Decent Men Don’t Do These Things

From The New York Times:

Sexual assault is excused as normal and forgivable. It’s not. Ask the women who’ve experienced it.

Theresa Brown
Sept. 24, 2018

I have a story. So many women do. Mine took place when I was 6 or 7 years old, I think. I wasn’t raped. People seem to always want to parse the details, so I’ll be clear about that. Two older boys, sons of friends of my parents, coerced me into letting them touch my genitals with theirs. They said they would give me money if I let them. When I balked, they called me chicken.

What’s disturbing is that it happened, and then I forgot it happened until I was 23 years old and remembered. I was living in New York at the time, lying on my bed, and the memory came into my mind, unbidden. I wish it had stayed away, because now I remember it all the time and don’t want to.

Some people will dismiss my story with one word: “Kids.” Others will say that I wasn’t violently assaulted, so no harm was done. And still others will question the reliability of a memory that left me for about 17 years and then came back and settled in, leaving a permanent scar on my peace of mind.

There are so many other stories, though. A girl I knew — I need to keep it vague — was raped by her boyfriend. She was 16, I think, and I was 15. She told me afterward that she told him to stop, but he wouldn’t stop. She said, “Theresa, it felt like he was raping me.” And here’s my failing. I didn’t know what to say. I thought strangers in dark alleys raped women, not men whom women actually knew.

Then there was my friend in college, who called out a guy in our dorm who was drunk and being loud. He responded by calling her a bitch and spraying her in the face with a fire extinguisher. She called the campus police and I watched as over the following few days the entire dorm turned against her. People said he was a good guy; he just got ugly when he drank.

And when I later argued that my friend’s assailant should be removed as a peer counselor since he had an obvious tendency toward violence, the student director of the program said nothing while studiously cleaning his fingernails.

Then there was the winter night when, as I rode my bike home from the hospital after a 12-hour nursing shift, a man standing by the curb exposed himself to me. It was dark out and cold, making the experience surreal. I wondered if it really happened, but I knew it did.

This is the world that women live in. A world where some men think it is O.K. to humiliate women, threaten women, assault women. A world where apologists for these men blame the women themselves for any sexual harms that befall them, and where the behavior of such men is even excused as normal. Except it isn’t normal.

How in the world would two boys, around 10 years old, get the idea to ensnare an even younger girl into a forced mock-up of prostitution? Who, when a woman says to stop during sex, instead hears “go?” What kind of person uses a fire extinguisher to silence another human being? Why would a man, on a cold winter’s night, display his penis to a tired nurse just wanting to get home?

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