Being interviewed for The Evening Standard self-confessed rapist Tom Stranger, who shot to fame when sharing a stage with the woman he raped for a T.E.D talk said, “In South of Forgiveness we speak about the ‘monster myth’ and how rape is seen as an inhuman act. I see it as part of a specific problem. It’s almost like escapism.”
I find myself constantly returning to Tom Stranger and Elva Thordis’s talk and interviews (I have not yet been able to bring myself to read the book). I find so much of it problematic as I have explored in various pieces here, hereand here. I suppose as someone who has been raped twice, both times by men I thought were my friends and both times after I had been drinking — Elva’s story strikes a cord with me. Also like Elva I’ve spent much of my adult life working to end sexual and (in my case) domestic abuse. Each time I read something new about Stranger and Elva I feel the urge to dissect it, to explore what they are really saying. And I think that is of value, given how many millions of people have been exposed to their story and the effect it is having on how we collectively think about and approach rape and rapists.
I would argue that while most people abstractly think of rape as an inhuman act — these values aren’t backed up in action. In values that play out in actuality most people actively attempt to nullify the existence of rape, by victim shaming and blaming and allowing perpetrators off the hook so readily. The essence and goal of rape culture is to normalise sexual assault against women, so in acted — upon values rape is not seen as an inhuman act and therein lies the problem. In fact rape is so normalised that it took Stranger himself 9 years and a confrontational email from his victim for him to realise he had raped someone. Rape has become so distressingly common that worldwide 1 in 3 women will be victims of male perpetrated sexual violence. Which leads us to ask the question how many men in 3 are rapists? Or men in 5? Or men in 10? We don’t know those figures, because no one is researching how many men are rapists. Rape is framed statistically through how many women will be victims — not how many men will rape.
It is hard to know exactly what Stranger means by “It’s almost like escapism.”, is he referring to rape? the term ‘rapist’? When asked by the interviewer Stefanie Marsh what did he mean by that he continued,“I think the term ‘rapist’ disallows any further analysis because it is a branding of someone as opposed to a behaviour.”
Yet ‘rapist’ does not require further analysis — it is the term we use for someone who has raped someone. That a rapist is arguing to not be branded a rapist is a bit rich. Stranger then says, “If you Google ‘Tom Stranger’ a lot of the headlines include the word ‘rapist’. I don’t know if it’s my place to question that term — it is factually correct and I’m not looking to refute it. But it’s a weaponised term. The semantics of it — it’s the grandest of sins. No one in their right mind would ever want to call themselves a rapist. I understand that. The discourse around that word almost isolates it. It is reductive to the point where it doesn’t get past the labelling. Being a rapist is unforgiveable — something beyond any kind of redemption or understanding.”
Stranger seems confused about what a weapon is, one thing a weapon is is using your strength, privilege or status to insert parts of your body into someone without their consent. Rape is a weapon, not the term rapist. Rapist in this case is simply a statement of fact. The truth cannot be weaponised when it is freely and openly admitted by the man himself. Furthermore rape is not in actuality seen as the ‘grandest of sins’ in terms how we treat men accused of or convicted of this crime. Far from it. Men routinely get away with raping women, with even those that are found out often forgiven and welcomed back into their jobs, sports clubs and communities with open arms. Some of them even receive standing ovations and awards or have dozens of people lining up to shake their hand. Even legally, rape is not seen as the ‘grandest of sins’ with only 5.7% of rapes reported to the U.K police resulting in a conviction,(and with only 15% of rapes reported that is a lot of rapists in our communities). And like Stranger himself, in some cases even self confessed rapists will serve no time in prison .
This brings us to the last of stranger’s quotes from the Standard interview, “Being a rapist is unforgiveable — something beyond any kind of redemption or understanding.”
The idea that families, friends and communities do not regularly forgive rapists couldn’t be further from the truth. In the T.E.D Q&A Stranger tells us how his own family responded to the news that he was a rapist.
“I am blessed with a loving, understanding and supportive network of friends and family, who have, for the most part, seen me as more than my actions. Primarily, the reactions I’ve received have been receptive, quiet and thoughtful.”
Stranger’s family and friends were “loving, understanding and supportive.” And that is the real problem we should all be talking about. That rapists are so readily forgiven, without having to be accountable or make reparations of any kind, rapists are accepted and shown love and support. I have worked with dozens of women who were victims of sexual and or domestic violence and I cannot think of one case where the perpetrators family and friends did not rally around them and attempt to discredit the victim. The most common societal response to men who perpetrate violence against women is to victim blame and keep on supporting the abusive man.
Imagine if the response from the family and friends of a perpetrator was to be disgusted and appalled? What if they wholeheartedly supported the victim instead of the rapist? What about the if the rapist was not allowed back into the lives of his friends and family until he had shown that he fully understood and realised the severity of what he had done and had dedicated his life to repairing the damage he had done to the woman? That would be a TRUE consequence for men to feel, that there would actually be serious repercussions from their friends and family if they hurt women. How many men do you think would rape women if they knew everyone, even their family and friends would rally around their victim?
We all have a part to play in rape culture. My bold idea is to start holding men to a higher standard. I have to wonder would Tom Stranger have raped Thordis Elva if his family and friends had done the same.