First: anecdote. Next up: data. After that: motherfucking WikiLeaks.
Anecdote: when I was in college I knew someone who gave me the serious cold chills. OK, I knew more than one person in college who gave me the serious cold chills. A large part of my college experience was learning to trust my cold chills and act on them, even when the circumstance might have dictated cheerful politesse.
I tried to be friends with him at first. Hell, I even flirted with him a little bit, though nothing ever materialized (OK, something did materialize: he called me a slut). Then something changed. My gut told me it was time to be very, very cautious with this man. And I was. And I told other women he was likely to come into contact with to be careful too. (Most of them were well ahead of me on this.) Other people in our university-owned housing unit complained at a higher level.
Months later, dude was caught trying to rape a girl who was new to our living situation. I’d never talked to her before this happened. He got booted.
The response among our social circle to this news was split. I was both unsurprised and deeply upset, as were many of my female friends. The guys in our circle…seemed not to know what to think. Some of them were upset but continued to hang out with him after he got booted (which I was fine with; isolation never straightened anyone’s shit out, and that guy’s shit surely needed some straighteneing). Some of them said they gave him the benefit of the doubt. Even though he did not deny what had happened.
Dear readers, all two of you, I want to tell you that I puzzled over this for years. I wrote an article a year later about the men’s anti-rape movement and men’s rape education. I couldn’t figure out why it was so easy for some fellas — who I knew! and was friends with! and they were nice! — to shrug their shoulder or even deny what seemed to all parties involved to have been a pretty open-and-shut scenario.
And then a few weeks ago, for some reason, I was thinking about this again, and I ran the numbers everyone knows: one in four of us is likely to be raped or molested by age 18. More over the course of a lifetime. Which means it’s happened to several of the women you know. And if these women have shared their stories with you, or if you’ve read the crime statistics, you further know that most of knew their attacker. I’m guessing you also know that most rapes are never reported to any authority besides the anonymous, non-consequence-bearing Department of Justice crime survey (which also asks people whether they reported crimes, which is where that oft-quoted stat comes from).
Not news, right?
But here’s the other thing all that stacks up to, something I swear I’ve never heard in this rundown of numbers: not only do you know someone, rather several someones, who’ve been raped. You probably also know someone who’s raped someone. Or several someones. And they’re all walking around free.
Funnily enough, nobody ever talks about that.
The almost-rapist I knew was, as I said, identifiably creepy. He ranted about women being cockteases. He rarely made and could not hold eye contact. He groped breasts during the aforementioned shoulder rubs. He was a really good guitar player, but otherwise didn’t have a lot going for him. In other words: easy enough to avoid, easy enough to ostracize.
But plenty of rapists are normal, even likeable, dudes. They’re dudes people like. They’re charming, funny men in leadership positions on campuses. They work in vegan bakeries or Wal-Marts or run software companies. They’re dudes you’ve met, shaken hands with, thought were funny as hell, bummed cigarettes from at the bus stop. Gone on dates with. Made out with. Fucked, consensually. Or maybe not consensually.
The point is: sexual assault is something that happens. A lot. And like everything else that lots and lots of people do, there are lots and lots of types of people who do it. And invariably, those people have other hobbies and do other things. Most are walking free. Few of them might even realize they did anything wrong. Others have elaborately constructed rationales, or simply don’t care. But having committed the act, as we’ve established, doesn’t define these folks. They have other hobbies. They have jobs. Odds are, you’ve encountered a bona fide rapist walking down the street. Odds are, he didn’t rape you. Odds are far better that he bent down to scratch your dog between the ears, made that clicking sound with his tongue, and you thought he was a pretty decent guy, and then you took your dog home and your rapist acquaintance went to work.
And I guarantee you, some of the work done by the rapists in the world is work you appreciate: they make awesome vegan muffins that you buy every morning on your way to work. They make fantastic music or movies you love.
And some of these guys, they fucking run websites. Websites with interesting and important missions.
No, Assange hasn’t been convicted of anything. Yes, it’s a politicized crime because of who he is. But if you honestly believe he’s incapable of rape because he’s Mr. WikiLeaks Whoa, look around you. Open your ears. Take names.