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Let’s talk about rape. Let’s talk about domestic violence. Let’s talk about how we treat the people who have experienced it as being somehow at fault for getting brutalized, and how we consistently give rapists and other abusers the benefit of the doubt, while not extending the same courtesy to their victims.
Let’s talk about how a person doesn’t need to INTEND to harm someone, in order to do irreparable damage. Let’s talk about how even though someone may not mean to be abusive, or rape someone, their intentions count for very little (if at all) to the person whose boundaries are being violated, whose agency is being stripped, whose trust is being broken.
Let’s talk about how, when someone is brave enough to come out and publicly speak about how they’ve been abused, they’re seldom believed. Survivors are painted as unstable, liars, attention-seeking, vindictive. Let’s also talk about how, even when survivors are believed, there is still a scramble to place the blame squarely on their shoulders: they were asking for it, they consented but regretted it later, they were drunk, they shouldn’t have been dressed that way, they shouldn’t have said yes in the past, they shouldn’t have said maybe, they should have fought harder, they should have struggled more, they should have yelled, they should have called the police, they shouldn’t have gone out alone, they shouldn’t have gone to that party, they shouldn’t have married that person.
Let’s talk about how people who do fight back against abuse are frequently treated far more harshly under the justice system than their abusers ever will be. Let’s talk about how race affects this, how white women are more likely to get away with bashing back, are more likely to see their abusers sentenced (even if the sentence itself is shamefully light), and how black women are so much more likely to instead be sent to prison themselves. Let’s talk about Cece McDonald and Marissa Alexander, and how they did exactly what we’re told we’re supposed to do when we’re attacked. And how they went to prison for doing it.
Let’s talk about how Woody Allen and Bill Clinton have effectively gotten away with their predatory behavior, while people frothed at the mouth to hold Bill Cosby accountable for his transgressions. Let’s talk about how whiteness enables people to escape accountability, and blackness invites public condemnation. Let’s talk about how at least one person will read this and assume I’m saying Cosby shouldn’t have been held accountable, rather than that Allen and Clinton SHOULD be.
Let’s talk about missing stairs, and whispered warnings, and how we feel unsafe even warning our friends about the abusive behavior of others, for fear of public blowback and harassment campaigns. Let’s talk about how many people undoubtedly miss these warnings entirely, because maybe they’re new here and nobody knows or trusts them enough to feel safe letting them know.
Let’s talk about how nobody is willing to disassociate from people they know to be abusive, because the blow to their own social capital will be too severe. Let’s talk about how this serves only to enable that abusive behavior, and how ultimately, it hurts everyone. Let’s talk about how unchecked patterns of abuse systemically erode the humanity of those perpetrating that abuse.
Let’s talk about how people will say anything to avoid accountability. Let’s talk about the extremes to which they’ll go to ensure that their ability to further abuse remains unchecked. Let’s talk about how far people will go to silence those who would hold them accountable.
Let’s talk about how probably everyone who will read this knows at least one rapist.
Let’s talk about how when told we know a rapist, we always seem to say we “had no idea,” because that person is “so nice,” even though we can probably all think of at least one time that rapist we know willfully violated one of our own boundaries, regardless of whether that boundary was a sexual boundary or not.
Let’s talk about how, no matter what, speaking openly about abusive behavior burns social capital, yet the response is nearly always to claim that it’s only being done “for attention” or to garner some sort of “points.” Let’s talk about how nobody has ever gained social capital ever for pointing out abusive behavior, and how it is generally done at a great cost of personal relationships and mental health. Let’s talk about how to speak out about rape, about abuse, is to open oneself up to a neverending chain of demands for proof, calls to repeat and relive our trauma ad infinitum, and how this silences so, so many people.
Let’s talk about the lengths to which people will go to delude themselves into believing that they could never possibly be friends with a rapist. Let’s talk about the lengths to which people will go to delude themselves into believing they could never BE a rapist. Let’s talk about how both elements of this dynamic end up enabling abuse patterns, and how accountability only ever comes when the ultimate social capital held by accusers outweighs that of the abusers.
Let’s talk about how even when we believe survivors, we’re so often willing to dismiss their need for accountability on the basis of their abuser doing “good work in the community.” Let’s talk about how that ultimately degrades the quality of community, and sullies the concept of community leadership, because it suggests that any transgression can be swept under the rug if someone is smart enough, charismatic enough, self-aggrandizing enough, philanthropic enough. Let’s talk about how we’ll tolerate abuse of others, so long as it doesn’t negatively impact us. Let’s talk about how this means we’re unwilling to hold abusers accountable, as long as we’re benefiting from their continued presence in our lives.
Let’s talk about it, and push back against it, and let’s work together to ultimately abolish the cycles of abuse so many of us are complicit in maintaining. We can do better.