A friend raised a brain-tickling question after my recent Facebook post about re-framing Rape Culture. In trying to be a voice for victims, I get riled up, passionate, and zealous about the constant re-victimization of the victims (particularly perpetrated by the media and community members). But, I try not to lose sight of the reality that the average perpetrator (by average I mean those closest to us, not the stranger lurking in the shadows, but the friendly face in the community) is beloved by many, and it is natural for loved ones to want to protect. It is also natural [for loved ones] to see the most common dimension of a multi-dimensional individual.
All of us wear masks – some more than others. I, personally, behave with more respect and decorum around my parents and children than I do my friends. I also exude professionalism at work (saying please and thank you politely throughout the day) while I let loose at home (saying whatever comes to my mind). We all flit between spaces and places and people, so what a friend, parent, teacher, co-worker sees is but one dimension of a human being. Do humans then have the ability to do “good” things and “bad” things? Can some things, as catastrophic as they may be for another human being, be driven by peer pressure or something situational versus the absolutes we’ve created – absolutes like only bad people rape, only monsters rape, only sick people rape, etc. Let us break this idea – that “good” people can do bad things – down a little.
Picture someone stealing. Now picture that someone being a loved one. Would we immediately write the person off? I doubt it. Might we probe a bit more to understand the motivation for the individuals decision to steal? Would we try to find out if this is habitual or rooted in some illness, like Kleptomania? Would we try to determine if peer pressure were involved? Perhaps he/she was hanging out with friends and everyone else stole the gum, so he/she joined in. Would we try to determine if maybe he/she felt overcome with temptation, maybe the individual really wanted a gold necklace but never thought they could afford one, so they stole it, thinking no one would ever be the wiser. You get the gist. What if we treated rape that way?
What if we spent some time trying to understand what motivated the commission of this crime, and held the perpetrator accountable in ways that spoke more to the motivation – IN ADDITION TO ANY SENTENCE THEY RECEIVE. If someone is a serial rapist who can be diagnosed with some psychosis or medical cause, could we treat the illness and put stipulations in place to protect others? If someone fell prey to peer pressure, could they then be implored to attend a support group, where these issues and Rape Culture is dissected and reconstructed? Additionally, could we include parents and family members in these sessions, so they can help their child/loved one face and deal appropriately with the commission of this crime. If the person felt overcome with temptation, could we arm them with the appropriate tools that may alleviate said temptation. I could imagine a 12-step program of sorts, with an accountability partner in place to talk them through moments when they feel like offending and needed support. While these are ideas floating around in my head, and will likely need further exploration, research, and careful consideration before implementation, I assert that there are alternatives to our current reality.
A current reality that sees us sweeping this crime under the rug because we don’t want to admit that Rape Culture is all around us and perpetrators are frequently given a pass because they don’t fit the stereotypical image we’ve created. A reality that leaves victims mute and afraid, because the finger of blame continues to point toward them, rarely acknowledging the power of choice – that particularly perpetrators have a choice. Perpetrators have a choice. No matter what the victim was wearing, how much they were drinking, what their reputations belie. Perpetrators had an option, and that is the distinction that must be made as we begin a dialogue about this crime and important yet sensitive issue.
In my opinion, a generally “good” person, i.e., the person next door or across the table, could commit rape and still remain generally good in the eyes of his/her loved ones. The distinction is that he or she has done something bad and in order to seek accountability and some form of justice for the victim, we (all of us) could benefit from re-framing the way we think about good and bad and victim and perpetrator and rehabilitation and forgiveness.
While this is only my opinion, and I recognize that this is based on my own experiences, the general misguided belief that we have to write off any human being who commits a crime of this magnitude has not gotten us anywhere collectively. Facing their offenses head on and insisting on accountability and rehabilitation may present an opportunity for change. How can we ever realize change if no one is ever held accountable or made to face these crimes? Let’s start the complex conversation toward real change today!