Rapists are not monsters

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?

10 thoughts on “Rapists are not monsters

  1. Ahab says:

    “By characterizing rapists as evil monsters who wear Hitler ‘staches and step on puppies for fun, we let the real rapists off the hook.”

    This is a useful observation. If we expect people who perpetrate evil to have horns, hooves, and pitchforks, we’ll never see evil. Rather, evil is banal, performed by people who appear normal in many respects.

  2. Lorena says:

    You feel ambivalently about this, don’t you? The whole rape thing puzzles you, doesn’t it?

    It puzzles me, too, so I am with you there. Lots of variables and issues are involved. The whole thing is so puzzling that my position is … “I don’t know why they do it. All I know is that it is a monstrous criminal act that should be punished to the full extent of the law. “

    • prairienymph says:

      I feel ambivalent on punishment too. I think it is because jail seems so counterproductive for so many types of crimes. I wish there was a better way to punish people, say, have them understand what the other person has to go through.
      Some just need a little education on what consent is, what power is, and the consequences of their actions.

  3. Thought-provoking post. Rapists come in various forms. The egregiousness and relative evil of their acts is a matter of degree.

    I have seen situations where lots of consensual sexual activity preceded intercourse; and there was arguably something like a communication error. Oftentimes both parties were highly intoxicated and it might be more a case of “buyer’s remorse” than rape. Sometimes, especially in my neck of the woods, it’s easier for some to be perceived as a victim rather than a slut/sinner.

    One woman said she didn’t want to have sex about an hour before the act then engaged in consensual sexual foreplay that naturally culminated in intercourse. She was “raped” because “he should have known” based on her prior statement only (she never said “no” after that). A jury convicted him. Her “rapist” has been in prison for nearly a decade. True story.

    I have seen other situations where “no” was clear and unequivocal from the outset. Then there are those situations where the act is violent and the victim is intentionally physically harmed in addition to the sexual assault.

    • prairienymph says:

      So, if the couple had previously had sex, then consent is not needed? That was the situation of the ex-boyfriend. That is maybe why she downplayed it. But, it still was not consensual. It was still a violation. That is why marital rape does not exist in the laws of many countries. Even Phyllis Shafferly thinks it is ridiculous as to her signing a marriage contract means both partners no longer have any ability to say no at any time.

      I think issues of consent should be taught in schools. There are reports of high school boys and girls who think if a woman flirts then she has asked for it.
      A friend of mine said that even kissing naked should not be seen as consent in and of itself. I realized that I did assume that if two people were naked then that communicated consent and changing one’s mind not allowed.
      Does any form of sexual activity make unwanted penetration ok? You say that the sexual foreplay naturally culminated in intercourse. It appears you assume that some forms of sexual activity are an inevitable precursor for penetration. Why is it inevitable?
      I can think of many reasons why certain activities would be desired and others not: increased risk of disease and pregnancy, psychological trauma, physical issues (many women experience pain from vaginal penetration), and so on. While I agree that the sentence doesn’t seem appropriate, I cannot assume that she cried rape falsely.

      We have another myth in our culture about the incidence of rape convictions and false rape allegations. Luxemborg has a rate conviction rate of 85%, Scotland has a conviction rate of less than 3%. This does not mean that 97% of rape cases in Scotland are false, but that the cards are stacked against the victim in the judicial system. While actual false allegations are very rare, the media plays them up. The general public has the idea that rape incidents are much much lower than they actually are and that false claims are much higher than they actually are. This is a problem.

      Intoxication is interesting. I’ve always heard that women should never get drunk as they are more likely to be raped. I’ve never seen it addressed to men: Don’t get drunk or you may rape someone. According to responsible studies, often both parties were drinking but in cases where only one party was drinking it is twice as likely that it was the rapist drinking than the victim. Many men say that they are less likely to have sex with a woman who is drunk because they are not sure if she really means it. “Just because she is not saying no does not mean she is saying yes” seems to be their motto.

      And we do have a hierarchy of victimization, for good and maybe not-so-good reasons. If there was other physical violence, it is assumed worse. What about the person who sees this as inevitable and stops fighting to minimize further damage? Were they not ‘as’ raped because they didn’t fight back to the point of further injury?

      I know you live in an area where a woman’s virginity is fetishized. This does make it more difficult for her to own her sexual desires. http://diannaeanderson.net/?p=676 shares how this affects the idea of consent in marriage.

      • You’ve raised lots of interesting issues to think about, prairie nymph.

        Lack of consent is lack of consent and no means no regardless of the prior relationship of the two parties, married or not, sexually active or not. Around here rape has two legal elements: (1) sexual intercourse; and (2) without the victim’s consent. Period. I believe it is and should be that simple. Marriage is not a license to assault. That being said when there is preceding lengthy consensual activity, no means no at the time of intercourse. Lack of consent must be manifest by a firm and unequivocal no.

        Around here (and I assume there), rape also requires a criminally culpable intent on the part of the perp. That is as it should be. Anything less is not fair or just.

        Consider this hypothetical. A male relative of yours (son, brother, nephew) is with a woman and they are engaged in what is, by all outward appearances, consensual sexual activity/foreplay. He’s horny (for lack of a more delicate term) and she is not an empowered woman. She is afraid to say “stop, I don’t want to do this” for whatever reason — maybe because she wants him to like her (I’ve seen this). Thus despite her inner confusion, she is outwardly responsive. She is kissing him, touching him, oohing, aahing, aroused.

        Intercourse occurs. No it is not an inevitable result of foreplay, but there is no “no,” no “stop, I don’t want this.” She participated in roughly an hour’s worth of intense mutual arousal and had no thought of stopping intercourse when it happened. Later, she is upset. She talks to a friend about it and is persuaded she didn’t consent. He was pushy. “He should have known” she didn’t want it. In court she truthfully (from her hindsight perspective) testifies that she was responsive only because she didn’t want to hurt his feelings.

        That’s not a rape, certainly not something he should be incarcerated for. It’s a sexual encounter with a lot of complicating emotional factors involved. While I have no sympathy for men who violate a woman’s clear boundaries or who deliberately prey on those who are incapable of consenting as a matter of fact and law, I wholeheartedly agree with you that more should be done to educate our kids about these issues. If men were more sensitive and aware and women were more empowered, it would eliminate a lot of those gray areas.

  4. Quite a controversial and thought provoking post, prarienymph!

    You know, what supposedly makes us “human” is our morals. But we are really just animals who generally try to behave themselves. While I have a disgust at the concept of rape, intellectually I think that, to some extent, it is on the level of any crime. When I hear about a rapist or a child molester, I feel like I need to get a pitchfork and a torch to go storm the castle and bring the evil man down. Yet intellectually I can see how it could just be a moment of weakness from an otherwise good person, even if that weakness was in the form of exerting power over someone else.

    How such people should be handled is probably on a case by case basis, and our harshest punishments should probably be reserved for repeat offenders who have proven that they have a general problem controlling themselves as opposed to just having one bad day. Yet even that’s an imperfect solution, because that means that there will be other victims before appropriate disciplinary action is taken.

    It’s messy issue, for sure, and, as you point out, our prejudices do not help in making the situation any better.

  5. jen says:

    Being that it took me ten years to use the word “rape”, and even then… I used it in the sentence, “I was married, how could it be rape?”

    I married that man. I cared for him. Looking back, I wouldn’t define it as love… but at the time I loved him. (Looking back, I loved that he wanted to be with me. I needed to get married to progress. I lived in a culture that 19 and single was just old… Anyway.) I knew what his mother had been like. Maybe I just wasn’t clear with him. (Although – the fact that I fought him and he had to physically hold me down, put a pillow over my face, and other violence… He really should have known.)

    I have long wondered why it couldn’t be like in the movies: Bad guys are ALL bad, and good guys are ALL good. The world be far less confusing. And as far as punishment, I still don’t necessarily want him to be punished. The worst I can imagine for him is that he would know… really know… how it felt to be me as I went through all of the flashbacks, nightmares, dissociation, therapy, and fighting like hell to get my life back.

  6. prairienymph says:

    Jen, I applaud you going through all those flashbacks, nightmares, therapy etc. I think I may have been tempted to numb myself beyond feeling.
    I think you are very courageous, even if you don’t feel it.

  7. graceone says:

    Years ago I worked for the summer as a chaplain intern with men who were sex offenders. I definitely feel that rape is a power over kind of act. But, more than a few of these men were abused as children themselves. Healing is definitely needed for both the abused, and the abuser.

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