In what may be “who cares” news to US readers, CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi was recently terminated from his tenure as host of “Q.” In what definitely is “you should care” news, there has been an upswell of “no, he can’t be a sexual predator”¹ support from public figures (notably Elizabeth May, who really ought to know better at this point in her political career).
This isn’t an isolated incident. It seems that every time an accusation of sexual misconduct is leveled against a public figure, the immediate response isn’t “did he do it” but “he couldn’t have done it.” This response is based on absolutely no evidence, and often appears before the public figure has even released his “my side of the story” statement. Why are people so quick to defend alleged rapists?
That was a rhetorical question. I get it. I do. Nobody wants guilt by association. There’s a sort of cultural myth in play that if you know a criminal, but you don’t stop him from committing the crime, you’re complicit. Nobody wants to be complicit in rape, nobody wants to think that they’ve befriended a sexual predator. In the case of someone like Ghomeshi, nobody wants to think that they have “invited” a rapist into their house day after day, laughed at his jokes and agreed with his politics.
But here’s the thing: you know a rapist.
Think I’m lying? Okay. Back up. How many people do you know? How many have you met? How many Facebook friends do you have?
The New York Times, a publication that doesn’t really have a great record on sympathetic reporting for rape victims, has reported that one in five women have been raped, and one in one hundred men have. We can use that as a conservative number. Approximately 2/3 of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim. That means that if you know fifteen women, two of them knew their rapists. The odds are good that you have the same acquaintances as people you know, right? So even if there’s incomplete overlap, if you know fifteen women you probably know one person that has committed a sexual assault against one of them. If you know thirty women, those odds have more than doubled.
Think about that for a minute. Count your friends and acquaintances.
I’m not saying you’re complicit in that rape. I’m not saying you knew about it. I’m not even saying you have a duty to do something about it, investigate it, find out about it. But I am saying that right now you, yes you, know a rapist.
When do you become complicit? When you assume that the rapist can’t be a rapist just because you know their name. When you tell others that the victim must be lying. When you say “she just wants attention” without stopping to ask yourself how many women want to be publicly reviled, called liars, and told in articles, blog posts and comments that they should be raped again because they are trying to “ruin this man’s life.” When you perpetuate the system that lets people keep raping, just because you would rather not believe that you know a rapist.
You already do.
Your desire to believe that you can’t know “that type of person” is not as important as the victim’s right to be protected from her abuser. Especially since, well, you already do know a rapist.
¹Some other time I’ll explain why BDSM and abuse are different, but for now here’s a nice article.