Warning: this article contains some triggering content relating to sexual assault.
Talking about sexual assault is something that is always uncomfortable and, a lot of the time, people like to pretend that it simply happens to other people. However, what is a little more worrying is the way in which our society makes it an even less discussed topic, despite its importance, owing to the way we view the perpetrators of it (put a pin in this thought, it will come back later).
I recently discovered that someone, who was at one point very, very close to me, took a drunk friend of mine back to his room, and after she clearly declined his advances, and sexually assaulted her. This was a very sobering and painful experience for me, for a whole multitude of reasons. My initial reaction was one of revulsion and genuine horror; I wasn’t able to believe that a man I had really trusted, and who I thought had a positive view of sex, would do something like this. When I thought of people who would do this, I’ll be honest, I couldn’t assign the role of perpetrator to this man, despite knowing it to be fitting, but this is partly owing to what society teaches us about the perpetrators of sex crimes. We have a strong image that these people exist in a vacuum: they are not real people, they do not have family or friends, they are simply criminal statistics. To discover how untrue this is, in a way that was this personal, was unsettling in a way that I am unable to explain.
The feeling that followed this horror was one of guilt. It was inexplicable: it wasn’t my fault and I had had no part in this and yet I still felt responsible. It was as if I should have known, I felt I should have warned her, because how could I not see the true nature of this man? It is this very guilt that made me see even more clearly the categorisation that we establish in our own minds. There is something about sexual crimes that makes people desperately distance its perpetrators, for reasons I think you can imagine for yourselves, and this is not only incorrect, but dangerous. If we keep pretending that people we meet everyday cannot be capable of ever committing this, we risk victims being disbelieved, because how could a person such as they do a thing such as that?
Sexual assault is horrible and painful thing, but it is something that happens and it is unlikely that any of us will live a life and not (at the very least) know someone who goes through it. To support those who have suffered is the most important thing we can do as people, but we must learn that those who commit sexual violence do not wear a badge to mark themselves out for others.