At Summit On Sexual Assault, Administrators Learn Strategies To Stop Serial Rapists

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College administrators from around the country who are meeting this week at Dartmouth College are trying to figure out how to best prevent campus sexual assault and how to punish those responsible. The message they're receiving is that it's just a small group of people who are responsible for most attacks.

A Job For Everyone

Earlier this year, President Obama appointed a Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. It's been interviewing people at campuses across the country. On Tuesday, members of the task force answered some questions. College officials wanted to know what the task force has found so far.

One member is White House Advisor on Violence Against Women Lynn Rosenthal. She laid out some goals for all colleges.

"If you commit sexual assault, you'll be held accountable," she said. "If you experience sexual assault, you'll be believed and supported. If you're part of this community, you will work together with all of us to end it, to prevent it."

Another member of the task force is Bea Hanson of the Department of Justice. She told the group most on-campus rapes are committed by just a few men. She says stopping them has to be the job of everyone else.

"We know that the majority of rapes are committed by serial rapists, and those folks are very unlikely to be reached by any prevention messages that we're going to be sending out or education about rape," she said. "But the more promising practices and strategies that we've identified are to equip bystanders to be able to intervene, particularly in those cases of alcohol-facilitated rape."

Starting An Investigation

Much of the research that shows a small number of men commit most of the campus rapes has been conducted by the man who pushed for this conference, former UMass Boston psychology professor David Lisak.

"It's pretty clear that in a community like a college campus, you will expect and you will see that there are serial offenders, and they account for the vast majority of sexual assaults that occur in that community," he said.

Lisak is working with colleges to help them investigate reports of sexual assaults in a way that will help them remove the offenders from campus. He's encouraging colleges to stay away from the trap of he-said-she-said scenarios. Instead, Lisak says schools need to bring in enough witnesses to establish that an offender is a serial offender. Lisak presents the example of a student who reports that an another student tried to sell him drugs.

"In response to that, there is no university in the country that would simply say, 'Oh, well, let's see if we can figure out if there's evidence that an attempted sale of meth was made at 10 p.m. last night in a dorm.' What the university would do is they may look at that evidence, but they would also immediately start an investigation to see if this individual is a dealer.

Dartmouth College is funding this first campus assault conference. Lisak says he already has a commitment from another university he can't name yet to continue the work begun here of finding strategies that can stop and punish sexual assault on campus.


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This segment aired on July 16, 2014.

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Fred Thys Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.



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