Duke Women’s Center director Ada Gregory came under justifiable criticism for her preposterous recent assertion to the Chronicle: “The higher IQ, the more manipulative they are, the more cunning they are . . . imagine the sex offenders we have here at Duke—cream of the crop.” Gregory subsequently claimed that she had been quoted out of context, though it’s hard to imagine what an appropriate context for her remark could have been.
In the event, as I noted last week, she essentially repeated her claim in her damage-control letter to the Chronicle, writing, “The difficulty in detecting and investigating sexual assault cases, particularly acquaintance rapes, which are often committed by undetected rapists who use manipulation and coercion, has been shown by the research of David Lisak, a University of Massachusetts at Boston clinical psychologist, and others. The investigations of these crimes can be further complicated by offenders who may also be categorized as antisocial or sociopathic, who are of above-average intelligence and can be highly manipulative and coercive, not only with victims but in the investigation process. Universities gather a lot of people with above average intelligence, so it stands to reason that campuses might see more of these kinds of individuals than the general population.” [emphasis added]
Gregory—like the “clarifying” faculty at Duke, who made a similar, if slightly vaguer, claim—doubtless has ideological reasons for wanting to believe that sexual assault is more common at elite university campuses than in the general public. Yet a preliminary glance through some of Lisak’s writings didn’t offer any illumination concerning the alleged link between communities of intelligent people and higher incidences of sexual assault. While there certainly are elements of campus life an elite universities—notably the extensive presence of alcohol—that would increase the risk of sexual assault (and which Lisak discusses), that, of course, was not the argument that Gregory made.
I e-mailed Gregory to ask her for a specific citation of Lisak’s work that bolstered her assertion that “universities gather a lot of people with above average intelligence, so it stands to reason that campuses might see more of these kinds of individuals than the general population.” She did not reply. So I e-mailed her again. Again, she did not reply.
So I read some more of Lisak’s publications. (I should note: I haven’t read everything that Lisak has published: CUNY doesn’t have a medical school, and some of his work comes in technical journals to which CUNY doesn’t subscribe.) Nonetheless, I haven’t been able to track down any of his writings that suggest a link between communities of smart people and higher incidents of sexual assault. At times—as in a 2005 talk—some of the themes for the “undetected rapist” that Lisak has identified would suggest that such criminals would be less common at places like Duke, simply because of practical matters. Two examples:
1.) Lisak has contended that predators are “often violent in multiple ways—(e.g., both sexual and domestic).” Yet at Duke, as at most elite university campuses, the overwhelming majority of students live in dorms or dorm-like arrangements. While it’s possible that openings exist for domestic violence, such episodes are surely far less frequent than in the general public at large, simply because most Duke students would not regularly find themselves in a position in which domestic violence occurs.
2.) Lisak’s research also suggests that nearly one in five of his undetected rapists have abused children. Obviously, college and university students do not have access to children on campus; at home, how many 18 to 22-year-old students at any elite university even are put in a position to sexually abuse children? While it’s possible that openings exist for child abuse, such episodes are surely far less frequent than in the general public at large, simply because most Duke students would not regularly find themselves in a position in which child abuse occurs.
Yet Lisak—the sole researcher that Gregory cited to bolster her claim of a linkage between bright people on campus and higher incidents of sexual assault—has contended that connections exist between child abuse, domestic violence, and sexual assault. Given that students at elite universities would seem to have been less likely to have engaged in either child abuse or domestic violence, wouldn’t it stand to reason that Lisak’s research suggests that sexual violence is less common on college campuses than in the general public?
Lisak, it’s worth noting, is hardly someone known for his temperate views on sexual assault: indeed, he is a true believer on the issue. He has contended that one in four women will be raped over the course of their lives: while not quite as extreme a view as some Group sympathizers (who have suggested that one in four women at Duke will be raped, giving the university a rate of sexual assault exceeds that of Detroit’s violent crime rate), the Lisak theory would maintain that just under 40 million women currently residing in the United States have been raped. Lisak also has endorsed the arch-feminist view that pornography (of any type) “normalizes” violence against women.
It doesn’t seem unrealistic to expect the director of a women’s center—however much she might be an ideologue regarding gender issues on campus—to accurately represent the relevant research in her field. Duke, it appears, has a different standard.