I’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.