I get, people. Really, I do.
You’re saying that news agencies and media outlets should stop using that All-American, professionally retouched, squeaky-clean head shot:
and use instead his glassy-eyed mugshot:
What you’re saying in your pleas is you want the public and the world to see him as he is now — a criminal. A rapist. An unapologetic one, at that.
And, as much as I understand that sentiment (I feel it, too! I really, really do!), I truly believe we need to see the polished, poised head shot.
The guy who is going to rape or sexual assault most likely isn’t a creepy stranger. He’s most likely a guy you know, or think you know. He is — colloquially — the “boy next door.”
Three out of four sexual violence attacks are committed by someone known to the victim. It’s going to be a neighbor. A “friend.” A friend of a friend. A teacher. A family member. A classmate. A teammate. A guy you go on a date with. A guy you meet at a club and dance with all night.
See the second picture? The guy with the bloodshot, empty eyes? We know to stay away from that guy, or to at least have our guards up. If he’s a stranger — someone you have never had any contact with — if you are going to be raped, there is only a 25% chance that stranger will be the one to rape you.
25% sounds like pretty lousy odds… I know. But, here’s the thing: If we are to believe findings that 18% of women in the U.S. have been raped (a figure which I personally think to be on the low side… I’d wager it’s closer to 35% or more, but I’m not a researcher), it means that 25% of that 18% — or 4.5% — of women are raped by strangers.
That first picture? He’s the guy to be smart about. He’s the guy who might literally try to charm the pants off you, and take aggressive action when he fails. He is the guy who we need to educate against, most aggressively. He is the guy who is tricky, because gosh darn it… he seems like such a nice guy. No one could ever imagine him hurting anyone!
Here’s what I know, from personal experience:
There is no mugshot of the man who sexually abused me as a child. There are, however, years’ worth of professionally-shot portraits of him in my school’s annuals.
The guy who raped me when I was 14 was a friend of a friend, firmly within my circle of acquaintances, and someone I felt comfortable being around. I didn’t feel like I had to have my guard up that night. If anything, I thought he would be someone who would protect me if anyone else tried to hurt me.
I placed my trust in the wrong guy.
When I was raped in college, it was under almost identical circumstances.
When I was drugged and woke up in a hospital, I’d been reportedly poured into a cab by the two businessmen I’d met earlier at a cafe where I’d had a cup of coffee and a sandwich. We’d spent a good deal of time talking about our work, and making small talk. I don’t remember leaving the cafe. Were we friends? No. Acquaintances? Not really. Does this fall under “stranger assault?” Probably. I don’t know if I was assaulted or raped. The hospital didn’t perform a rape kit or toxicology screen, insisting I’d become unconscious due to self-induced intoxication.
Why do I share, and re-share those experiences? Because I need you to understand a few things:
- Most of the abuse/rape/assaults I’ve lived have been at the hands of people I knew and trusted.
- Early abuse and rape increases the chances of being re-victimized later in life by a huge margin. HUGE. Studies suggest that sexual victimization in childhood or adolescence increases the likelihood of sexual victimization in adulthood between 2 and 13.7 times.
- The people who violated me looked far more like that first photo of Brock Turner than the second one. Far more. Squeaky-clean, All-American, guy-next-door people.
When we get riled and cry out because the world needs to see Brock Turner as the rapist he is, and to do so we must see his mug shot, we are missing the mark. He is just as much a rapist in his suit and tie with a smile as he is in his white hoodie with vacant eyes.
When I chose to sit at the group table in the cafe, alone, I chose the table with the guys in business suits because they seemed more put together and respectable — more trustworthy — than the scroungy guys at some of the other tables with seats available. I thought I was making the safe choice. You know what, though?
Bad guys — scary guys, guys who drug your coffee and take you to hotel rooms — wear suits, too.
Until things change in the world… Until all humans learn, believe, and live the principles that a) consent is mandatory, b) other people’s bodies are not an entitlement to someone else, c) children cannot provide consent, persons with diminished capacity may not be able to provide consent, and persons who are incapacitated are incapable of providing consent, d) rape is an act of violence, and e) perpetrators are 100% responsible and accountable for their acts of violence…
Until then… We need to be on guard.
I’m just as tired of the victim-blaming rape culture as you are. It’s not okay to tell victims they shouldn’t have been drinking, or walking alone, or accepting rides from guys they barely know, or… or… or…
But still, we need to be vigilant.
We need to be smart, and we need to be realistic. It is not succumbing to rape culture to keep our wits about us. It is not succumbing to rape culture to learn to defend ourselves. It is not succumbing to rape culture to listen to the small alarm bells in our minds, rather than dismissing them.
None of that is succumbing to rape culture. All of those things are empowering, and powerful.
When those things fail, and the unthinkable happens, it is kicking rape culture in the balls to speak out, and to refuse to accept any of the victim-blaming rhetoric.
This blog, this re-telling, this journaling, this vulnerability… it’s me, kicking rape culture square in the balls.