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This next report may cause people to rethink what they believe about sexual assault on college campuses. It's commonly assumed that men who commit sexual assault made a one-time bad decision maybe clouded by too much drinking.

But one person who has studied campus rape says that assumption is wrong, dangerously wrong. The NPR investigative team worked with journalists at the Center for Public Integrity to look at the problem of sexual assault on campus. NPR's Joseph Shapiro has this report.

JOSEPH SHAPIRO: Most of what we know about men who commit rape comes from studying the ones who are in prison. But most rapes are never reported or prosecuted. So David Lisak of the University of Massachusetts, Boston, wanted to interview what he calls undetected rapists - the men who are never charged or convicted.

He found them by asking some 2,000 men in college questions like this...

Dr. DAVID LISAK (University of Massachusetts): Have you ever had sexual intercourse with someone, even though they did not want to, because they were too intoxicated to resist your sexual advances?

SHAPIRO: About one in 16 men answered yes to this or similar questions.

You might think it would be hard for a researcher to get these men to admit to something that fits the definition of rape. But Lisak, a psychologist who studies rapists, says it's not.

Dr. LISAK: They are very forthcoming. And, in fact, they're eager to talk about their experiences. They're quite narcissistic as a group - the offenders - and they view this as an opportunity, essentially, to brag.

SHAPIRO: What Lisak found was that students who commit rape on a college campus are pretty much like those rapists in prison. In both groups, many are serial rapists. On college campuses, these repeat predators account for nine out of every 10 rapes.

They, too, look for the most vulnerable women, even if they don't use guns or knives.

Dr. LISAK: The basic weapon is alcohol. If you can get a victim intoxicated to the point where she's coming in and out of consciousness, or she's unconscious - and that is a very, very common scenario - then, you know, why would you need a weapon? Why would you need a knife or a gun?

SHAPIRO: Stetson University law professor Peter Lake agrees that there are plenty of predators on campus, and that it's important to spot them and get them out of school.

But Lake says there's a problem the predator theory underestimates: that's the amount of drinking and sex that's become common with many - although certainly not all - college students.

Professor PETER LAKE (Stetson University): It's very common for them to go out, drink fairly heavily and hook up sexually with people that they may not know particularly well. So you have a lot of sexual activity. You have alcohol. You have a population that's sort of an at-risk age, and it's in some ways, the perfect storm for sexual assault issues.

SHAPIRO: Lake, who's written about the evolution of school disciplinary procedures, says that as a result, most schools address sexual assault mainly as a violation of conduct codes.

Prof. LAKE: Having done discipline for 10 years myself, hands-on - I was our honor-code investigator for almost 10 years - what surprised me was how many people have made terrible mistakes and can actually learn to be better people from that, that there still is a chance for teachable moments.

SHAPIRO: But David Lisak, the psychologist, says schools put too much faith in teachable moments when they ought to treat sexual assault as a criminal matter.

Dr. LISAK: These are clearly not individuals who are simply in need of a little extra education about proper communication with the opposite sex. These are predators.

SHAPIRO: At Texas A&M, Elton Yarbrough was a promising student. Then he was linked to five rapes. The first woman went to the student health center. She says a staffer blamed her for having been drunk, so she didn't report to campus police. A year later, when the fourth woman called, the student health center was closed for a holiday. The answering machine said to call 911 in an emergency. She did, and got city police. Jennifer Peebles reported the case for the Center for Public Integrity.

Ms. JENNIFER PEEBLES (Center for Public Integrity): And College Station police were there within a few minutes. They seemed to have absolutely taken the case very seriously and investigated it.

SHAPIRO: On a recent morning, Peebles went to visit Yarbrough at a Texas prison. He spoke freely about the women. He recounted the sex and how he claims they'd come on to him.

Ms. PEEBLES: He feels strongly that he didn't do anything against the law. He says he feels like he made a bad decision and that the young woman made - or young women made a bad decision with him to have sex with him.

SHAPIRO: In the rape that went to trial, a Texas jury ruled this was the bad decision of a predator. Elton Yarbrough was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Joseph Shapiro, NPR News.

INSKEEP: You can find more stories in our Seeking Justice series by going to npr.org.

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