[content note: rape, rape apologism.]
David Choe probably thought he was telling an innocuous story – a story about being a man and having a grand time. Maybe it was a story he told to convince himself that what he’d done was okay; maybe it really was just something he was making up to try and titillate his porn star guest. But when David Choe told a story on his podcast about forcing a masseuse to perform oral sex on him, he definitely didn’t expect to get called a rapist – despite his co-host directly calling it out on the podcast itself. After all, he hates rapists, so how could he be one?
Pastor Douglas Wilson hates rape and rapists with a fiery passion. He likes to emphasize this over and over – rapists are evil, he says, and deserving of punishment. But, he says, a woman who shows up at a frat party, drinks, and gets rape is a “dope” who probably should have seen it coming. He also wonders why a victim of years of unwanted sexual advances, and sexual assault at the hands of the man who employed her, who taught her that women must submit to men, and who made it nearly impossible to leave didn’t “hit the road” at the first sign of trouble. But, remember he hates rapists and rape, and thinks the crime is horrific and should be punished harshly.
You see, these men really hate rape. They think it’s terrible that women (always women) suffer at the hands of other men. They’ll threaten to beat up rapists, maybe even saying the rapists themselves should be “raped and murdered.” As much as they hate rape, they want us, their audience of attentive listeners, to know that they hate rape. They say it over and over and over, just so we know exactly where they stand.
But their own words, their own stories, betray them. See, they hate rape, but what they did or what that friend did wasn’t rape. She wasn’t communicating clearly, you see. She didn’t say no, she didn’t fight, she didn’t run away at her first chance. So it couldn’t have been rape. You see, real rape victims scream and cry and shout “no” and fight back and maybe scratch their attackers. Real rape victims go to the cops and report and cooperate fully with the police and testify in court and help their prosecutors a conviction, because being able to say “my rapist is in jail” is what makes someone a real rape victim.
You see, if rape only fits into this narrow definition, then David Choe’s story is not one of rape. His behavior is merely questionable and telling the story is in bad taste. It's not actually rape. And Doug Phillips, according to his friend Douglas Wilson, is not really guilty of sexual assault, because his victim stuck around. She didn’t hit the road, so how could the relationship possibly have been non-consensual?
These men have the final say on what qualifies as rape – namely, rape is not something they or their friends do. It’s something some monster out there does. They also get to decide who is a victim and who is a lying whore. Because they get to decide what rape looks like and who is a victim, they can declare with no irony that they hate, loathe, abhor rapists – because, naturally, it’s easy to abhor something that only exists within a narrow category in your imagination.
You see, people who hate rape? I mean, really, truly hate rape? Listen to victims. Those of us who do this work – as volunteers for hotlines, victims advocates, social workers, counselors, or activists – know that it’s never as simple as saying “I hate rape and rapists.” Sometimes, even the victim doesn’t hate their rapist. Sometimes the victim wants to walk away, pretend it never happened, and heal in peace without the trauma of a trial. Sometimes, they want to go all the way through a trial, they want their day in court, they want to make sure their rapist pays. Sometimes, they really, really want their rapist to see justice, but because they were drunk or high or in prison or wearing the “wrong” clothing or had the wrong skin color/gender identity/gender presentation and a jury or prosecutor or cop won’t believe them.
Telling these victims that you hate rapists doesn’t actually help them heal. Such a statement is not for them – it’s for you. It allows you, the bystander, to distance yourself from this Bad Person Who Did a Bad Thing. It allows you to sit back on your haunches, declare your righteous anger, and think you’re helping. It allows you to talk over the victim’s story, to push all your energy into hating this image of a rapist, never confronting actual rapist who sing in your church choirs and break bread with you on Sundays.
Hating rapists makes it about you, not the victims. It centers the discussion on your feelings, as a presuming “objective” bystander. It allows you to stand above the complicated and complex feelings of survivors and declare yourself morally superior to those who traffic in the terrible sins of sexual assault. Because you hate rapists so much and you want to make sure you’re hating the right people, which naturally means you get to figure out who was really raped and what rape really looks like.
You say you hate rapists? Fine. But don’t think that makes us believe you.