on non-stranger rape". Star-Telegram (The McClatchy Company). 
  5. ^ Schontzler, Gail (13 August 2013). "Expert blames most ‘date rapes’ on serial predators". Bozeman Daily Chronicle (Pioneer News Group). Retrieved 10 June 2014. 
  6. ^ LeFauve, Linda (28 July 2015). "Campus rape expert can’t answer basic questions about his sources". Reason.com (Reason Foundation). Retrieved 11 August 2015. 
  7. ^ Shapiro, Joseph (March 4, 2010). "Myths that make it hard to stop campus rape". NPR (National Public Radio, Inc.). 
  8. ^ a b c "Non-stranger rapes". CBS Evening News (CBS). November 9, 2009. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Lisak, David (March–April 2011). "Understanding the predatory nature of sexual violence". Sexual Assault Report (Civic Research Institute) 14 (4): 49–64. Retrieved 10 June 2014.  Pdf.
  10. ^ Lauerman, Connie (September 15, 2004). "Easy targets". Chicago Tribune (Tribune Publishing). 
  11. ^ Lisak, David; Miller, Paul M. (February 2002). "Repeat rape and multiple offending among undetected rapists". Violence & Victims 17 (1): 73–84. doi:10.1891/vivi.  Pdf.
  12. ^ Chan, Sewell (October 15, 2007). "‘Gray rape’: a new form of date rape?". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). 
  13. ^ McWhorter, Stephanie K.; Stander, Valerie A.; Merrill, Lex L.; Thomsen, Cynthia J.; Milner, Joel S. (2009). "Reports of rape reperpetration by newly enlisted male navy personnel". Violence & Victims (Springer) 24 (2): 204–18. doi:10.1891/0886-6708.24.2.204. PMID 19459400. 
  14. ^ Lisak, David (5 August 2013). "Guest blog, David Lisak: Some good news, rape is preventable". The Plain Dealer (Cleveland: Advance Publications). Retrieved 10 June 2014. 
  15. ^ "Board of Directors". 1in6, Inc. Retrieved 12 September 2011. 
  16. ^ "David Lisak Speaker Trainer Consultant". davidlisak.com. David Lisak. Retrieved 10 June 2014. 
  17. ^ "Boys and Men Healing". Big Voice Pictures. Big Voice Pictures. Retrieved 10 June 2014. 
  18. ^ "David Lisak" (PDF). SART Conference. Retrieved 10 January 2011.