Earlier this week, Katy Habr, another Opinion columnist, wrote a column on rape culture and the way that it is so deeply embedded in our society, even within groups that supposedly denounce all forms of oppression and acts of violence. Her column emphasized ideas I already had and made me think even more about the idea of rape apologists. I want to clarify at this point that this column is going to be discussing rape apologists and sexual assault/rape in general.
I’ve been considering this issue for a while now as another scarily unique way that rape culture functions. Any issues or discussions around the topic of sexual assault can be uncomfortable, but rape apologists create a different kind of discomfort, at least for me. A rape apologist is, at least to my own definition of the word, someone who in a way defends the action of rape or sexually assaulting or someone who has committed these actions. This essentially means trying to make an excuse for the action or making it seem like it’s not a big deal.
This directly relates to how survivors of sexual assault are treated because by being a rape apologist, a person can completely discount someone’s horrible experience. In a way, this can make the survivor feel bad because even though someone may not be saying “this is all your fault,” they are still trying to defend an action rooted in power imbalances, and often patriarchal values that they had no control over. It can make someone question if what they are saying and feeling is valid if the assaulter is being defended in any capacity.
A particular situation where this may occur is when a survivor is relaying their story to someone and their response isn’t just to politely ask if they’re okay or if they need anything, but to have a full on discussion about it and talk about “the other perspective.” If someone has been assaulted, then they really don’t need to think about the other person’s perspective because first, this isn’t a debate, so there is no need for justification especially when it wasn’t asked for and second, depending on however a person may cope, they may not even want to think about the person who assaulted them as it could be really triggering for them. Even if you feel unsure about a situation, bringing up your uncertainty to someone clearly affected by whatever happened is not the time to discuss it. In a society where survivors of assault constantly have to justify themselves, if they trust you enough to bring up what happened to them, then what they say shouldn’t be questioned. At that point, you are a rape apologist because you are making the survivor consider their assaulter’s viewpoint, which is completely unnecessary and often unwanted.
In my experience, this appears to happen predominantly when someone knows both the person who has been assaulted and the person who assaulted them. They’re both your friends, or at the very least acquaintances, so you have a certain positive image of both of them. To have one of those images be broken can be frightening, so sometimes people don’t really know how to react or what to do because they are put into the middle of this situation even though it doesn’t actually involve them directly. We want to believe that the people we associate with are good, but that isn’t always the case as hard as we try to hang on to that idea. Our preconceived ideas of a person can affect how we may react in certain situations, which leads to people being rape apologists because they think they are good people regardless of the act they have committed.
Honestly, there is no real excuse for people who have committed assault because if there was no clear ‘yes’ from both individuals, then the consent in that situation is already on the thin line between questionable and non-existent. If they reacted poorly, then that is another aspect of their character to consider because it’s common for those who commit assault to be unapologetic or not respectful to the survivor or any critiques from others. Overall, this puts survivors in an extremely uncomfortable position, whether they are the ones the situation is about or if others involved are survivors themselves. Whatever you may think is the way to react to situations of sexual assault, at the very least keep your defense of rapists to yourself when talking to someone clearly affected by this and actually think through why you might be defending someone in the first place.
Sarah Zumba is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Zumba Works it Out appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.