Don’t be friends with rapists

fridge2I’m glad we’ve all agreed to stop watching Woody Allen movies, to delete R. Kelly’s songs from our music libraries. But I also think we need to stop hanging out with the rapists we actually know.

Taking a stand against awful celebrities is important: it sends a clear message to our communities that we won’t tolerate violence. Cutting out of our lives people we never actually knew, though, is a lot easier than refusing to tolerate the abusers that surround us. I’m not talking here about survivors who struggle to leave bad people. I’m talking about the friends, the relatives who decide not to “take a side,” and in doing so, firmly side with rape culture.

The part of Dylan Farrow’s open letter to Allen that hit closest to home for me was when she called out the people who have continued to work with her father despite knowledge of his abuse. When she named Diane Keaton, we might just have heard a movie star’s names, another player in a glamorous world divorced from our won. But for Farrow, Keaton is a real person, a figure from her childhood who chose an abuser over a young girl in need.

We talk often of a “culture of silence” that enables sexual violence, but when I was in college, everyone in my broader social circle knew who the rapists were. The information traveled in whispered paths, and took time to make its way through the community, but people knew which of their friends had assaulted their other friends, often how it had happened, often the same names coming up again and again. People knew.

And you know what? They kept hanging out. They kept going to rapists’ parties, the good ones with lots of free booze, and in return invited over these assailants along with their victims. Sometimes, they dated their friends’ abusers: He wouldn’t do that to me. I once stole a picture of my assailant off a close friend’s fridge because I couldn’t bear to see it hanging there right next to a photo of me.

The campus grew smaller and smaller for survivors, now restricted not only by our attempts to avoid our assailants but to avoid the friends who tolerated them. And we heard every excuse. He has a girlfriend now. I don’t know what happened. It’s not my business. But every rationalization boiled down to a belief that convenience, a desire never to feel uncomfortable or deprived, trumped any moral responsibility – as though we can opt in or out of the repercussions of our actions, as though we can choose to move through the world apolitically with no effect on others.

I spend a lot of time trying to convince the federal government to enforce Title IX, but my honest belief is that social ostracism could do more than our current laws. My senior year, I saw a known repeat offender question his treatment of women for the first time because he wasn’t invited to a big party thrown by one of his victim’s friends. Imagine the harm we could have prevented if we had stopped inviting him sooner.

Skip the next Woody Allen movie. Support Dylan Farrow. But we also all need to make the inconvenient choices in our own worlds when the personal costs are greater both for us and for the survivor. Fighting rape culture is hard. That’s why we have to do it.


Alexandra Brodsky is an editor at Feministing, a founding co-director of Know Your IX, and a student at Yale Law School.

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  1. Posted February 6, 2014 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Yes. Absolutely, yes. I have refused to be around certain guys who’ve done horrible things to women, and as a result have been left out of get-togethers, treated as overly-sensitive, etc. These guys, meanwhile, just get away with shit because people excuse them with things like “yeah, he’s kind of dick/that’s really horrible/etc but he means well.”

  2. Posted February 6, 2014 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    I just want to say THANK YOU for this article!
    I was assaulted by one of my sister’s (and my) best friends a few years ago, right before her wedding in which he was a groomsman. He was treated like family. I was treated like a lying slut.
    Things have since smoothed over and been dealt with, but I’ll never get over that. So when people know about R. Kelly or whomever but don’t stop supporting him, it does feel personal to me. I appreciate you putting it into words!

  3. Posted February 6, 2014 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    Thank You for this article. It truly takes a village to make a rapist. And it takes a village to stop one. Great article!

  4. Posted February 6, 2014 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Thank you thank you thank you for saying this. I just had a very extensive debate on the ole’ facebook. The (male) commenter was on the side that Woody Allen ” was never convicted” and “know the facts” basically placing all his rape cultured opinions on that disgusting Daily Beast article that I could not even stomach to finish. The commenter was so upset I suggested he was rape cultured (and obviously refused to read the many many relevant articles and quotes I posted) that he left the feed and ultimately the woman who posted Dylan’s open letter deleted the feed entirely, which just further silences the discussion we need to be having about rape culture and to go even further with not supporting known rapist. We do need to pick a side and we can not have it both ways, we need to support survivors. I support Dylan Farrow.

    • Posted February 7, 2014 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      Maybe he refused the read the articles you showed him. But you admit yourself that you didn’t finish the daily beast article. You really should go back and read it. Despite the authors snarky tone it really is full of facts (not “facts” as you put it) that can’t be ignored. And now Moses Farrow, Dylan Farrow’s brother, has just giving an interview supporting Woody Allen. It’s not a “rape cultured opinion” to know the facts of this case that so many people are ignoring. Why can’t we just admit that this is a complicated situation? This isn’t like with Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, an obvious breach of justice. This is a real situation with real people and we can’t superimpose our politics on it.

  5. Posted February 6, 2014 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    Yes. Yes. Yes. We ALL need to be better than this.

    This so true it hurts:

    “He has a girlfriend now. I don’t know what happened. It’s not my business. But every rationalization boiled down to a belief that convenience, a desire never to feel uncomfortable or deprived, trumped any moral responsibility – as though we can opt in or out of the repercussions of our actions, as though we can choose to move through the world apolitically with no effect on others.”

  6. Posted February 7, 2014 at 12:20 am | Permalink

    Thank you for this article. I was raped by a “friend” when I was 20. I did what I thought was the right thing and I told the police and the university we both attended. We were in band together and instead of removing him the school told me I didn’t have to go to class or could come late to avoid him. I lost the majority of my friends because I “should have just talked to him”. Eventually I was kicked out of university because I had become suicidal since I still had to see my attacker constantly. I would love to sum this comment up with some great moral but the fact is there is no moral. I was blamed for speaking up because this guy was supposed to be my friend and I’m the only one who had any sort of consequences.

  7. Posted February 8, 2014 at 3:42 am | Permalink

    I think this piece from Samantha Jane Geimer (the woman sexually assaulted by Roman Polanski when she was younger) contains some pretty powerful stuff on the importance of the healing process, regardless of the legal outcome of an abuse case.

    As she notes, abuse can often be hard to prove without a doubt, and it is important to err on the side of believing the victim. She also mentions the importance of not jumping to conclusions regarding the guilt of a person who has not been proven to have committed a crime, as difficult as this may be at times.

    I must disagree with the idea that calling this a “complicated case” implies that Dylan is lying about what happened. We can support Dylan and hope that she is able to heal without crucifying Woody Allen, because as Ms. Geimer points out, that retribution and anger doe not necessarily help a victim to come to terms with what has happened. And statements like “I know I would rather stand where I stand and eventually be proven wrong than support Woody Allen and eventually be proven wrong”, pointing to some sort of kangaroo court of public opinion are frankly disturbing to me.

    I work as a counselor for children who have experienced severe trauma, often including sexual abuse. Since witnessing the case of a little girl who was exploited as a pawn in a horrifying custody battle in which a parent did in fact push the child into making false accusations of abuse, I have a different view on the matter. This situation (where a false accusation is made) is extremely rare, and again, we should ALWAYS err on the side of supporting the victim, but the fact remains that without absolute evidence we should not carelessly drag anyone’s name through the mud. Supporting the victim and their healing must be at the forefront.

    As for cutting proven rapists out of our lives, I agree, and can’t help but wonder how Ms. Geimer feels about Mia Farrow’s support of Roman Polanski. Mia’s stance on Polanski has no bearing on what happened to Dylan, but I would think she would want to show more solidarity with victims considering how close to home sexual abuse is for her family.

  8. Posted February 8, 2014 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    Wow this post is upsetting to me. I didn’t realize that it was common to openly know of rapists and assaultists. I feel so lucky whenever I read this sort of thing. I can honestly I never knew of any guy who was an assaulter that I kept hanging around with or anything like that. I have a few friends who’ve had incidents but I never really knew the guys nor cared to.

    Good luck out there.

  9. Posted February 11, 2014 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Agreed that ostracizing these guys and the few women that rape would do more to stop them than anything else. It just might make them realize that other people don’t think it’s right.

    I’m sure that as long as people still hang out with them they think everything is fine. That’s how these bullies roll, you have to make it really obvious to them that something they are doing is wrong most of the time, or they just won’t get it.

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