There's a new study out saying that 1 in 3 straight men would rape a woman "if nobody would ever know and there wouldn't be any consequences." While the results are that special combo of outrageous and titillating, this is not a study that should make you start freaking out.

Others have commented that it has a smaller sample size, but that's not what makes me dismiss it. I mean, a larger sample size would not hurt, obviously. But lots of studies are done with this sample size (especially for studies about LGBT anything, or other very small populations), and eh, ya gotta work with what ya got, cuz we don't live in a world where researchers have unlimited resources. If you find such small sample sizes troubling, please, please, check around your local colleges and see if there are any studies you could participate in.

What makes me dismiss it is that it doesn't really fit in with the other stuff we know about rapists, and that the authors do not address that at ALL. For starters, it's not new info that there's a pretty wide disparity between what people call "rape", and what they call "forced sex". That's true when we study victims, bystanders, and perpetrators. We have known this since the 70s. Now, I know that it's new info to a lot of feminists, but it isn't new info to people who study sexual violence. When the big justification for doing a study is to demonstrate something we've known for decades, some alarms should go off.

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But, that doesn't necessarily mean that this disparity is the cause of rape. A lot of the coverage of this study, and other studies, seems to basically be "if only we could get these men to realize that they're RAPING, then, they'd stop." Especially, the coverage suggests that the issue is that these men have not been properly educated, and not that they are maintaining a large amount of cognitive dissonance in order to continue doing horrible things without having to think of themselves as horrible people.

It's important to note that you don't have to think of it as "rape" to think it's a bad thing to do to someone. You can think it's disrespectful, not ok, hurtful, etc, without thinking that it's rape. Just because someone doesn't see it as rape doesn't mean they think it's a-ok.

Studying it in terms of what you would do, if there were no consequences, is probably not a very helpful way to study things. There are a lot of ways to interpret that statement, and we can't know how participants interpreted it. They might have taken it to mean, "if it was very unlikely that you would get in trouble with the authorities." But they also might have taken it to mean, "if you had a magical guarantee that you would experience no punishment from authorities, nor ostracization from your social group". That's the point at which we've stopped studying what people could actually do in the real world, and begun to study what people fantasize they would do if they lived in an alternate universe. Further, some participants might have interpreted "consequences" to include harm to the victim, essentially making the question, "would you rape, if rape was not actually a thing that harmed anyone?"; if that's the case, we might see a reversal in numbers, where men who are horrified at the idea of raping someone are more likely to rape now that it doesn't hurt anyone, but actual sexual predators are like "what's the point of raping if it doesn't harm my victim!?"

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There are several different measures for identifying who is likely to become an actual rapists, but they usually don't include the framing of "if there were no consequences". That would seem to indicate that other researchers don't think that's a valid way to study the issue. (It might also shed light onto why Malamuth [who designed this part of the study] hasn't inspired all that many other researchers, especially the rockstars. Usually, when his work gets cited, it's in the context of "this is a study that exists and is well-known, but not the direction we personally are going in.")

It's suspect that this study concluded that 1 in 3 men (32%) were at risk for raping women, but it's only 6% who ever actually do it (Lisak & Miller, 2002). Of that 6%, about 2% only ("only") do it once or twice, and they are horrified with the realization that they hurt someone. The other 4% are the ones who commit the vast majority of rapes. What we know about them (from researchers like Lisak, Gidycz, Smith & White, etc) tends to suggest more that there is small population of men who have limited empathy for others, possibly due to emotional neglect as a small child or other exposure to DV, who go around preying on others. Sometimes it's just that they don't care if they harm others, sometimes it's that they really get off on harming others. They target people who are likely to be easy victims, whom they are most likely to be able to get away with hurting. Importantly, rape myth acceptance isn't the cause, but rather the justification: as they rape more and more, they buy into rape myths more and more. Similarly, trying to lower rape myth acceptance (or "educate" them) hasn't really been a particularly promising prevention technique.

This study just doesn't fit in with most of that. "Here's a third of the male population who might someday become part of this 6%, have fun guessing which ones will though!!!" is not a good tool. It's really freaking suspicious that the authors didn't address any of the more current research on male sexual predators. In fact, the entire thing reeks of Malamuth's groupies trying to bring his ideas back in style, when they should have been left when they belong: in the '80s.