Content warning: sexual assault
A while ago I hooked up with a guy I’d known for a little while. We’d met a few times and he was attractive, seemed nice, and was well liked by many of my close friends. We were chatting at a party, we started kissing, and after a while we went back to mine and had sex. It was nothing special but totally fine.
After this, I found out that he had previously sexually assaulted one of my friends by continuing sex after she had clearly and vocally withdrawn her consent.
I want to make a few things clear – I am not writing this as a victim, nor am I claiming that my experience is in any way like what happened to my friend. I have not experienced sexual assault and I cannot speak to that experience. What I do want to share is what that night taught me about those who commit sexual assault.
Current discourse around sexual assault does a good job of emphasising that the vast majority of rapists are not strangers in dark alleys, they are most likely to be those we know and those in our homes. This is something I knew intellectually, I recognised that I more than likely knew someone who had or would commit a sexual assault. I understood that rapists look just like anyone else – but I don’t think I really believed it.
We all put a great deal of stock in our judgment of other people, especially those we form friendships with and those we sleep with. While I can’t claim to have perfect standards, I always trusted myself to impose some sort of character test on those I have sex with, but that test was premised on a lie. I agreed to sleep with someone that I thought was a good guy, that my friends thought was a good guy, and yet he was the kind of person to disrespect a woman and her autonomy in the most heinous way.
After I found out, I analysed what the sex I’d had with him was like. I thought surely he must have been aggressive; there must have been something ‘wrong’ that I missed at the time. But there really wasn’t. We had absolutely vanilla sex, with no trace of something off.
Because here’s the thing – sexual assault isn’t someone who likes it rough going too far, it’s someone disrespecting another person and violating their consent. This guy hadn’t liked that someone wanted to stop having sex with him, so he kept going. What this taught me was that our intuitions are deeply fucked up. The first questions I asked myself were about why I hadn’t figured it out – and that assumed that those who commit sexual assault are ‘marked’ in some way, that we can tell.
That intuition leads to us question whether victims are telling the truth because we think the perpetrator seems alright. That intuition leads us to blame victims because they should have picked it up before they started a sexual encounter.
When I saw the guy again shortly afterwards I expected him to look different. I expected him to look like a monster, but he didn’t. He was still attractive, still charming, and still looked like a normal guy. I guess the point is this – we all know that rapists look like everyone else, and that we probably know a few – but I don’t think we really comprehend it.
I don’t write this to try and scare you about your friends or every future hook up – but I want you to think about what your picture of someone who is capable of sexual assault looks like. This isn’t something that happens to other people, it happens to our friends, and it is committed by those we trust. If I could go back and not sleep with this guy I would, but if I said I fucked up in deciding to sleep with him at the time I would be lying – because I had no idea.
When people question the truthfulness of victims because he just ‘doesn’t seem like that kind of guy’, they’re being not only being dickheads, they’re being arrogant ones – because I couldn’t tell and neither can you. So please, believe those who come forward, and question why you might doubt them.
If this piece raises any issues for you, you can contact Lifeline on 131 114 or NSW Rape Crisis Centre on 1800 424 017