My best friend, Richie (not his real name), is one of the sweetest guys you'll ever meet. He's kind, caring, and as insistent upon consent as anyone I know. I would drop everything to help him at a moment's notice and I've never known him to be anything but entirely honest. To my knowledge, Richie has never been accused of sexual assault. Were he to be accused, I would be shocked and I would find it very difficult to believe.
None of that matters. Richie most certainly is capable of rape. All my other friends are capable of rape. All your friends, fathers, brothers, are capable of rape. I'm capable of rape. I feel like my knowledge of consent is strong and I'm insistent on an emphatic yes rather than "not no," but from an objective viewpoint no man that is physically capable of rape should be considered incapable of it.
Still, every time a man is accused of rape, some contingent, large or small, will insist that while they are certainly against rape and that it's a terrible thing, my friend/brother/father/son could never do such a thing. How can they be so sure? I just know – they know the person, and he's not a rapist. It's a natural response to not want to believe that this person you're close to, that you feel like you understand and recognize and trust, could commit such a terrible crime. It's natural to not want to believe that your own judgment could be so far off. We all want to think that we can get a proper read on people.
We can't. We as humans are pretty poor judges of character. We're too swayed by things like stereotypes, appearances and learned prejudices. We grow up making friends based on proximity – I've been friends with Richie since our mothers made us play together while they were at a Mary Kay party. We bonded over RBI Baseball. I know the guy as well as I know anyone. But I don't know that he's not a rapist.
But every rapist has their defenders. It's quite common that the defenders of the rapist vastly outnumber the defenders of the survivor, whether they actively discredit and attack the survivor or just choose "not to get involved." Rape survivors are forced to encounter their rapists over and over, in class, at work, at parties. Rapists are often popular, or "nice," or "mean well," and people "don't want to take sides," content with ignoring the fact that refusing to disassociate with someone you have been told is a rapist is to very clearly choose a side.
Not only is it completely inaccurate to state that you know someone not to be a rapist, it's damaging to the survivor of not only the rape in question, but to rape victims everywhere. The idea that anyone can just know that a person is not a rapist is preposterous, but completely ingrained in our collective mindset that no one bats an eye when the claim is made, either on the news or face-to-face with a person that is literally, at that moment, saying that she's been raped. It reinforces the dangerous idea that rapists are other people, criminals, not our friends and family and neighbors.
Our lack of basic societal understanding of rape is another contributing factor. In theory, we have a view in society that rape is one of those crimes that operates the top tier of heinousness – and rightly so, but we refuse to acknowledge that what makes it so is the violation that is rape, not that it is an inherently physically violent act. But our beliefs about rape are so warped that we twist ourselves in knots to discredit survivors and exclude sexual assaults from the definition of rape using preposterous "no true Scotsman" anti-woman logic.
Rape isn't rape unless it's a violent act. Rape isn't rape unless there's physical evidence. Rape isn't rape if the woman is drunk. Rape isn't rape if the woman is drunk but not "acting drunk." Rape isn't rape if the woman has previous or subsequent consensual sexual contact with the person. Rape isn't rape if the rapist doesn't use his penis. Rape isn't rape if the woman doesn't explicitly say "no." Rape isn't rape if no one else saw what was happening. Rape isn't rape if the woman doesn't tell anyone right away. Rape isn't rape if the woman "leads the man on." And the truly fucked-up thing is that even meeting the standards for a "real" rape is never really enough for a large percentage of the population.
So rapists are allowed to continue on with their lives, spending time with their friends, confident in the knowledge that we live in a culture that's begging to believe them and they're surrounded by people that will attest to their incapability to commit such a reprehensible act. Meanwhile, survivors are shunned, ostracized and told that they're wrong, that what happened to them was "a mistake," that the person that raped them may have been an asshole, but let's not overreact and call this something it's not. The price for a rape survivor to maintain friendships and resume something resembling a normal life is too often to ignore and excuse and rationalize something that should never be ignored, excused or rationalized by anyone, much less the person who has been violated.
I don't think Richie has ever raped anyone. I like to think he's not going to rape anyone. I certainly hope he never rapes anyone. But I don't know he's not a rapist. I'll never know he's not a rapist. And sorry buddy, but I'll never tell anyone that you can't be a rapist.
Joshua David can be found on Twitter at @joshuaadavidd.
Image via Giordano.
If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, it's not your fault. You are not alone. Help is available 24/7 through the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE and online.rainn.org.