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Rapists aren’t monsters (and that’s why they’re scary)

Trigger Warning for discussions of rape and rape culture.

 

Max Temkin, co-creator of Cards Against Humanity, wrote this today in response to a rape accusation against him. Other people who knew both him and his accuser support her version of events over his. His statement about it all sounds pretty and humble and good at first. Hell, even Wil Wheaton reposted it in support of Temkin. There’s a problem with it, though: it has all the hallmarks of manipulation.

Let’s look at what he has to say for himself.

I had a really brief relationship with this girl in college; her dorm room was next to mine, and after a few evenings staying up talking all night, we made out. We spent a few nights in each others’ rooms, but we never had sex and neither of us pressured the other into doing anything we weren’t comfortable with. After a few nights, I broke things off in the cowardly way that 19-year-old guys do, and I just stopped returning her calls and texts. I can imagine she was hurt by this, I know that I would be hurt if someone broke up with me that way.

[Emphasis mine.] We’ve all internalized aspects of rape culture, because we all grew up in it. Here Temkin is alluding to a common myth of rape culture that we all recognize and will all respond to on some level, even if we don’t want to. The myth is that when a man breaks off a relationship with a woman and leaves her feeling used or hurt, she may retaliate by accusing him of rape.

Less than 2-8% of rape accusations are false. Because of rape culture and misogyny, when a woman accuses a man of rape she is putting herself up for a huge and unpleasant ordeal. This isn’t a good method of lashing out at someone, nor it is a popular method. Temkin is just regurgitating rape culture by bringing up the accuser’s supposed heartbreak.

Part of rape culture that hurts everyone is that it makes it difficult to talk about what is and is not consent, and makes it incredibly scary for people to speak up when their boundaries are crossed. It is entirely possible she read something completely different than I did into an awkward college hookup.

Look at him deflecting blame here like a pro. Yes, he actually suggests that rape culture was at fault for making his accuser too scared to say no. He’s too savvy to suggest his accuser is at fault–victim blaming would be too obvious a tactic–but still manages to reassure the reader that he could not possibly be at fault. Only rape culture.

At the same time, he admits she might have “read something completely different” in the experience. You mean like rape? No. Please don’t buy this defense, readers. Read this and think about it, hard: It’s not that they don’t understand, they just don’t like the answer. The TL;DR highlights would be:

Indeed it is evident that these young men share the understanding that explicit verbal refusals of sex per se are unnecessary to effectively communicate the withholding of consent to sex. … It is also clear that the men can hear both ‘little hints’ (l. 278) and ‘softened’ refusals as refusals … Of note here is that in none of the examples given do the men indicate that the explicit use of the word ‘no’ is necessary for a woman’s refusal of a sexual invitation to be understood as such.

The idea that a rapist didn’t understand the victim wasn’t consenting is just another rape culture myth.

Back to Temkin again:

If any part of that was traumatic for her, I am sincerely sorry, and I wish we would have had a chance to address it privately.

If. If it was traumatic for her. This is a classic non-pology. It pushes the onus off of the one issuing the apology, making it clear that the issue is the reaction of the offended party instead of the original action of the one apologizing. But it gets worse:

I’ve sent her an email and a Facebook message and given her my contact information, but so far I haven’t heard back (but she did edit her post to remove my name).

Holy shitballs no. He’s clearly not nearly as sympathetic toward this woman as he’s trying to portray himself, because if he truly worried about her being traumatized he wouldn’t reinforce it by initiating private communication with her. He contacted her without invitation privately not just once, but twice. My rapist did the same thing, couching it as faux concern when it was really intimidation to shut me up and push me to change my story. Lots of abusers do this. It’s not cool. If you’re genuinely concerned about someone who has expressed that you’ve wronged them to this degree, don’t initiate private communication. It is frightening and invasive.

I spoke with my lawyer, and she thinks I have a clear case to sue this woman for libel and get a restraining order, but I have no desire to bully or harm her.

Why does he add these details if he doesn’t want to bully her? Because it’s a threat. “I don’t want to sue you, but I totally can and I’ll win.” It’s a silencing tactic. It’s intimidation.

There is no evidence for this story. I will never have a chance to defend myself. The structure of the modern internet is such that these things never reach resolution and never go away. This is just baseless gossip that will now haunt me for the rest of my life.

And this is the part when I actually said “fuck you” out loud to my computer. There is evidence: witness testimony is evidence. When someone says they have been raped, their word is evidence. Her testimony conflicts with his, but they don’t cancel one another out. In a court of law, all of the admissable testimony should be considered and weighed. In public opinion, we’re free to to consider these things for ourselves. And after all of this posturing about being concerned for her and trying to consider that maybe she experienced things differently, he hand waves it away as baseless gossip. Why? Perhaps because it really was just posturing and he really doesn’t give a shit about this woman.

Max Temkin is very good at using social justice language. He’s very good at making himself seem sympathetic and reasonable. Rapists are perfectly capable of doing all of those things. They aren’t non-human monsters that leap out of closets, with no awareness of society or communication skills. They’re people, like any one of us. They can be intelligent. They can be involved in social justice. They can create awesome games. They can come across as reasonable, kind people. They can, in fact, be reasonable and kind people in every way except for that pesky raping thing.

Is Max Temkin a rapist? I don’t know. I do know that he’s written a manipulative post, though. I know that he’s spreading harmful rape culture myths under the cloak of being a “feminist and an advocate for women’s rights”. I know that he’s using intimidation tactics against someone who, because of his platform and wealth and gender, has far less power than he does. As one tumblr user put it, this is an epic piece of mansplaining.

Do not believe the myths. Do not believe that nice people who talk about rape culture are immune from it. Whether Temkin is innocent of this accusation or not, his blog post only perpetuates the rape culture he claims to abhor. He is harming victims.

15 comments on “Rapists aren’t monsters (and that’s why they’re scary)

  1. Toto
    July 12, 2014

    The 2-8% figure that you mention is for accusations that were reported to police, AND were judged credible enough (by the police) to warrant an investigation. From my understanding of the situation it’s not really applicable here.

    • Lilith T. Bell
      July 12, 2014

      Toto: That figure stays pretty steady across the board in any study of false accusations. The link given in the post is an example, one of many. This study discussed here is in regards to those reported to university authorities and found a false accusation rate of 5.9%: http://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/2010/09/09/false-rape-allegations-are-rare/

      Without evidence to suggest that false accusations are more common ten years after the fact when the accuser can gain nothing but being subject to a lawsuit, the mountains of evidence that false accusations in general are rare stands.

  2. Kate
    July 12, 2014

    While I agree that there were LOTS of seriously problematic things about Max’s response, I think it’s unfair that you write ” Other people who knew both him and his accuser support her version of events over his” without acknowledging that some people in the Goucher community take his side and many are with-holding judgment as long as they don’t know the whole story. Please don’t represent the entire Goucher community as if they agree with you when the reality is much more complicated.

    • Lilith T. Bell
      July 12, 2014

      Kate, that’s a fair criticism. When I wrote this, all I could find from people who knew them both was what I linked and comments on Facebook along the same lines. Could you share links to support from other witnesses you’ve found so they’re on record? Thanks. When I have a reliable connection I can add an addendum to the post to include them.

      As for representing the Goucher community as agreeing with me…that is not what I’m saying here. The purpose of this was to call out the problematic stuff he wrote, not claim everyone thinks he’s guilty. His statement relies on a lot of rape culture tropes and that’s not okay. It’s damaging and hurtful.

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  4. Matt
    July 15, 2014

    I do not think the way Temkin responded was right at all and I would never defend the act of rape. But if I was in his situation I would have responded very similarly. Again: it would NOT be right, but publicly calling a man a rapist is an attack on his character that will provoke a defensive response every single time.

    I can’t say the attack is unjustified. If anger and fury are the goals, then alright. But I wish there was more understanding between men and women on this issue and it’s not going to happen this way.

    I know it’s asking a lot, but please try to understand that most men want to do the right thing. This is kind of a blind spot for us, though, and we need your help. Again, asking a lot.

    I do believe Max is a kind person who made some really awful mistakes. Whatever happened, I do not believe he meant to hurt this girl eight years ago and I don’t think he meant to threaten her now. I’m not ready to write him off as a person because fuck if I can’t relate to making stupid decisions that unwittingly cause a lot of damage.

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  7. Fried burg
    July 17, 2014

    While I think your article is good, I couldn’t disagree more with your title. Rapists are monsters, period. They may APPEAR nice, but inside they are vicious animals who are only sorry when they get caught. Max Temkin needs to be locked in a cage for the rest of his miserable life.

    • John Smith
      July 18, 2014

      Buddha on a pogo stick! Have you people forgotten the concept of innocent until proven guilty?

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  9. John Smith
    July 18, 2014

    Ok fine. I’m linking your blog to Rediit Redpill so you can receive the mockery you richly deserve.

  10. Juli
    July 22, 2014

    I don’t have any idea whether he is or is not guilty of rape. But 5.9% false rape accusations is not lottery-winning rare; it’s more than one in twenty. There should be some protocol for how a man who is falsely accused of rape should react.

    Assuming that he wasn’t drugged or drunk, he probably has reasonable certainty of not having committed rape, and will be much more certain that the accusation against him is false than his peers will be.

    What *should* such a person say for his bewildered self? What should such a person’s letter look like? Should he not suggest that his accuser is mistaken, because “false accusations are rare”?

    The reason this question is important is that, if the contents of Max Temkin’s letter demonstrate nothing more than that he is manipulative and constitutes mansplanation, then we should expect a different kind of letter from someone who really has been falsely accused. It would be good to know what that genuine kind of letter would look like, so that we can be ready to tell the difference.

    • Juli
      July 23, 2014

      On reading this after posting it, it might not be clear – I am mainly talking about the hypothetical case of a man who really is falsely accused; not this particular case of Max Temkin, because I expect the chance that Max Temkin was falsely accused to be somewhere around one in twenty.

    • Lilith T. Bell
      July 23, 2014

      I don’t have any idea whether he is or is not guilty of rape. But 5.9% false rape accusations is not lottery-winning rare; it’s more than one in twenty. There should be some protocol for how a man who is falsely accused of rape should react.

      Maybe not protocol, but some guidance for how anyone–regardless of gender–should react to an accusation of rape would be good. First thing is to consider whether or not they might have done something wrong. If someone I know accuses me of hurting them, my first reaction is to ask how and worry about what harm I may have caused. If it turns out to be a bunch of bullshit, okay, but I have to recognize the possibility that I’ve harmed a friend without recognizing it.

      As my links about false accusations note, most false rape accusations don’t name someone the accuser knows–most often either there is no specific person named or else it’s a celebrity they’ve never met, like the case with the false Bright Eyes accusation. If a friend or intimate partner says you’ve hurt them somehow, that should carry weight with anyone with an ounce of empathy. Girl you hooked up with? Yeah, that qualifies.

      Assuming that he wasn’t drugged or drunk, he probably has reasonable certainty of not having committed rape, and will be much more certain that the accusation against him is false than his peers will be.

      So why is his word automatically more believable than his accuser? If he has a reasonable certainty of not having committed rape, why does she lack a reasonable certainty of having been raped?

      Here’s the thing: People can make excuses for themselves and they can do things without fully grasping the moral implications of what they’ve done. Max himself admits that it’s possible that he may have done something sexual his accuser didn’t want. Scroll back up. Read what he wrote. He said that. He and others appear to not grasp what that means, so I’ll spell it out:

      Performing a sexual act on someone that they do not consent to is sexual assault. Rape. What he’s been accused of.

      So if this occurred–a possibility he allows–then he may very well have raped her and not consider it rape, because he can apparently describe this without grasping that it could be sexual assault.

      What *should* such a person say for his bewildered self? What should such a person’s letter look like? Should he not suggest that his accuser is mistaken, because “false accusations are rare”?

      Honestly? I think a whole hell of a lot of introspection and trying to contact her through the lawyer or a mutual friend rather than trying to contact her himself would have been the way to go. His statement drew further attention to the situation, which wasn’t good for him. A third party could mediate without making a victim feel threatened and would be better for him, legally speaking, in the case of a false accusation if he decided to sue. I’d be shocked to hear his lawyer actually approved the public statement he made.

      The reason this question is important is that, if the contents of Max Temkin’s letter demonstrate nothing more than that he is manipulative and constitutes mansplanation, then we should expect a different kind of letter from someone who really has been falsely accused. It would be good to know what that genuine kind of letter would look like, so that we can be ready to tell the difference.

      Someone can be drenched in rape culture and using rape culture tropes without being a rapist. There is nothing here to imply it isn’t a statement from an innocent person. As I have said, rapists aren’t monsters. They’re people. They walk among us. Based off of the percentage of rapists in the population and the number of hits I’ve had, it’s likely that around 80 rapists have already read this blog post. Anything a genuinely falsely accused person could say, a rapist could say as well.

      All any of us can do is critically consider our own actions and try not to harm other people. If we have harmed someone, then we need to admit that to ourselves, accept it, and try to do better. If we can make restitution to the ones we’ve harmed without causing further trauma, great. Since monsters aren’t real, we all need to accept the possibility that any one of us could hurt someone deeply. We need to check ourselves, often, to be sure we’re not. No letter to the public is necessary at all, but if someone feels the need to make one, then they should ensure they aren’t reinforcing destructive ideas.

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This entry was posted on July 12, 2014 by in Blog and tagged , , , .
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