The extreme outrage we save for men labelled as ‘rapists’, whilst right, may actually result in protecting abusers. The word ‘rapist’ has become so loaded and taboo that when it is placed on a person of good standing, loved one’s rally to their defence not wishing to believe the allegations. They do anything they can to evade acknowledging the facts because it shatters their world view and brings into question what a ‘rapist’ is, which surely cannot be their loved one.
People who we deem as having good character surely aren’t capable of raping someone, right? Except we truly never know what a person is capable of, especially behind closed doors. Being talented or charitable doesn’t mean that person did not commit rape, the two are not mutually exclusive. We have seen in many recent high-profile cases that you can in fact be a brilliant, upstanding member of society *and* a rapist.
If we see rapists only as these monsters who commit the worst of crimes, then how do we feel when we are told that someone we love, or respect might be a rapist? It is difficult for people to have to confront the idea that they may know a rapist. It is much easier for them to slip into denial, to seek comfort in societal myths and victim blaming. This only serves to protect abusers and makes it more difficult for survivors to not only be believed but to seek justice.
Viewing the word rapist in the way most of us currently do makes it difficult for us to confront the fact that our loved one may have been capable of committing such a crime. It makes it difficult for us to label the person we know and love a rapist when we associate it with only the worst people in our society. Trying to reconcile the previous image with the newfound information that they are a monster can be incredibly difficult. Coming to terms with the fact that someone you know has caused another person such harm when you’ve only seen one side to them, the public image they portray, can be confusing, but just because you’ve not seen their actions and find it difficult to believe does not mean it did not happen or isn’t true.
Viewing rapists purely as an exceptional type of violent monster has allowed for many abusers who we see as upstanding members of society to get away with their crimes. It has allowed rapists to walk away from justice because they don’t fit into the box that we have created for them. It has protected perpetrators and allowed them to evade the law. Their good character has allowed them to convince others they aren’t capable of such a crime and throw people off the scent. They will argue that they are a good person and being labelled as a rapist will ruin their life, ignoring the fact that they’ve ruined the life of their victim.
Of course, you don’t want to think that your son or friend or colleague could be capable of such a crime. The truth is so many are capable, and so many get away with it. The idea that rape is always an extremely violent act in a dark alley committed by a stranger is wrong. Most rapes (90%[i]) are committed by a person known to the victim prior to the assault, often an ex-partner, friend or family member, often in the victims’ own home or somewhere they feel safe. Sometimes the worst crime isn’t committed by extraordinary monsters, just ordinary men committing a monstrous crime. It isn’t always the dramatized violent versions we see in TV and film. It is still illegal and immoral and a horrible violating act, but it is also a common occurrence that happens every day to thousands of women.
We have got to stop viewing rape as this rare occurrence that only happens to intoxicated scantily clad women by psychopathic strangers, as it makes us blind to the reality and therefore disbelieving of survivors because their experiences don’t align with what we think a victim’s experience would typically be. We have got to accept the uncomfortable truth that not all rapists are archetypal monsters and that rapists can be anyone and are often hard to predetermine. This knee jerk reaction of defending loved ones from allegations of sexual violence because we think ‘they wouldn’t do that’ or ‘that doesn’t sound like them’ only harms survivors and continues the assumption that only monsters can be rapists.