News and Commentary

Title IX Group Uses Debunked Study in Recent Position Statement

An organization that trains and supports Title IX administrators on college campuses across the country recently released a position statement based in part on a thoroughly-debunked study.

Title IX is the anti-sex discrimination law that was used by the Obama administration to try and increase safety for student victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment. The implementation of guidance from Obama’s Department of Education led to decreased due process rights for accused students, which resulted in hundreds of lawsuits against universities that punished students for easily debunked accusations of sexual assault.

The Association of Title IX Administrators (ATIXA), which was founded in 2011, the year the Obama guidance was issued, had recently released a position statement meant to guide schools “on the consideration of pattern evidence in sexual misconduct investigations and resolutions.” This refers to school investigations that have two or more accusations against a single person.

But ATIXA uses research from clinical psychologist David Lisak in part to guide investigators. ATIXA does note that research is “inconsistent” or “contradictory,” but still assumes Lisak’s research is worth reading and using when investigating accusations.

It’s not.

“David Lisak, a well-known clinical psychologist, has spent his career studying interpersonal violence and has been broadly published and featured in numerous documentaries,” the ATIXA statement says. “According to Lisak, a select few individuals account for the majority of campus sexual assaults, with many of these individuals committing multiple acts.”

ATIXA follows this by mentioning a more recent study by Kevin Swartout that suggests “a larger percentage of young men who don’t neatly fit into a serial rapist profile” are the ones committing sexual assault. But ATIXA quickly writes: “Swartout’s conclusion is difficult to digest because it bucks the commonly accepted orthodoxy established by Lisak.”

ATIXA further shows its bias in favor of Lisak’s study by writing: “Lisak’s study could serve as justification to place special emphasis on possible patterns, whereas Swartout’s conclusions, while equally concerning in their own way, are less supportive of a lethal risk of repeat perpetration.”

ATIXA suggests Title IX administrators review “the literature carefully, digesting the methodological critiques about each study and the recency of the data to make determinations regarding pattern evidence based on these two disparate schools of thought.”

By including Lisak’s study, ATIXA supports the kind of pseudo-science that has propagated the “rape culture” hysteria.

As ATIXA noted, Lisak’s study purporting to show a small percentage of men commit the majority of rapes on campus, has been spread widely as scientifically sound. It has even been cited by the federal government and the Obama White House as evidence that action is needed on campuses.

The problem is, the study is scientifically unsound, and has nothing to do with college campuses, despite it being used specifically for that purpose.

In 2015, Linda M. LeFauve, associate vice president for planning and institutional research at Davidson College, published a lengthy article at Reason explaining how unscientific and misleading Lisak’s study was. Lisak claimed that 90% of campus rapes are committed by a small group of serial rapists who commit, on average, six rapes each.

But Lisak never conducted the surveys he bases this on, even though he presents the material as if he did. Instead, it is cobbled together from data obtained from others at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, where Lisak was an associate professor. The survey data doesn’t even mention campus sexual assault — and the respondents weren’t screened to determine whether they were students or not. The survey included the responses of 1,882 subjects from the pooled data — all men— whose ages ranged from 18 to 71.

“Assuming they reflected the demographics of the university, most would have been part-time students, many of whom would also be holding down jobs away from campus,” LeFauve wrote. “All would have been commuters.” UMASS-Boston is a commuter school.

Of the subjects, 120 gave answers that met the legal definition of rape or attempted rape, and 76 of them apparently admitted to being repeat offenders.

Lisak told LeFauve that he interviewed most of these men, although he wouldn’t explain how he purportedly did this because the surveys were anonymous, and he didn’t conduct them.

Lisak’s entire thesis was based on the claims of “76 non-traditional students who were not living on a college campus, and whose offenses may or may not have happened on or near a college campus, may or may not have been perpetrated on other students, and may have happened at any time in the survey respondents’ adult lives,” LeFaube wrote.

The other big problem with Lisak is a video he shows as part of a presentation on his so-called research. He claims it’s a re-enactment of an interview of one of the men from the study. In reality, the interview is an amalgamation of interviews with multiple people and can’t possibly be the ones from Lisak’s study, since it was anonymous.

“More troubling still is that those interviews were conducted with just 12 individuals nearly 30 years ago, a decade before many students on college campuses today were born, when Lisak himself was still a doctoral student,” LeFauve wrote in a follow-up article.

LeFauve’s article is not simply a disagreement with Lisak, it completely dismantles his study with facts.

The fact that ATIXA still uses this study as if it is accurate does not bode well for the fairness of its materials and training for Title IX investigations.

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