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There is No Such Thing as a “Classic Rapist”

There is No Such Thing as a “Classic Rapist”

From a very young age we are taught to fear strangers. Parent, teachers and loved ones warn children of stranger danger instructing them not to speak or go anywhere with someone they don’t know.

As we grow up this message is reinforced, particularly for women. We are told to be aware of our surroundings when walking alone late at night for fear of the stranger lurking in the bushes ready to attack. This story of the stranger hiding in the bushes or a dark alley is also often used when warning women about sexual assault. We are told we shouldn’t go out late at night alone, especially in parks, and that we should carry pepper spray in our purses to be ready to fend off violent attackers. So we grow up thinking we can pinpoint potential perpetrators — the creepy guy in the park, the man in the hoodie walking closely behind you.

It is this type of thinking that has skewed many of our perceptions about what rape really looks like. Take for example a recent trial where a man was unanimously found guilty of rape and sentenced to five years in jail. At his sentencing Judge Michael Mettyear had the following to say about the convicted man:

“I do not regard you as a classic rapist. I do not think you are a general danger to strangers. You are not the type who goes searching for a woman to rape.”

I bet if you asked Judge Mettyear what he meant by “classic rapist” we’d get some iteration of a creepy man who attacks women in dark alleys or behind bushes.

What’s worse in this case is that the judge continued his assessment of the case by saying things like:

“This was a case where you just lost control of normal restraint.”

“The victim was the worst for drink out of the two of them. She was completely out of it.”

“She was a pretty girl who you fancied. You simply could not resist. You had sex with her.”

I mean I could write a whole other blog post about these remarks but I digress. The point is that Judge Mettyear is clearly misinformed about what rape is. There is no such thing as a “classic rapist.” Men don’t just lose control and rape women. Being drunk doesn’t mean a woman can’t be raped. This man didn’t have sex with his victim, he raped her.

Messages like this are not only incredibly insensitive to victims, but dangerous for everyone. When we believe that these types of myths are reality, victims start to question what happened to them and are reluctant to report, people don’t understand what consent really look likes, attackers might not know they are raping women, rapists go free, rapists rape again, rape cases aren’t investigated, the list goes on and on.

The results are devastating. Consider the rape crisis on college campuses. Women in college are highly susceptible to rape, yet a new report reveals that nearly half of colleges and universities haven’t looked at a single case of rape and 20 percent don’t investigate all the incidents they report to the feds. Perhaps one of the reasons this is happening is because even administrators aren’t sure what qualifies as rape.

It’s high time we dispel myths about rape and start creating real understanding of what sexual assault looks like in all it’s forms. First, and foremost, rape isn’t a crime that is predominately committed by strangers. In fact, 73 percent of sexual assaults are committed by a non-stranger and 38 percent of rapists are a friend or acquaintance of the victim. Perhaps we’ve held tight to the myth of stranger danger because we don’t want to live in a world where we think people we know can commit rape, but unfortunately the majority of perpetrators are the people who are closest to the victims. We can also lay the dark alley and bushes myth to rest because more than 50 percent of sexual assaults actually occur within 1 mile of the victim’s home.

Beyond statistics, I have found that one of the most effective ways to dispel myths about rape is to hear women’s stories. No two rapes are the same which is part of what makes it so difficult to define and so easy to instead rely on myths. This powerful story called “Breakfast” is an incredible example of the kinds of rape stories we don’t often hear about. Here is an excerpt:

The morning after I was rape I made my rapist breakfast…The night before he hovered over me and said ‘So pretty.’ When I said no, he said ‘Why not?’ When I asked him why he was doing this, he said ‘You are just so beautiful.” So, the morning after, I made him breakfast. There is another story that I like better. I fight. I spit. I struggle. In this story, I am brave. But this is not my story, and it is not true, because I am not brave and I did not fight.

Another powerful story, “My Rapist Doesn’t Know He’s A Rapist (Because My Culture Hasn’t Taught Him He Is One),” is another great example that points out some of the reasons people don’t know what rape is:

I convinced myself that if it was rape, I would have been injured. If it was rape, I would have been aware of that in the moment, and fought him off. If it was rape, I would have told on him.

My rapist doesn’t know he’s a rapist because in his mind, he was drunk too, so we were on the same page, right?

He doesn’t know he’s a rapist because society has taught him that drunk girls like me who come on to you are asking for it.

He doesn’t know he’s a rapist because, like I did at first, he believes that if he doesn’t physically hurt someone, it’s not considered rape.

He believes that since he ‘knew me’ for one night and didn’t attack me on the street, it’s not considered rape.

I applaud these brave women for sharing their stories so candidly. It is these kinds of stories that will help dispel myths about rape once and for all and prove that the idea of a “classic rapist” really does not exist.

Related from Care2:

These Anti-Rape Devices Miss the Mark When It Comes To Rape Prevention

Men Aren’t The Only Ones Slut Shaming Women

3 Ways Congress Is Getting Serious About Sexual Assault on College Campuses

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Photo Credit: OUCHcharley

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7:58PM PDT on Jul 25, 2014


4:20AM PDT on Jul 20, 2014

Rapists use the misconceptions and ignorance of people against their victims. When I was 15 I was a victim of systematic sexual abuse and I didn't realise. I was manipulated into thinking I was in love, then I was manipulated into thinking that I wasn't being raped. Despite what people think, the more someone asks you if you're going to report them and the more they tell you the judge would understand that you really seduced them rather than the other way around the more you start to believe it. I was under the impression that even if I was to report him I wouldn't be believed and the more he asked me if I thought he raped me the less I thought it had happened. I left him a bit after turning 16 and it wasn't until I was around 18 that I actually realised what he'd done to me. I still fight often with the idea that I wont be believed if I report him. Rape is having sex without consent or with consent which is coerced in any way (such as with drugs).

11:46AM PDT on Jul 19, 2014

There is no such thing as a "classic rapist" and no such thing as a "classic rape victim". Both come from all walks of life and are virtually impossible to identify just by looking.

1:56AM PDT on Jul 18, 2014

OMG You are so absolutely, positively right! Thank you for this well-written article that puts semantic problems (that in turn so easily lead to thought and logic problems) into sharp focus.

11:31AM PDT on Jul 16, 2014

Thank you

6:14AM PDT on Jul 16, 2014

Thanks for sharing

4:11AM PDT on Jul 16, 2014

English is not my mother tongue so I dont know where I have posted that a rapist should go free.
As you mention death penalty - here in Germany we had several cases of "rapists" who were found innocent after false accusation of "victims" after spending years in prison. I hope you are for the death penalty after false accusation of a crime that could result death penalty as well.

2:49AM PDT on Jul 16, 2014

Yes, the myth of the weird dangerous man hiding in an alley is wrong.
I was raped on my sixteenth birthday by a man of 26 who had been trying to get me to date him for weeks. But my instincts told me that, even though he was good looking, worked in a bank and wore a suit, he was dangerous. So I kept on saying no.
So he planned and carried out the rape. He told my girlfriends he was crazy about me and that I was too shy to admit I liked him, and got them to deliver me into his hands drunk. I never trusted them again. And because his father was a friend of my father and my parents kept telling me he would be a 'catch' for me, I never dared tell anyone. He told me no-one would believe me and I believed him.
I'm 58 years old and that single event has coloured all my relationships ever since. It even broke my trust in my parents, because my rapist turned up at my home the night after he ripped my virginity from me, with a bunch of flowers for my Mum, and was welcomed in.
So I agree.The whole myth of the rapist lurking in a dark alley is just that - a myth. And what's worse, it helps people like my rapist get away with it.

12:53AM PDT on Jul 16, 2014

@ Alexander a: what exactly is there to understand? Rape is rape, and NOTHING should be used as an excuse! He or she (the rapist) may have gone through emotional trauma at some point in their life, but so did billions of other people who DO NOT go out raping and blaming it on their past experiences! A rapist should be given the death penalty as far as I am concerned! Unfortunately, not every country provides that luxury to their law abiding citizens, so we have to settle for second best, a life sentence... but some "Judges" think like you do, and the perpetrators get off scot free! Where is the justice in that!!??

12:27AM PDT on Jul 16, 2014

I understand that people want revange - but a judges task is also trying to understand what was going on in the rapists mind. It can help to weigh the guilt, which is very difficult. And understanding and asking does not mean, that the judge excuses the dead. For the victim the reasons why someone did it are not really relevant, but for society it is important to understand.

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