Browsing Tag

rape myth


ordinary monsters

[content note for child sexual abuse and rape]

If you are anything like me, you were probably sick of hearing about John Grisham’s comments the first second you heard about them. Another celebrity said something beyond uninformed and ridiculous about abuse and rape? I’m shocked.

If you haven’t heard what he said about child pornography (a crime that I believe should be referred to as “paying to watch other people sexually abuse and rape children”), here’s the salient bit:

“We have prisons now filled with guys my age. Sixty-year-old white men in prison who’ve never harmed anybody, would never touch a child, but they got online one night and started surfing around, probably had too much to drink or whatever, and pushed the wrong buttons, went too far and got into child porn …

I have no sympathy for real paedophiles. God, please lock those people up. But so many of these guys do not deserve harsh prison sentences, and that’s what they’re getting.”

Turns out he was talking about a friend, Michael Holleman, who served 18 months in prison, and who also disagrees with John and says that “‘I did something wrong and I don’t have a bit of resentment about the way I was treated.” John has since apologized for his comments:

Anyone who harms a child for profit or pleasure, or who in any way participates in child pornography—online or otherwise—should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

My comments made two days ago during an interview with the British newspaper The Telegraph were in no way intended to show sympathy for those convicted of sex crimes, especially the sexual molestation of children. I can think of nothing more despicable.

I regret having made these comments, and apologize to all.

Ok, now that we’ve gotten all the background stuff out of the way, I want to talk about this. When I saw this start popping up in my news feeds, some of the comments accompanying these articles were things like “someone should get a warrant and search his computer,” implying that John must have also watched recorded-for-profit child rape– but I disagree with that, and to a certain extent I get this.

What he said was inexcusable and completely unjustifiable, but he said nothing more than what a huge section of our culture actually thinks about abusers and rapists, and that’s what I’d like to focus on.

John Grisham had a friend who– drunk or not, accidentally or not– spent at the very least five minutes (according to Michael’s own words) watching someone else sexually abuse and rape a child. I don’t think John really wants to admit that his friend was capable of doing something truly heinous and something worthy of going to prison for, so, like many of us, he took advantage of the lie we all tend to believe: his friend is not a real pedophile. He’d never really hurt someone. Therefore, the fact that his friend started watching the rape of a child and didn’t immediately click away in horror isn’t a real problem. Plus, he was watching someone rape 16-year-old girls who “appeared older than their chronological age,” so it’s not really a terrible thing.

That falls right into place with the common understanding of rape. My friend isn’t a horrible, terrible, gross, disgusting monster.  My friend is a decent fellow. I like him. He couldn’t possibly rape someone, so if someone says he did, she must be a lying bitch. Because, after all, rape is horrible, so only truly repulsive people are capable of doing it, and I would never be friends with them because I’m a good person.

And, to a certain extent, they’re not totally wrong. The vast majority of the population– male, female, and otherwise– are not rapists and will never rape someone. Most of us recoil in horror at the very thought. But that doesn’t mean that the people who are capable of sexual assault and rape aren’t our friends, the people around us that we like. These people seem normal, ordinary, likable. In fact, for most of their lives, they could be fairly decent people who seem to have a pretty reliable moral compass. These people do not spend all of their time hiding in alleys. In fact, 70% of the time, women are raped by people they know, not strangers. The person that they trust to walk them home from the bar when they know they’ve had too much to drink. Their boyfriend. Their husband.

Ordinary monsters.

In fact, this came up in a recent episode of The Mindy Project. I only have a passing familiarity with the show, but they recently tried to cover “consent” as an episode topic … except it went off the rails and featured Mindy’s boyfriend anally raping her. And Mindy spent the rest of the episode wondering if she was good enough for her boyfriend, instead of calling him out on the fact that he’d put his penis inside of her anus without her consent.

As the viewer, we’re supposed to like Danny. In fact, the few times I’ve caught the show, it seems like Danny is supposed to be a sort of grounding character for Mindy, and also perhaps more moral? That’s speculation, I’m not familiar enough with the show to say, but that was the impression I got.

Except Danny raped his girlfriend.

My own rapist? For the longest time one of the things that held me back from understanding that he’d raped me was the same lie that John Grisham believe(s/d). My rapist wasn’t a monster. I was in love with him. He did all of these wonderfully sweet, romantic things. He surprised me. He loved his parents. He wanted to serve God as a missionary. Everyone on campus adored him. He couldn’t possibly have done that. Except he did. I told him no, and he did it anyway.

This is one of the biggest lies our culture needs to stop believing, because as long as we believe that only hideous monsters who are clearly visible to everyone can do these horrible things, rapists and abusers will continue getting away with it.

Photo by Ville Koivisto

a fate worse than death

goblin market

[trigger warning for sexual assault, rape, and rape culture]

I was raped.

There are many days when I have to stop and admit the truth of that sentence all over again. Days when all the voices come back and ask me what in the world it is that I think I’m doing– why are you talking about this? You know what you did. You know you’re responsibleYou’re doing all of this, saying all these terrible things about an innocent man to get attention.

And, when I start thinking these things, sometimes I ask myself– why? Where do all these thoughts come from? And the answer echoes back– you wouldn’t have to deny these things so hard if you knew they were false. There’s a part of you that knows that it’s true. If you really were raped, you wouldn’t have a problem talking about it. Your conscience would be clear. You wouldn’t be second-guessing yourself, worrying about John* coming after you for making ‘false’ accusations. He could, you know– you’ve shared your blog on facebook. You still have mutual friends. You even have a page now. What’s to stop him from coming here?

This is The Lie.

It’s the biggest lie I know, and I believe it– sometimes. Because I grew up knowing about a fate worse than death.

We’re all familiar with this myth– it shows up in our books, our television shows, our comic books, and our movies. We read it in our histories, like Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, when Roman women were “exposed to injuries more dreadful, in the apprehension of chastity, than death itself.” It’s used as suspense in pretty much any Damsel in Distress Trope that appears in video games and film. We see it in almost any movie or book that has a love interest that gets kidnapped. The hero must save her before she suffers a fate worse than death.

It’s a euphemism for rape.

It’s our society’s method of cloaking what it knows is a horrifying assault on the agency of a human being. Some could argue that it’s an apt euphemism– they could say it accurately describes the long-term consequences and damage that result from rape. That rape, especially the rape of children, can result in a harm to the soul that is so deep, some are never capable of a full recovery. They might suffer from PTSD, from depression, for the rest of their lives. Which is all hideously true. Rape can do all those things. Because, instead of killing a person, what rape does is tell a woman or man that what they want doesn’t matter, that they cannot control what happens to their own bodies. It’s a violation so deep, so profound, that I have a hard time communicating the extent of how awful it is to someone who’s never been there. That’s why this euphemism exists– and it exists, some could say, for good reason. It’s apropos.

I wish this euphemism, this phrase, would die a horrible, screaming death by fire and torment, because that’s the only thing it deserves. Because this phrase doesn’t really tell rape survivors that our society sympathizes with us. It doesn’t tell us that our culture has a deeply buried rhetoric that acknowledges the pain of rape and sexual assault. It doesn’t tell us that we have a culture that will stand with us and help us face the long-term fallout of what happened to us.

No, it tells us, especially women, that what happened was our fault.

I know that seems like a leap, but hopefully you can feel the intuitive, natural connection. Because rape is so horrible, so horrific, so violent, that if we walked away from it in once piece– well, it must not have been rape, then. It’s a fate worse than death, how in the world could a woman have survived it? Either the rape itself was horrible enough to cause visible, permanent, physical and lasting damage, or the woman fought back against her rapist and gained bullet wounds or knife slashes– or at least a bruise or a black eye. It’s worse than death— the rapist should have needed to subdue her (or him). It’s the fight or flight instinct, which clearly shows that if you’re only facing death, you fight back. If you’re facing something worse than death itself ? . . .

What this Lie does is tell those whose rape weren’t at gun point, under threat of death, after we’ve been beaten into submission–that we weren’t actually raped. I was already on the floor when he raped me. I had already supposedly “consented” (under coercion and threat of physical and emotional harm, although I was incapable of seeing it that way at the time) to other sexual activities, so when he raped me, even though I was whispering, terrified, begging him, please, no, I can’t, please stop, don’t do this, don’t make me and it was over so quickly it took me hours to even figure out what had happened, after he climbed off of me and called me a bitch and a whore, I couldn‘t see it as rape.

Rape only happens when it is worse than death. I survived. I picked myself off of the thirty-year-old blue shag carpet, dragged myself to the bathroom to clean myself, and then pulled myself to the living room to wait for his parents to get home. It wasn’t rape. Not really. He’d done something to me that I didn’t want to happen– but it wasn’t rape. Because, with the exception of a deep gouge in my knee, I wasn’t bloodied or beaten. I walked away, supposedly in “one piece.”

This, I believe, is one of the most damaging rape myths our culture tells us. This narrative exists, and it’s why we don’t believe that one quarter of the women in this country are raped. It’s why 97% of rapists will never go to prison. Because we know what “legitimate” rape is, and it’s worse than death itself.