I grew up believing that only monsters rape. This vision of a disheveled, psychotic man creeping behind the bushes was burned into my brain. But rape rarely occurs within the straight angles of a square. Rape is more than a dark alley, a deranged stranger, and a virginal victim. More often than not, sexual assault happens between individuals who know each other, and the rapist is not someone carrying a weapon. In fact, the rapist may genuinely not even realize that what they are doing is indeed rape.
The beloved university athlete, the esteemed professor, the straight A student, the friendly neighbour all commit rape. Individuals who commit sexual assault are not just the stereotypical ‘rapists’ we’ve been conditioned to envision from pop culture and mainstream media.
Studies show that rape is not typically committed by strangers who hide in back alleys or break into homes. Four out of every five sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. (WAVAW) Furthermore, most sexual assaults happen in a private home (60%), with the largest percent happening inside the victim’s home (38%). (D Kinnon, 1981)
If you follow this logic, a woman’s biggest risk is not the ‘balcony rapist,’ but rather her friends, family members and romantic partners. How distressing is it to know that it is those closest to us, those whose relationships we most value, are more likely to rape us than any other individual in the world?
I don’t know about you, but I know some really nice guys. My brothers are amazing people and my dad is one of my biggest role models. My male friends have helped me through some difficult times, and I’ve loved my past partners with my whole heart. But based on the statistics, I am more likely to be raped by one of them than anyone else.
Does this mean nice guys commit rape, too?
No, this is not an article normalizing rape. Rape does not happen because society has loosely defined the phenomenon, or because people just don’t know any better. If you engage in a sexual act with someone who is intoxicated or in any way impaired, even if they say yes, you are committing rape. If you have sex with someone who is asleep (even if they were willing when awake) you are committing rape.
We need to veer away from calling someone who commits rape ‘an uninformed teen’ or ‘a troubled adult.’ We need to call them rapists. Because that is what they’ve done - they’ve raped someone.
But how do we reconcile the notion that nice guys can be rapists? Are the two not diametrically opposed? If we say this, are we stripping men of their responsibility for their actions? If we say that rapists can be nice guys, are we suggesting that rape really isn’t all that horrible as people say it is?
How can we draw a hard line on this issue? No means no and only yes means yes… and it’s not ok that you raped her, but you were confused and I know you’re a stand up guy?
We go into troublesome territory when we begin to vindicate rape. We begin to make excuses for people, saying someone can commit rape and still be a good person deep down. And in my heart of hearts, I may believe that. If a loved one of mine sexually assaulted someone I might very well have the instinct to rush to their defence, saying that circumstances were murky and they are a really, really good person.
But that is just rape culture giving me yet another pass to reason and rationalize sexual assault. And we don’t need anymore: we have the ‘confused rapist’ who couldn’t tell they were sleeping, the ‘party rapist’ who says everyone was just having fun, the ‘enticed rapist’ who was simply responding to the signals they were giving, etc. etc.
When we use these convoluted narratives we create a scenario that sympathizes with the perpetrator rather than the victim. She was sending mixed signals; they were both drunk; he wasn’t educated properly; we failed to transform society. While all of these things may be true, they cannot excuse the act or diminish the severity. They are irrelevant when identifying someone as a rapist.
While it is understandable to want to engage in a discussion on sexual assault in today’s society (like I’m doing right here and now), the bottom line is that conversations like these blur the lines of consent, giving people excuses and nuances on which they can rely to evade responsibility of sexual assault. The more nuance we add to these discussions the longer a leash we give to rapists. In the end, we give people implied societal permission to rape.
So can nice guys rape, too?
If any person commits rape, no matter how loved they are by family or revered by society, they lose the label of ‘nice guy.’ At best, they can be the ‘friendly and affable rapist.’ But in the end, that’s what they are: a rapist. The adjectives leading up to that shouldn’t matter.