The various blow-ups around Todd Akin’s comments and the accusations against Julian Assange and all the rest of it mean that a lot of the internet is talking about rape right now. And one of the posts I just read got me thinking about the topic from an angle I’ve never considered before — a deeply disturbing one.
I know that I know women who have been raped. I know that I probably know more of them than I think, because not all of them necessarily have mentioned it to me — or to anyone. This is horrifying, but it’s a kind of horror I’ve gotten used to, in the sense that I understand this is a real thing in my life.
Tonight, I found myself thinking that I may very well know one or more rapists, too.
I can’t be sure, of course, because it’s the kind of thing people bring up even less than they bring up being the victim of rape. But I may know a guy (or a woman, but that’s uncommon enough that I’ll go with the assumption of a guy for now) who has raped someone. Not the hold-them-at-knifepoint kind of rape, maybe, but the sort where the other party didn’t consent — which is, yes, still rape. I may know a guy who slipped roofies into a woman’s drink (or a man’s), or just got her too drunk to know what he was doing. I may know a guy who climbed onto a sleeping woman and fucked her against her will. I may know a guy who coerced his victim with words, who did any one of the hundred things that guys write off as “not really rape” and therefore rest secure in the knowledge that they aren’t rapists.
But they are. And maybe I know a guy like that.
It’s easy for me to think, when I read about those kinds of cases, that the guys in them obviously deserve condemnation. That it doesn’t matter whether they’re “nice guys” the rest of the time; what they did is still rape and should be called such, without prevarication. That their friends need to accept that somebody they know and like did a horrible thing, and not try to defend the guy by shifting the blame onto the victim.
Then I wonder how I would react if somebody told me one of my friends raped them. How long it would take me to move past the “but he wouldn’t do that!” reaction, and listen to what the victim has to say. To believe them, at the cost of what I believed before.
I hope I could do it. I hope I could, if the situation arose, swallow questions like “are you sure?” and “but didn’t you . . . ?” and other things that would hurt somebody who’s already been hurt too much. I think I could do it after a while, but in the moment itself, I’m not sure if my principles would beat out my partisan bias, my loyalty to that friend. I hope they would.
I hope that, if one of you ever comes to me and says somebody I know and like did a horrible thing to you, I will be able to face the fact that there is a rapist among my friends.
Because there might be one among them right now. And that’s appalling in ways I’d never really thought about before.