Who are the Perpetrators? Part I

By: Shyama Appareddy

Earlier this semester, college students generated a buzz on social media with whimsical hastags [hashtags] such as “#thanksnancy” and “#teamnancy” among others, expressing gleeful gratitude towards the college administrators who enjoyedthe honor of granting students several days off of school. Despite the joy and gratitude which students felt throughout the snow days, these messages of excitement were interspersed amongst messages carrying a different sentiment… notifications of violent crime taking place on campus. Students who were rejoicing in their free time found themselves either as the victims of violent crime or privy to the potential for violence.

Reports of violent crime and sexual assault are not novel to Emory University, nor are they unique to our campus community.  As a Senior at Emory, I have received a steady stream of e-mails describing attacks which have occurred everywhere from the construction site of the new Health Sciences Research Building to the Clifton Road Corridor to Emory Midtown Hospital.

The reports provide the time and locations of the incidents, a physical description of a 5-or-6-foot-something male perpetrator clad in dark clothing, with slight variations in appearance here and there. The University might laud itself for delivering the news to the community in a timely manner, generally right after the crime has been reported. However, upon reading these notices, I as a student am left to wonder… where is the follow-up? Was justice granted to the survivors of these crimes? Who are the shadowy, ambiguously described figures to whom we assign blame for violence on our campus?

Dr. David Lisak, in “Predatory Rape on College Campuses: An Interview with David Lisak,” published in “Men Can Stop Rape” in November 2011, stated that about 90% of college rapes are likely committed by a serial rapist, based on his research and data collection. While we live in fear of this ambiguous, shadowy figure, we are left to wonder… who are the perpetrators? Below are the limited descriptions provided to the campus community of the perpetrators of recent violent attacks:

“(1) a black male with light complexion…19 years of age, 6 feet tall, 200-215 lbs, wearing a black hoodie and dark beanie…”

“(2) a black male with light complexion, 6 feet tall, 170 pounds, with shoulder length dreadlocks, wearing a black shirt and a red jacket….”

“(3) a white male with blond hair, approximately 6 feet tall, about 19-21 years old, wearing blue jeans and a light colored shirt or jacket… an Emory student.”

“An acquaintance.”

It is unlikely that such descriptions alone will lead the community to any meaningful conclusions regarding the identity of the perpetrators. If anything, to attempt to identify a suspect based on the vague above descriptions would border on racial profiling or discrimination.

David Lisak describes the perpetrators as those who are able to identify and stake out targets, to test the waters and push the boundaries of this individual in order to determine whether or not she is a viable “target,” and then to isolate and strategically attack his target. Thus, Lisak provides not only a methodology of rape, but a description of the character and psyche of a perpetrator. This is perhaps more insightful than the blanket descriptions of “white male” or “black male.” [excellent]

However, one must wonder about the potentially questionable implications of Lisak’s work. Does Lisak’s theory insinuate that a woman is responsible for identifying those ambiguous individuals who may be seeming to push her boundaries? Must we distrust all individuals who seem to have a differential idea of boundaries than us ourselves simply because we are women? The theory seems to imply that women who are victims are naive, too open, too willing to tolerate the advances of perpetrators. I am wary of the theory because it appears to imply that women who are the victims of sexual assault failed the “rape test” that perpetrators perform before choosing to target that individual.  It implies that we are responsible for recognizing those who may intend to manipulate and attack us. The framing of such suggestions can quickly slide into victim blaming.

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