“My Roommate, The Rapist”

Friends and readers, the following is a guest post by a reader of this blog. This person contacted me after her roommate confessed her husband raped her, but she didn’t want to talk to him about it. This put my reader in a very difficult position, having to pretend everything was okay for the peace of the household and honoring the wishes of her friend/roommate, and it also made my reader very familiar with the concept of Cognitive Dissonance.

Cognitive Dissonance is indeed a bitch. I’m still struggling with it. My poem “My Heart Still Wants to Believe” is all about Cognitive Dissonance. How can “lover” and “rapist” exist together?

In the case of my reader, how can “friend“/”good father” exist with “rapist”?

Looking forward to your respectful comments as part of an ongoing discussion about how to socially deal with rapists.

-_Q

It’s been a shitty couple of weeks in my life. A lot of the shit is tangentially relevant to what I want to say today, like the fact that my rapist is moving in with my kids’ father for a few months, so I’m going to need to deal with him again, and with the feelings I avoided and pushed aside for the past 2 years. It’s almost tempting to make my post about that and those feelings and coping with them. But as much as that looms in my thoughts right now, there are some other things I need to say. Things I’ve been avoiding as hard as possible.

My roommate is a rapist. His wife, my friend, came to me the other weekend and told me he raped her, cried on my shoulder about it. I’m not going to get into details, first because they are not mine to share and second because I don’t know all of them. I know that it happened. That is enough.

Or it should be.

Unfortunately there are some complicating circumstances here, and I don’t mean the kind of “circumstances” that people use to make excuses for a rapist.

See, she doesn’t to talk to him about what happened. Or no, I can’t say that. I don’t know what they talk about all the time. It’s possible she has said something to him. But as of when she spoke with me, she hadn’t told him and wasn’t going to tell him.

Which means I can’t say anything.

Which means I still need to act like his friend, and chat and play games and laugh with him over the antics of the kids. It means I can’t walk up to him and slap him for hurting my friend.

And its killing me.

He doesn’t know he is a rapist. I believe this. Not because of the stupid “making excuses for rapists – nice guys rape too!” BS we’ve all seen before. I believe it because both my friend and her husband believe that her body belongs to him and his body belongs to her. I’ve seen this in so many other areas of their lives – her telling him he isn’t allowed to shave his beard, his telling her how much he wants her to weigh. (He likes big women; she wants to be able to walk without her knees hurting, which means whether he likes it or not, shes trying to lose weight.) So yeah, the idea that badgering her into giving him sex (or some similar variation on coersion to have sex as I know he did not physically force her) would be wrong, would be rape, just wouldn’t occur to him.

Which does not in anyway excuse him or absolve him of responsibility for his actions. Frankly, the fact that they both believe this, and have built it into their relationship, says profound things about how unhealthy their relationship is. The entire foundation is abusive. But if no one tells him what he did and how it was wrong, if no one explains that no matter what he was taught growing up, her body is hers and having sex in any conditions other than full and enthusiastic consent is rape… well if no one even tries to do these things, he will never learn and never change. Assuming he’d even be willing to try. I doubt he would, but I don’t know. I can’t know because I cannot talk with him. He will, by his wife’s decision, remain in the dark.

Cognitive dissonance is a mental state where two ideas are in conflict. In psych class they usually talk about in terms of your beliefs versus your actions. If you act in a way that is contrary to your beliefs your mind starts to torture itself. The only way to get peace in your own head is to end the conflict. Scarily, the easiest way to end that kind of conflict is to change your beliefs.

I am living with a man who is a rapist, and I am forced, every day, to treat him as a friend. I cannot hold these two conflicting ideas in my head.

I was outside with him and the kids the other day. Kids were playing and laughing, sun was out, we were chatting and having fun. Then it hit me like a gut punch: this man raped my friend. How the hell could I stand there and enjoy his company?

He’s a good father, a better father than my friend is a mother, if I’m being honest. He’s a good friend , I can’t lie about that. The way he treats his friends, supports them, is there for them, is awesome.

And he’s a rapist.

How do you reconcile that?

My friends decision not to speak has tied my hands. I cannot change my actions. And I refuse to allow my beliefs to change. I refuse to make excuses for him, to say that what he did was not rape or to victim blame. So I live with the cognitive dissonance eating away at my thoughts and my peace of mind every damn day. And every day my mind, for its own sanity, tries to push it out. To make me forget. To just nudge me towards being okay with living with a rapist. Because if it can’t, eventually this conflict will drive me insane.

Every day I am fighitng it, because even knowing how it is damaging my mental health, I refuse to be ‘okay’ with living with a rapist.

My partner is taking a different approach. He’s using his mind to trick itself. Playing the double agent.

He said to me, “I think they both exaggerate everything. I’m not saying he didn’t rape her! But you know how they blow everything out of proportion.”

I was stunned and I don’t know what my expression looked like, but I know I was getting ready to ‘set him straight’ with a minimum of politeness, and he must have seen it. He cut me off, “Don’t say anything. I know how fucked up that is but I have to think it. Otherwise I’m going get something and cut his balls off.”

I hate that he has to think that way. To make those excuses for this man who was his friend. But I also understand what he is doing. And I would much rather have him make the conscious decision to fall back on those excuses to retain his sanity while knowing in his heart how wrong they are, then have him truly believe those excuses.

Moving out would be the best solution. If we could get away from here, in a place where we aren’t seeing these people every day, when this rapist and I aren’t raising kids together and sharing chores and where he and my partner don’t laugh over movies and video games, then the cognitive dissonance would go away. We could cut him out of our lives and remember him primarily as “a good guy to hang out with, but who we want nothing to do with because of his rape and abuse of his wife.” Unfortunately moving out isn’t an option right now. Partly for finances and partly for other practical issues. That will change in the future. But for at least the next few months and likely the next year, we are stuck.

Probably, in a few more weeks, I will start to let myself forget. I’ll spend a lot of time meditating and working through my mental pathways. Maybe somehow I will do what so few people ever manage and reconile with the idea that doing good things doesn’t mean you are a good person, and doing bad things doesn’t mean you are a bad person. That a person can do both good things (be a good father) and bad things (rape his wife) and be just a flawed, fucked up human. Not a flawed, fucked up human I want to live with, but not a walking contradiction in terms that will drive me insane either. More likely, I won’t be able to reach that point of understanding. More likely the cognitive dissonance of needing to be friendly with someone who has done something I cannot forgive will remain. And I so I will give myself permission to forget, for now, what he has done. Like my partner has given himself permission, for now, to make excuses.

Because it will keep us sane.

But part of us will remember. Part of us will not excuse or forgive. As when we can, without endangering ourselves or our child, we will leave these people behind. And I will mourn my friend, and the life she is choosing. But I will it far away from her, where her unhealthy choices cannot damage me any more.

-_Q

Thank you for sending this to me to post. It’s an interesting dilemma, and one that many people have to face in one way or another. This reader is rather trapped financially, living with the rapist and tied by the loyalty to her friend, but many others are not in such situations. I’ve had people write to me and tell me “it’s complicated” when speaking about a known rapist in their community because, well, he throws great parties.

Um. Really? That’s not fucking complicated. That’s a person not wanting to give up prime party space in favor of a woman (or in the case of that particular community women’s) safety. Not complicated. Selfish. Fucked up priorities. Not complicated.

This reader’s story (above), that’s complicated.

If you regularly read my blog, you know how I feel about being friends with a rapist. You don’t. It’s not “he’s my friend, he can’t be a rapist” —it’s “he’s a rapist, he can’t be my friend.” Period. But…what if you are living with the guy, trapped in a lease, and honoring the wishes of a friend? Now. Complicated.

My biggest comment on this stems from these lines:

doing good things doesn’t mean you are a good person, and doing bad things doesn’t mean you are a bad person. That a person can do both good things (be a good father) and bad things (rape his wife) and be just a flawed, fucked up human

I agree with this statement, to a point. I think good people can do bad things, but I don’t consider rape a “bad” thing. It’s a horrific thing. It’s a thing worse than murder, in my mind, so someone cannot be a good person and commit rape. They just can’t. Someone can be a good person and lose their temper and snap. Someone can be a good person and act in abusive ways sometimes, like being too angry or saying things you regret. Someone can be a good person and cheat on their taxes.

Someone cannot be a good person a rape.

Someone can do good things and behave in nice and fun ways and be a rapist. Indeed. But behaving nicely is not being nice. Doing good things doesn’t make one good. Doing bad things doesn’t make one bad, to an extent.

If you murder, even once, you’re a murderer. Nothing “good” can take that title away.
If you rape, even once, you’re a rapist. Nothing “good” can take that title away.

I know this reader well enough from our correspondence that she didn’t mean it that way, but the rest of your readers don’t know her that well (since she requested to remain anonymous, you don’t even know who she is). Far, far, far too many people are saying “good people can do bad things” as a way to excuse the rapist, so I wanted to clarify.

Thoughts?

 

~ by omgrey on January 30, 2013.

4 Responses to ““My Roommate, The Rapist””

  1. Cognitive Dissonance is a good thing, it means you are close to being able to draw bright clear lines that are your boundaries for your life. There is not a universal agreement among Human Beings as to how much separation should exist between Heaven and hell. Some people need to be separated by a vast ocean so that they exist on different continents, some want man made borders like a fence on lock down and selectively allow only those they deem acceptable entrance. Some people want state lines without fences where those lines separate between two different interpretations of juris-diction and therefore have different rules for determining what exactly constitutes the side of the line a person falls on.

    If it where as easy as being able to see the impact on the ground and having that line clearly drawn on the ground that stopped the fall, it would be easy to call, but that would not be freewill.

    There are many types of boundaries that people must form for themselves and it must be a situation where what is good for the goose is good for the gander, meaning that there will be no double standards and when there are they will work against those who took advantage of the duality and it will work in favor of those whom a double standard was employed in order to deal harshly.

    Your boundaries sound closer to what would be considered a county level, or possibly down to a house level.

    Personally, from the few details you have given here, it may be wiser to draw lines to your boundaries. Personally I would be clear with your friend how hard it is going to make the time spent sharing a house together. That you respect her desire to not confront her husband, but you do not respect her wishy washy definition of who she is. That because you were not clear of this finer line of where your respect falls, you will continue to respect her wishy washyness for the time being, but in the future if this is the type of behavior she is going to present, she must be willing to discuss these situations and bring them to resolution. That the resolution may very well be that you both keep pretending, but it does remove the responsibility from being solely placed on either one of you.

    You owe it to her if she is your friend, to tell her what is unacceptable behavior for your friends to exhibit in regards to you. Because it sounds like you may believe there is hope to keep this friendship, or at least you believe she may still be the type of person you desire to be friends with, I believe it is right to respect her wishes and remain quiet, but I don NOT believe it would be right for you to not let her know that this is creating problems for you. Because if you do not, you slowly detract from the legitimacy of your bringing your complaints to resolution that you can live with.

    Matters such as this and even seemingly more trivial, can often mean the difference between two types life that any life can be parsed down to.

    Cognitive dissonance is your soul informing you that you need to find a place where you can live up to the full level of responsibility that is mandatory for the living to exhibit in order for you to be able to maintain your freewill in the matter.

    Your friend may choose to forfeit her freewill to something else, as the nature of our freewill is we are allowed forfeiture, if she is going to be foolish enough to forfeit her freewill to man, you would hope she know damn well how foolish forfeiture would be, that perhaps a more wise person would role play, and even then only with those who were responsible enough to speak up about how they feel before, during and after the roles were played, and even then, the paradox lies in that the only person who absolutely deserves complete control over another’s freewill, would not accept it because if such a person truly understood the concept, they would understand that devotion is best left to voluntary once inside the garden.

    If not voluntary, then you are either not yet inside, or devoting to the wrong person.

    Sorry for my typos and mistakes, but I thought it better to let you know now, rather than later, so I sent it as is, knowing something might later need corrections but maybe this will help you now and also allow me to be somewhere else for someone who cannot wait, so it’s important I am not late. Hence the typos and mistakes.

    • Thank you for your comment. Rest assured the author of this piece has or will see your comment, but she’s chosen to remain anonymous so she will unlikely respond herself.

      Thank you for reading and participating in this extremely important discussion.

  2. Recently my friends were discussing someone in their community who may or may not be a predator. I’m not part of this community so I can’t really say much, but something that was said set off alarms in my head. The whole discussion made me think about how I would excuse my “friends” in college for exhibiting predatory behavior (making people get completely drunk, touching people in a sexual manner without permission, not taking “no” for an answer, etc). I was so caught up in the “good people can do bad/stupid things” mindset that I didn’t realize how awful their actions are. Even if they’re getting a person wasted to see what happens, it’s still really malicious. Same with just making sexual comments in a supposedly joking manner. Real friends don’t do that to each other, and good people don’t hurt others for sexual pleasure or just entertainment.

    • YES!!! THIS!!!

      Pretty much if whether or not someone is a sexual predator even comes into question, that’s enough for me. They’re dangerous if they even are suspected.

      They’re suspected for a reason.

      So much of this abide is insidious and normalized that people can’t articulate or find “proof,” but it doesn’t change the damage caused by these types.

      Not at all.

      Thanks for this.

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