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Original Investigation
Journal Club
December 2015

Trajectory Analysis of the Campus Serial Rapist Assumption

Journal Club PowerPoint Slide Download
Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Psychology, Georgia State University, Atlanta
  • 2Department of Health Promotion Sciences, Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, University of Arizona, Tucson
  • 3Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Greensboro
  • 4Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life, Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina
  • 5Department of Psychology, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan
JAMA Pediatr. 2015;169(12):1148-1154. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.0707

Importance  Rape on college campuses has been addressed recently by a presidential proclamation, federal legislation, advocacy groups, and popular media. Many initiatives assume that most college men who perpetrate rape are serial rapists. The scientific foundation for this perspective is surprisingly limited.

Objective  To determine whether a group of serial rapists exists by identifying cohesive groups of young men, indicated by their trajectories of rape likelihood across high school and college.

Design, Setting, and Participants  Latent class growth analysis of the 2 largest longitudinal data sets of adolescent sexual violence on college campuses using 2 distinct groups of male college students. The first group was used for derivation modeling (n = 847; data collected from August 1990 through April 1995) and the second for validation modeling (n = 795; data collected from March 2008 through May 2011). Final data analyses were conducted from February 16, 2015, through February 20, 2015.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Rape perpetration assessed using the Sexual Experiences Survey.

Results  Across samples, 178 of 1642 participants (10.8%) reported having perpetrated at least 1 rape from 14 years of age through the end of college. A 3-trajectory model best fit both the derivation and validation data sets. Trajectories reflected low or time-limited (92.6% of participants), decreasing (5.3%), and increasing (2.1%) rape patterns. No consistently high trajectory was found. Most men who perpetrated a rape before college were classified in the decreasing trajectory. During college, the increasing trajectory included 14 men (15.2%) who reported having perpetrated a rape, the decreasing trajectory included 30 men (32.6%), and the low or time-limited included 48 men (52.2%). No participant in the low or time-limited trajectory reported perpetrating a rape during more than 1 period. Most men (67 [72.8%]) who committed college rape only perpetrated rape during 1 academic year.

Conclusions and Relevance  Although a small group of men perpetrated rape across multiple college years, they constituted a significant minority of those who committed college rape and did not compose the group at highest risk of perpetrating rape when entering college. Exclusive emphasis on serial predation to guide risk identification, judicial response, and rape-prevention programs is misguided. To deter college rape, prevention should be initiated before, and continue during, college. Child and adolescent health care professionals are well positioned to intervene during the early teenage years by informing parents about the early onset of nonconsensual sexual behavior.