What a Rapist Looks Like

by thethreepennyguignol

(trigger warning for discussion of rape and sexual assault)

What does a rapist look like?

For a long time, the only depictions of rapist that I saw were pretty simple – he (and it was always a he) was hanging out in some dark alley ready to pounce on a woman whose dress was an inch too short or who’d had a sip of wine too many. He was a boogeyman against “bad” female behaviour, a Wendigo of the patriarchy waiting to leap out of the shadows when we misbehaved. Even though I knew that rape objectively happened, that rapist never felt real. When Something Bad Happened, it wasn’t rape because it didn’t fit the narrow boundaries of what I had been taught about what rape should look like.

Today, I still see these attempts to put distance between the reality of rape and what a rapist looks like – men who disrespect women in this way aren’t actually men, they’re boys/monsters/children. Men who do this weren’t themselves, they were acting out in some lustful way that had nothing to do with their real character. And women rapists? Yeah, we barely even have inaccurate depictions of them.

And look, I get why this is an attractive prospect. If we put distance between real people and rapists, then it means that we don’t have to worry about it having to happen to us, or someone we know – when we invent these fictions, we make it so that these people can’t ever really exist. We make it so we’re safe from them. If we apply the “they’re not a rapist because…” logic, it soon extends to “it wasn’t rape because…”, and we can scribble over our experiences in our head, those bad nights, those dates gone wrong, the person you trusted and loved and maybe still do who did that anyway. We can hide out from that, from ourselves, from what other people have been through.

And in the process we create space for the people who commit these kind of acts to hide. We make it so this man who is otherwise a good person couldn’t have done something like that. We make it so women just don’t have the ability to commit such a crime in the first place. We make it so our friends, family, the people we love, even ourselves – we make it so they couldn’t have done anything like that, because we would have known, we would have seen it in some way, we would never have let anyone like that close to us. Even though 90% of sex crimes are committed by people known to the victim, none of us would like to think for a second that these people could be people we know. And so, we make it so we couldn’t know them – we come up with excuses, and lies, and more stories to tell ourselves to protect from the reality that these people are around us and close to us.

Because at the end of the day it still comes down to that old myth; that a rapist cannot disguise their urges, that they are obvious to the naked eye, that you couldn’t miss them. They are still men hiding down back alleys because that’s obvious and that’s easy and that’s safe. Because then we don’t have to know them. We don’t have to love them. We don’t have to deal with the complicated reality that somebody we adore and respect might have done something we find morally repugnant.

We keep them in those back alleys, far away from us, because that’s where we’d like to think they are. We don’t know what a rapist looks like, because it is easier not to.

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(header image via ArtNet)