Friday, July 25, 2014

My Rapist Wasn’t The Boogeyman


Written by: Lauren von Bernuth

This is what’s really scary; my rapist looked just like any other average Joe Blow. He could be sitting right next to you right now. He could be that co-worker in the cubicle next to you, or your brother’s best friend, or that guy you’re crushing on at the coffee shop, or he could be that nice guy who just held the door open for you. I bet if I asked you to draw a picture of a rapist, you’d probably draw someone really menacing looking with a hat and dark sunglasses on. Maybe he’d be wearing a hooded sweatshirt and some baggy clothes. But if I drew you a picture of my rapist, he’d be wearing a collared shirt and some jeans or khakis and that's it. No tattoos, no scars, no earrings, no sunglasses and hat, no hooded sweatshirt. Just a plain ordinary looking guy with short hair and maybe a nice smile. The scary fact is that rape is a criminal act that any man or woman is capable of committing. You can’t tell who is or isn’t a rapist just by looking at them. That means anyone could be a potential rapist, just as anyone could be a thief, murderer, or any other sort of criminal. 

Image courtesy of chanpipat / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
The idea here isn’t to create a culture of fear where everyone walks around afraid of everyone else. The point is to challenge society’s preconceived notions about rape. I always thought rape happened with a knife to your throat, in a dark alley by a stranger, or in countries torn up by war. The truth is that rape happens right here in the modern “Western World” and it happens a lot. One out of every six women in the United States will be the victim of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (RAINN). That number is alarmingly high. Many women never even realize they are a victim of rape and instead go on living their life full of shame, self-blame, and self-hate. Even when you do realize you were raped, or someone else points it out to you, often you continue to deny it; because the shame and the stigma around rape is overwhelming. Our society has yet to openly accept how often rape occurs. We question rape victims rather than embrace them. This is due to our society’s pre-conceived mental image of rape. Unless you conform to that image of being raped in a dark alley by a stranger with a weapon, our cultural knee-jerk reaction is to question the validity of calling any other non-conforming scenario rape. However, the legal definition of rape in the United States is:

“The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” (U.S.DOJ)

Everything else doesn’t matter. Regardless of who commits the rape, the relationship between the victim and the rapist, the use of a weapon or not, the crime is the same. The damage to the victim is shockingly consistent regardless of how the rape occurred. It doesn’t matter if the rape scenario confirms to the traditional image of a violent stranger rapist or not. The consistency in all rape experiences is that the rapist is exerting power and control over the victim and effectively telling them that they are worthless, sub-human, and shameful. It’ s how the victim is able to handle these feelings, the loss of trust, the loss of control and all of the other emotional and psychological repercussions of rape, that determines how negatively the victim’s life is affected. So when our society continues to challenge the validity of any rape experience, simply because it deviates from the evil stranger scenario, we are failing rape victims. We are fueling the fire of doubt and confusion and self-blame that rape victims already feel. We are impeding their ability to heal, get help, and are ultimately perpetuating our rape problem.

It’s nice and easy to think that rape is only committed by some evil stranger or boogeyman persona because it gives a false sense of security about who is or isn’t a rapist. We think if we just avoid dark alleys and parking lots, or stay away from scary looking people, then rape won’t happen. The truth is approximately two thirds of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim (RAINN). Our culture has trouble accepting that. We don’t like to call seemingly nice looking men rapists. That way we can continue with the idea that we can prevent rape by doing x, y, or z. Yes, there are smart precautions to take to hopefully lower your chance of becoming a victim. However, nobody ever has the right to force a sexual act without consent, regardless of the circumstances leading up to that moment. As a society we need to shift the dialog, so that rape is simply defined by the physical act, regardless of the scenario in which it occurs. Opening up this dialog and challenging our image of rape would allow more victims to recognize themselves as rape victims and begin their healing. It would also mean more rapists are actually recognized as rapists, which would hopefully make identifying and prosecuting them easier. Currently, ninety seven percent of rapists will never spend one day in jail (RAINN).

So when society says ‘oh it wasn’t really rape because of blah blah blah’, or ‘he is such a nice guy he can’t be a rapist’, or ‘they can’t call him a rapist, because it’d ruin his future’, please be the voice to stand up for rape survivors and tell everyone rape is rape. That nice guy did rape someone, and so what if his future is ruined? He is the one who committed a criminal act. We don’t make excuses for murder or other crimes. If we don’t challenge the myth of the evil stranger rapist, then our rape problem will never go away. We will just continue to make excuses for rapists and deny victims the truth of what happened to them and their right to heal.


Written by: Lauren von Bernuth
Country: United States
Twitter: @FacetoFaceLA

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