It is important for us to recognize that all humans are accountable
by Anna Passero-Koennecke
We live in a rape culture that has near impossible standards to meet, both for the victim and the rapist, in order for the public and the court to actually address the crime. People want to believe rapists are monstrous beings that can be identified and avoided on sight. So when the rapist almost inevitably turns out to be an everyday person, the public is likely to disbelieve the victim. This is a fundamental problem with othering evil actions; it takes responsibility away. Humanity can be pretty shitty, and sadly many people would rather let a rapist go free than accept that the person they bonded with at a barbeque is capable of evil by prosecuting them.
Whenever a rape goes public, the comments around it are filled with people who intend to be kind and supportive by saying things like, “That’s not a human, that’s a monster” or “Luckily my son would never do this.” These comments– while nowhere as cruel as those who blame the victim– are still harmful. Why? Because they remove rapists’, and the people surrounding the rapist’s, responsibility as human beings and replace it with a monster/other identity. The moment something normalizing about a rapist (such as their swim times or scholarships, maybe their favorite food or mother’s name), is printed by newspapers, the rapist suddenly becomes someone the public and courts can relate to. Then the call for justice dissipates, as people don’t want to admit someone that resembles their loved ones could be capable of evil. This insistence that a rapist must be some inhuman monster leaves out the reality that rapists could be anyone. Victims are left to suffer without justice, while those possessing some of the worst traits of humanity are left free to hurt others.
A study done by the University of North Dakota found that 31.7% of men admit to being willing to rape someone if the word “rape” is not included in the prompt. When questions otherwise describing the exact same scenarios were posed, just now using the word “rape,” that number dropped to 13.6%. It shows that a scarily high amount of men are fully willing to commit what they know to be rape (over 1 in 10). Even more importantly, it shows how few of the 1 in 3 men actually willing to commit rape actually see these actions they would commit as rape. Unfortunately, I was not able to find any such studies performed on women to see how shared a mindset this is.
Truth is: most people honestly do hate rapists, including rapists who don’t identify with the monstrous image culture perpetuates. They hate this image of some monstrous, vague-faced man hurting someone close to them in a violent attack before dissipating back into the bushes. They hate this image of a person who has no interaction with society outside of their heinous crime. However, they don’t hate their friend, their brother, their aunt, their kid, their boyfriend, or themselves. But the fact of the matter is rapists are these people. They are not just faceless monsters; they exist outside of their crime. I myself have had moments where I learned people I knew and trusted, some for years, were not bothered by actions of rape or sexual assault (so long as it’s not called rape or assault). These were eye-opening moments for me: the realization that friends I had gone on road trips with, friends who claimed to be feminist and hate rape (at least in the abstract), were actually not upset with rape in reality, because to be upset with it meant acknowledging those they knew, or possibly (though I hope not) themselves, were rapists.
This is why we need to stop making rapists out to be monsters, because then it is too easy to avoid convicting them when the papers start telling us about how human they are. It becomes very hard to acknowledge their capability of committing such a heinous crime when it turns out they are humans, too easy to avoid intervening when they are our friends, and too easy to avoid correcting behavior leading to a mindset that rape it okay. While those subtle but telling signs – creepy comments and pushy behaviors – might be rude, you would never believe your little sibling could ever actually rape someone. However we need to acknowledge that rape is human action, a very dark, evil human action. Once we acknowledge that humans, and not monsters, commit these crimes we can successfully hold the people who commit the crimes accountable. We can become more willing to stop those who engage in these crimes, even if they are our friends and family, or even self. Hopefully by acknowledging the reality of a rapist’s personhood, we will better be able to give justice and belief to those harmed by rape.