Confusing the central issues of violence and responsibility
Last month Jezebel ran a piece titled ‘Rapists Explain Themselves on Reddit, and We Should Listen’ by Katie J.M. Baker. It looked at the attitudes of rapists and would-be rapists as expressed on a long Reddit thread about why they did what they did – or wanted to.
I wanted to know what someone actually working in the field of sexual assault counselling through of the piece so I asked, Alison Grundy, a counsellor with 20 years experience, to comment.
There is nothing new in these stories from perpetrators of sexual violence. Nothing that hasn’t been openly related, reported, commented upon and pondered over for the last 30 years – certainly in the last 25 that I have been working in the field, I have read and been exposed to this type of material literally thousands of times .
It’s nothing that the workers, researchers, therapists, educators and those who run treatment programs haven’t heard over and over and over again.
It’s a mistake to think we’re justifying rapists’ actions by listening to their stories.
True – but it is a very big mistake to print rapist’s stories as if they are the truth or to print them without any analysis about what the attitudes they express mean to their victims, their families and the wider community.
Read any book on treating sexual abusers and rapists – the fundamental notion is that these people do not tell the truth. Or their truth is critically and extremely biased by justifying their actions.
Those working with offenders report “cognitive distortions” that they routinely express to excuse, deny and minimise their actions. The most common of these is blaming the victim. We, as a community, also routinely join them in this most insidious of cognitive distortions.
In my view, not all sexual abusers have” cognitive distortions.” Some – perhaps most- know what they are doing is wrong and also know that nothing will happen to them – that mostly they can get away with it. I think you can hear this in their stories if you listen with a critical ear. As well, they live in a culture which enables rape permission giving beliefs.
Some of them are tough to read, but their brutal honesty illustrates how a lack of communication and education perpetuates rape culture. Ignoring or dismissing these men (and women) out of hand may be an effective coping strategy for a given individual, but not for society. It gets us nowhere.
The accounts are not “brutally honest” – they are self-serving and excusing. They do not point to education and better communication – they point to a complete shift in the way sexual violence is perceived and perpetuated in our society.
Of the guys who express regret, I can’t remember any of them saying what they did to right the wrong, seek out the consequences, own up to the victim, their family or the community for doing this. The central step in many offender programmes is going to the police and owning up to the crime or at least “facing up” and taking responsibility to significant people. I didn’t hear anything like this.
It’s not enough to feel regret- that doesn’t help the victim. This is not stealing something from a shop – this crime changes its victim’s lives, it wreaks havoc in their bodies and destroys their faith in the central notions of safety, community and in some cases love. Regret just doesn’t cut it.
It would have been more useful, in the battle against violence against women, to have someone trained in working with offenders to comment on each of the stories from a critical perspective so we could all understand the inherent distortions and self- serving nuances that help confuse the central issues of violence and responsibility.