I learn the details of another friend's experience of sexual assault approximately once per month. 8-15 times per year for the last 6-8 years.
I’m opening with that because I want it to make an impression, and to sink in. I have come to suspect that this piece of information, or its absence, is highly relevant to others’ accusations that I engage in hyperbole and hypotheticals, chasing edge cases and straw men.
How many victims’ stories do you know, to the level of detail of knowing who assaulted them, what was said before/after, and what happened between them? I anticipate that the average answer to that question among my social circles is 2, the average among people reading this post is around 5, and the average among people responding to this post will be around 10. I can’t even answer with certainty; the dozens have started to blur together over time. I predict the number would be much lower if I asked how many of the accused you’ve heard as much information from.
If you have been drawn into a discussion about consent and community, violations and rules, right and wrong, and it was a single event, or just a few, that got your attention, you’re probably not well equipped to be making decisions and drawing conclusions. As terrible as it sounds to say it, and the impetus for the trigger warning on this post... this applies even if that single event was your own experience. Until you know the common and uncommon threads connecting a dozen rapes in your community, you aren’t qualified to say which causes are most likely, or which solutions most appropriate. You don’t have the perspective to understand which interactions were and were not consensual, or seemed consensual or not to the participants.
When someone accuses me of engaging in hypotheticals on this subject, I am most often making vague statements with the goals of protecting a victim’s identity and/or consolidating the common factors of multiple real events.
When someone accuses me of setting up straw men to argue against on this subject, I am most often referring to a significant number of real people whose views and/or behavior are detrimental to our community and safety.
There are other people who have more perspective than I do. People with more information, more experience, and/or more education on the subject. Trauma counselors. First responders. Educators of those groups. Reformed rapists. Etc. I’m not saying I’m the most qualified person to handle this topic. I’m just saying that on one important axis, I’m probably more qualified than you.
Finally, I am left to speculate on why I have all of this information. It’s obviously not my caring nature or interpersonal appeal or conversational savvy that’s drawing people to tell me these things. I have said it in the past, and I’ll repeat my hypothesis here. I expect that my public engagement on this subject, and my attempt to remain rational and fair, is what convinces so many people to confide in me. I maintain the principle that having more information about a problem makes me more effective at solving it, and I also think that being able to tell their story is good for victims, so I am doubly motivated to keep doing what I’m doing on this front, until someone convinces me that it’s hurting more than it’s helping.