What do you think of when you hear the word “rapist”?
For many people, the word invokes a vision similar to the one “vampire” might invoke: violence in dark alleyways - a faceless, hulking figure attacking a screaming young woman. A natural predator. A monster.
In a perfect world, these monsters wouldn’t exist, but this is not a perfect world.
And so in the same way that characters in vampire stories are reminded to carry garlic, young women are reminded not to walk alone at night, not to venture into dangerous areas, not to wear “immodest clothing”, and not to drink too much.
“If you can just follow these rules,” society claims, “The monster won’t attack you.”
Monsters like vampires are conveniently simple to understand. They’re evil for the sake of being evil. It’s in their nature.
When you view rapists this way, campaigns that talk about teaching rapists not to rape rather than teaching victims not to get raped might seem as ludicrous as a campaign teaching vampires not to drink blood.
The thing is, rapists are often not literally cold-blooded, faceless monsters who are proudly and knowingly evil. They’re people.
When Bill Cosby raped his victims, it was not at knifepoint in an alleyway. He was not a masked thug, easily recognizable as a “baddie”. This is Bill Cosby, of the iconic, wholesome, family TV show we all watched. He’s one of the most famous dads of all time.
Can any fan of his be blamed for trusting him? For being willing to spend time alone with him? For accepting when he offered them a drink?
Dozens of women have come forward to accuse him of rape or sexual assault, often after drugging them, but Bill Cosby just doesn’t fit our “faceless monster” mental image of rapist.
Perhaps this is why even now, after released court documents have revealed that Cosby admitted to drugging women for sex, the word “rape” is so often carefully avoided.
According to the New York Post, Cosby’s wife Camille believes his accusers “consented” to drugs and sex. Camille is also reported to have said, “They are making him out to be such a bad guy, a monster”.
I wonder, does Cosby see himself as a rapist? Or consider his actions “that bad”?
In an old comedy routine he describes being a 13 year old boy who hears about “Spanish Fly”, something you can put in a girl’s drink.
“From then on, man, every time you see a girl. ‘Wish I had some Spanish Fly’. Go to a party, see five girls standing along. ‘Boy if I had a whole jug of Spanish Fly, light that corner up over there. Hahahaha’.”
As the routine goes on, he describes being an adult who, with a friend, is excited to go to on a trip to Spain, because in Spain they might be able to get some “Spanish Fly”. He describes this as “our childhood dream come true”.
The joke is that they get to Spain, prepare to ask the Spanish taxi driver about “Spanish Fly”, and he turns around and asks them about “American fly”.
The undertones of this joke? All around the world, men and boys dream for a drug they can just slip into a girl’s drink, and this is charmingly amusing rather than horrifying. Boys will be boys. Ha ha.
This joke is from 1969. The earliest alleged sexual assault, in which Cosby drugged his victim, would have happened in 1965. This means a rapist stood on stage and joked about rape, and his audience laughed along with him. He never had to examine his actions or see how monstrous they were, because “boys will be boys”.
I want to talk about another rapist, one that many have found a lot easier to see as a faceless monster.
Mukesh Singh is one of six men who took part in an infamously vicious gang rape on a bus in India in 2012. They not only raped Jyoti Singh, their 23 year old victim, but they beat and penetrated her with iron rods, causing her to die of internal injuries.
In a recent interview, Mukesh said he had no regrets about the rape, largely because he felt Jyoti brought it upon herself.
As far as he’s concerned, and I quote, “A decent girl won’t roam about at 9 o’clock at night”. He also blames Jyoti for her death, claiming that “if she stayed silent and didn’t put up a fight” she’d “be alive today”.
Mukesh also wondered why people are “making a fuss” about the rape, when “everybody’s doing it”.
Apart from the fact that they’re both rapists, there’s an extremely important similarity between Cosby and Mukesh: Both seem to view their behaviour as normal. According to Cosby, all boys share this dream of one day obtaining some “Spanish Fly”. According to Mukesh, “everybody’s doing it”, and really the only person who he felt did anything bad was his victim.
This is rape culture.
This is why we need to teach boys that drugging girls is not charming and cute. This is why we need to teach men that all women deserve respect, not just so-called “decent” girls.
This is why we need to teach everyone that consent matters, and that having sex with someone without their consent, whether that person is male or female, whether you are male or female, is rape.
Rapists aren’t monsters that can be warded off by staying in at night and never being a woman who is wearing a short skirt. They’re humans, men and women, who often simply haven’t learned the lesson that rape is wrong, or even that what they’re doing is rape.
And this is why, if we genuinely want to stop rape, we need to stop teaching “don’t get raped”, and instead begin to teach “don’t rape”.