Hello, Germs, and welcome back! The other day we talked about a pretty heavy topic: sexual assault. To recap, part one focused on how the only discussion about rape is about the victims rather than about the perpetrators themselves. To once again quote Jackson Katz:
“The dominant group is rarely challenged to even think about its dominance because that’s one of the key characteristics of power and privilege—the ability to go unexamined, lacking introspection—and in fact being rendered invisible in large measure in the discourse about issues that are primarily about [them]. And this is amazing how this works in domestic and sexual violence—how men have been largely erased from so much of the conversation about a subject that is centrally about men.”
Erasing men from the discussion of rape is damaging because, in most cases, a rapist isn’t some gross swamp monster who comes out of his hidey hole to wreak havoc, crawling back until the next time he wants to come back out. In fact, offenders look just like us: “normal” looking individuals who breathe the same air that we do, laugh at the same jokes, and perhaps share the same social group as us.
Erasing men from the discussion is damaging because, if we are to look at the statistics concerning victims of assault, there’s an average of 293,000 victims (age 12 or older) of sexual assault each year. That statistic is not only a testament to victims but also to the amount of offenders who are out there. If we also take into account that 98% of rapists will never spend a day in jail, then how many of those offenders do you think walk around living a normal day-to-day life, perhaps even spending those days with us?
Now, I’m not here to scare you into never trusting anyone in your life ever again. What I am saying is that — because the majority of offenders live a life of normalcy and rarely see time in jail for the crimes they’ve committed — violence against women is not just a women’s issue. It’s every one’s issue since it is more than likely that you will encounter an offender and perhaps even be their friend.
And no one knows that better than I do.
When I was told that someone I used to spend time with in college had raped a young woman and was now being charged for sexual assault, my first thought was, “How in the hell could he do this? Never in a million years would I have thought that he would do something like this.”
Instead of hearing the stories of girls in my life being victims of assault, I had finally come into contact with someone who had committed the crime.
Now, even though this person “inspired” this article, this does not make this piece about him. This isn’t necessarily calling him out for the crime he has committed because, from what I know of the case, he will be seeing the justice system work in the favor of his victim very soon. And even though the victim does not know who I am, I would like to take this one sentence to say that she is strong and brave for doing what so many other victims are scared to do: to speak out against her rapist and go through a court system that has proven time and time again that they operate on the premise of victim-blaming. I applaud you for seeking the justice you deserve against an individual who hurt you without any remorse whatsoever.
So, if I am not talking about this individual who I am ashamed to have called a “friend,” then what do I want to say to you all today concerning this culture of rape we live in and how we have all encountered an offender in our lifetime?
I’m talking about those of us who are not involved in an instance of assault but are rather bystanders of rape and assault. If we are to create a society in which offenders are shunned and the critical spotlight is shifted to the actual issue in instances of assault, then we are the ones who are obligated to do something. We are the ones who will shift that paradigm in order to make this world a better place for the young women and boys who are victims of assault, abuse, and rape every single day. To paraphrase Jackson Katz, bystanders are those of us who are not directly involved in a “dyad of abuse” but may know one or both of the people involved in an abusive relationship or know the offender and/or their victim. What do we do to ensure that we do not fall victim to our silence becoming a “form of consent and complicity” to the wrongdoings of an offender?
In other words, how do we, as bystanders, not become rape sympathizers?
It’s a question that does not come without its hardships. Because we live in a society where rapists and offenders are not monsters but normal individuals, it is safe to assume that one day you may come across someone you know who has committed this type of crime, much like I did. And if this is you, a bystander to someone who is essentially a criminal in the eyes of his or her victim and hopefully in the eyes of the law, I urge you to not be silent.
If you are silent to the crimes of those around you, then you inevitably become a part of the problem. You become a cog in the machine that allows for a culture of rape to persist in this world. And ultimately, you become a person that will align with a perpetrator rather than with the person who they hurt by violently traumatizing them. Who do you want to be in this situation, my friends? Who are you in this situation that may likely be going down in your life? Who are you?
I implore all of those who read this to not be the ones who remain silent in the wake of a friend, a family member, or a colleague who has committed this crime. I urge you to not support this person in your life. You may want to support them for the sake of simplicity or for the sake of “If it doesn’t affect me, then why should I care?” Because, to put it simply, you are wrong.
You are wrong to believe that your silence doesn’t have an effect.
Silence is a form of compliance because no one has verbally said that something is wrong; therefore, the morality of the situation allows for people to interpret the situation differently. Why would you want there to be different interpretations of what is right and what is wrong in instances of assault and rape? Are you that daft to believe that the situation isn’t black and white? Bystanders who do say something — who verbally commit to saying, “No, this is wrong, and I will not stand by this person” — are the ones who are making the difference for those involved. They are challenging a peer group to deal with the issues that affect us all rather than remaining silent in order to not get their hands dirty.
Ultimately, they are the ones who are making sure that victims are not the crux of the issue. Because a call out is a call out. Instead of a bystander supporting an offender by staying silent or by saying, “You couldn’t help yourself,” or, “What you did isn’t that bad,” bystanders are saying, “What you did was messed up,” “You do not have my support,” “You will not make rape jokes in my presence because it is wrong.”
“What you did is wrong.”
Bystanders who say something make sure that the stranger in the shadows is forced out into the light. Bystanders allow for the offender to be who they really are: a disgusting individual who does not deserve the sympathy or support of the people around them, deserving instead to be ostracized and put away for what they’ve done. Instead of being an invisible entity erased from the conversations of sexual assault and rape, they become the subject of the conversation. They are forced out of their normalcy, forced out of their social groups, forced out of their comfort, and forced into the light so that everyone can see who they truly are.
Only then can we truly challenge and begin to heal this epidemic that we all face. I encourage you to be on the right side of an issue that has been flagrantly joked about and tossed aside. I encourage you to not be a passive bystander, even despite the “friendships” that will break if someone calls out an offender who is a part of your peer group. Together, if we use our voices to condemn those who have committed the crime, then we will see a shift in our discourse that forces us to really focus on the true issue at hand rather than focusing on the person who did nothing wrong.
Do work, people.
There is no reason or excuse not to.