The Rapist Among Us
I found out that one of my friends was a rapist. Weirdly, no one seemed to care.
Jack*’s the friendliest guy you’ll ever meet.
He is the person you call if you want to dance salsa all night, to sing your heart out as you reenact every single scene of a musical, to gossip over brunch as you show him your Tinder and he shows you his Grinder. When he isn’t there, you miss him, and when he is you hear him from the other side of the party.
He’s also grumpy when he’s tired, he snores too loudly, he drives too fast around bends on his tiny scooter.
Basically, Jack is a normal guy.
Jack also happens to be a rapist.
I find this out at a party at my house, all my roommates have invited their friends and the place is packed. Someone’s Tinder date comes over and sits beside me, looking a little shook up. “What the hell is Jack doing here?” he asks. “How do you know Jack?” “He used to work in the same hostel as I did. He got fired for raping two straight guys.”
I get a sinking feeling in my stomach. I’m not surprised, because my own life has taught me that rapists don’t look like villains, they don’t have devil horns poking out of their skull or “predator” tattooed across their neck. They’re nice normal guys until they’re not anymore. They’re normal guys that fail to respect boundaries, like most normal guys do. They just take it a little further than most.
So yeah, I’m disappointed and stunned but I’m not surprised.
When I tell my roommates, however, they dismiss the news entirely. “The guys probably made it up,” they say. “They regretted having a gay experience,” says one. “He seems really nice,” says another.
And so Jack keeps on coming to our parties. We pretend not to know anything. We don’t ask him. We hug him close when we see him arrive and we adore him, genuinely, as if nothing had happened.
And then it happens again.
Another big night at ours, which ends in people falling asleep in every possible corner of the house. I’m wedged like a sardine between a canoodling couple and a drunk guy taking up half the floor. One guy is asleep in the tub and another two on the balcony.
When the next morning comes, the hangover hits hard. A friend comes over, a friend who had fallen asleep on a bamboo bench in the yard, and asks to talk to me. “Jack touched me last night,” he said, in a very quiet voice. “I woke up to him wanking me off on the bench and fingering me.”
“I’m so sorry that happened,” I said. “How do you feel?” He doesn’t know how to feel. He doesn’t know how to process it. Later I see Jack go over to him, I see them give each other an awkward hug.
There is no script for what to do when you have been raped when you are a man. Women get one script, and one alone, the script of devastation and eternal victimhood. A script borrowed from The Walking Dead — post rape, you are a zombie, because supposedly, you would be better off dead.
But men, after rape, get no script at all.
As for me and my roommates, we screwed up our role entirely. Jack is responsible, of course, but we too are guilty. People expected a safe space when they came to our house to party, a space where they didn’t have to worry about being molested. We had information about someone but dismissed it. We doubted the victim’s word automatically, assuming that our friend couldn’t possibly be a rapist.
I am furious at Jack and I am furious at myself.
I am even more furious when the rest of my friends, many of whom now know about the incident, continue to hang out with Jack as normal, never mentioning it, never calling him out.
“It’s not our place,” they say, when I call them out on in. “We’re not involved.”
Let me break down what happens when people take that mentality: if you decide that you are not involved because you are not the victim, you are giving the victim the entire responsibility of calling out their attacker. You might feel that you are not taking sides, but you are taking the side of the oppressor by remaining silent, because sexual assault relies on the culture of shame and silence that surrounds it.
As a survivor of rape, I am deeply triggered by this whole event, and more angry than any of my other friends. I am also the only one who refuses to talk to Jack again, to have him over for parties. I am as alone in calling out an abuser as I was when I was abused.
When we chat about it, my friends say, “that is really not acceptable. It’s really wrong,” but apparently not wrong enough to put their friendship with Jack in question.
Some things should be unforgivable.
It’s not fair, it would be different if it was a girl, some people comment. People would be angrier, they say. At the beginning, I think they are right, that we are so unaccustomed to thinking about men being victims of sexual assault that we still can’t get our heads around it happening so close to home.
That’s a part of it, but not all of it.
Because Jack is not the only rapist in our midst.
My roommate Lily once hooked up with another friend of ours, Sam*. “Do you have a condom,” she panted in his ear. “No,” he said. “Oh fuck. We can’t do this then,” she said. He held her down and fucked her anyway. Before leaving, he tells her she’s a whore.
The next day she tells me, he “sort of crossed a line.”
Sam is still at parties too.
Man or woman — it’s not about the victim. It never is. People are far more focused on getting justice for the perpetrator —after all, he’s a nice guy, he couldn’t possibly be a rapist.
Until we realise that rapists don’t come along with horns poking out their skull and predator tattooed on their neck, we’re never going to be able to tackle sexual assault.
And rapists will continue to walk, unheeded, in our midst.