Oct 28 12:00 PM

Serial rapists commit 9 of 10 campus sexual assaults, research finds

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Attorney Gloria Allred speaks at an April news conference, surrounded by students and alumni of Occidental College who alleged that administrators violated federal standards for dealing with their rape, sexual assault or retaliation claims.
Nick Ut/AP

This is the second report in America Tonight’s “Sex Crimes on Campus” series.

Occidental College, a private and pricey school in Los Angeles, is known for its commitment to social justice. With that in mind, it’s striking that this campus is riven by reports of rape and sexual assault, much of it allegedly committed by repeat offenders.

Two female Oxy students, who wished to remain anonymous, told America Tonight’s Chris Bury that they were raped by fellow students.

“I ended up walking back to his place with him,” said one student who’s now a junior. “Once we were there, he -- he raped me.”

This woman says she was raped in her first year and was outraged to learn the college had already disciplined her attacker for a similar offense.

“Months before he raped me he had already been sanctioned by the college for a sexual assault,” she said. “Clearly the sanctions were not serious enough that he was removed from campus.”

What was the attacker’s previous punishment?

“I think it involved writing a paper of some kind-- some kind of like, research, reflection.”

He wasn't suspended or expelled. 

The problem at Occidental

Serial rape is the norm on college campuses, including at Occidental, according to Caroline Heldman, associate professor of politics at Occidental.

“We have numerous cases with three or four women coming forward and alleging that the same man has raped or sexually assaulted them,” she said.

Heldman has been teaching at Occidental for seven years. She and fellow faculty member Danielle Dirks have become activists for sexual assault victims, who began coming to them and pouring their hearts out.

“I've been here at Oxy since 2011. Over that time I've talk with, I would say, dozens of young men and women who have been raped, sexually assaulted, sexually harassed, sexually battered … intimidated, stalked, harassed, cyber-bullied. All of these things,” Dirks said.

Last April, Heldman and Dirks filed a federal complaint with the Department of Education in which 42 Oxy students allege they were raped or sexually assaulted since 2009.

That same day, high-profile lawyer Gloria Allred threatened a separate civil suit against Occidental. Students came forward, with new accusations that the college had treated assailants far too lightly.

“The person who raped me had been found responsible for raping three women, yet he will be allowed to come back to Oxy in the fall,” student Carly Mee said in a news conference led by Allred.

Another Occidental junior told us she was raped last year by a repeat offender after a campus dance. There was drinking involved.

“I ended up being taken home by someone, that I actually don't remember being taken home by,” she said. “And ended up having sexual relations with him without my knowing. I didn't remember it in the morning.”

She didn't report the attack until two months later. The man had been found guilty of sexually assaulting another woman.

“I think what's most troubling about this woman's rape is that had he been expelled and kicked off of campus the first time he was found responsible for sexual assault, her rape simply would not have happened,” Dirks said. 

The problem of serial rapists

Troubling stories of sexual predators committing multiple assaults are actually not all that unusual. In fact, researchers say the overwhelming majority of rapes on college campuses are committed by repeat offenders.

Clinical psychologist David Lisak trains prosecutors and police about sex offenders. His pioneering research revealed a remarkable fact.

“The vast majority of sexual assaults on campuses, in fact over 90 percent, are being perpetrated by serial offenders,” Lisak said.

In a study published in 2002, Lisak asked nearly 2,000 male students at a Massachusetts college about their sex lives. Six percent of them described sexual encounters in a way that met the legal definition of rape, meaning they had sexual intercourse without the consent of the woman, often using either force or alcohol. Of that group, a majority had assaulted multiple women.

“Those serial offenders were prolific,” Lisak said. “The average number of rapes for each one of those serial offenders was six.”

He also found that cold and calculating serial rapists admitted to deliberately taking advantage of vulnerable women.

“They've perfected ways of identifying who on campus, for example, are most vulnerable,” he said.

Interview with a rapist

Lisak showed Bury a video based on an interview he conducted at Duke University in which an actor speaks the exact words of a student describing how he invited a freshman girl to a fraternity party.

“The minute she walked into the door of the party, I was on her. And she was really good lookin' too. You know, we started drinking together and I could tell she was nervous. I could tell she was nervous because, you know, she was drinking that stuff so fast.”

She was drinking some punch prepared by the fraternity.

Lisak said that this exchange show that freshmen are being targeted and groomed by inviting them to a special, invitation-only party.

While giving someone a drink is not necessarily a precursor to rape, this behavior shows how a rapist sets up the groundwork for making a victim incapacitated.

“When you give somebody a drink and they get very intoxicated, and then you go bring another drink over, and give them that drink and they get even more intoxicated. And then you say, ‘Hey, listen, why don't we go upstairs?’ and now they're so intoxicated they can barely stand up,” Lisak said. “And so you support them as you walk them up the stairs.”

The video re-enactment of an interview with a rapist continued.

“Well, she was really woozy by this time. So I brought up another drink, you know, and sat her down on one of the beds,” the rapist said. “I didn't expect her to get into it right away. I don’t know, maybe that’s why she kept pushing on me. But, you know, I just kept leaning on her, pulling off her clothes. And then at some point, she stopped squirming. Maybe she passed out. Her eyes were closed.”

The interviewer asked him what happened next.

“ I f---ed her,” the rapist said.

Such calculating ways are a common refrain among the students at Occidental who say they were assaulted.

“I think he probably scanned the room, saw someone who was clearly intoxicated and, you know, started to strike up a conversation with them and continued to provide me with drinks,” one alleged rape victim told Chris Bury.

College at a crossroads

Occidental College’s president declined America Tonight’s repeated requests for an on-camera interview. But college officials highlight recent policy changes, including a 24-hour sexual assault hotline and a professional advocate to help students who report rapes and other sex crimes.

Five months after Allred’s explosive news conference with Occidental students, the college quietly settled with 10 of them, but the financial details were kept confidential. However, the professors who filed the federal complaint say the college still has not established a clear bright line involving sex between students.

“I think the clearest definition of consent would be verbal consent,” Heldman said. “It would be affirmative, willing, active, enthusiastic ‘yes,’” she said. “I think 'Yes means yes'…should be the campaign slogan for consent on college campuses.”

And researcher Lisak believes colleges like Occidental are at a critical crossroads when it comes to sexual assault.

“Which way are they going to go? Are they going to go the route of the Catholic Church?” he said. “Or are they going to do better? Are they going to show that they can respond to this with honesty and with a commitment to do the right thing?”

A former top Occidental official told America Tonight that colleges don’t have the expertise to investigate sex crimes that very often confound police and prosecutors. But students and faculty at Occidental suggest that, far too often, sexual predators get away with their crimes. And, just as troubling, research suggests they do it again and again.

As part of America Tonight’s special Sex Crimes on Campus series and live town hall, we have compiled resources for where to turn for help if you, or someone you know, has suffered sexual assault.

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