Rapists are not monsters.
I think they often feel entitled to something they see as theirs or earned by them.
I think they often assume that everyone has the same ability to get what they want. They don’t take the time to listen or ignore signs of non-consent from people without the same power they have.
But, most of them are not monsters.
This doesn’t make what they do any less horrendous, but it does let us choose not to believe the victim or make excuses for what happened.
They are upstanding citizens. They are our friends, relatives, and neighbours.
We have myths in our culture about rape and related to how we want to view ourselves. Often we choose to identify with the perpetrator rather than the victim. We are afraid of our vulnerability, so we blame the victim in order to uphold the myth that we are safe. We are also a little afraid of the perpetrators. Often, they hold power, even if it is just physical power. We want that power, not the powerlessness of the victim.
Our professor shared her story of being raped by her best friend’s husband. She said her friend decided to stand up for her husband instead of believing our prof. Our prof was blamed for ‘asking for it’. Really, what choice did the wife have? I’m sure her husband took out the garbage and paid the bills. He was probably kind to animals. It was easier for her to cut off a friendship and blame the victim than deal with the fact that the sweet man she tied her life to was capable of such violence.
A classmate shared her story of what happened when her ex-boyfriend gave her a ride home one night. She blamed herself instead of him because he was a nice guy. After all, if she could have just kept saying no, maybe he would have finally understood. If she hadn’t been so tired, maybe she could have fought better. He probably didn’t understand her words or body language. He must have thought it was flirting. He is guilty of disrespect, but is he guilty of intentional harm? Does it make a difference for her?
It scares me how easy it is to put things into boxes and rationalize things away when they don’t fit. But this does a great disservice to everyone. By characterizing rapists as evil monsters who wear Hitler ‘staches and step on puppies for fun, we let the real rapists off the hook. And by doing that, we let ourselves off the hook.
We identify so much with those in power, that we so desperately want them to be good. We excuse horrendous acts of people with money or positions of authority. We defend them. We are defending ourselves. We don’t want to acknowledge that we are all capable of terrible things.
We disassociate ourselves with victims. We are so afraid of being hurt that we find excuses to distance ourselves. “She was wearing nail polish.” (Don’t laugh, it comes up in courts as ‘proof’ that the woman wanted sex.) “She was dressed like a slut” “He was out too late in the wrong part of town.”
The truth is, most of these assaults happen at home by people we know. We are both the victims and the assaulters. We are human. By denying this we only do more harm.
Very few of us are perfect monsters or perfect angels, but our rape myths don’t allow for that complexity.
Rapist must be pure evil and Victim pure innocence and preferably blonde. Or, the ‘victim’ is an evil seducer and the unfortunate soul was hoodwinked.
I still struggle with the myths of what a rapist is. Some people I have painted as complete monsters, while knowing they were not so. I can honestly say I’m frightened of how much I loathe them.
Others, I cannot understand at all. I make excuses for them.
Where is the space to acknowledge harm done, intentionally or not, without demonizing anyone?