Hypothesis Of Why We’re So Empathetic To People Accused Of Sexual Assault…

April 27, 2017

…I think there are a number of reasons.

And I also think I’m not an expert in sexual assault. I’m not a doctor or someone who really knows what she’s talking about when it comes to this stuff…

But I still have a slight hypothesis as to at least one reason people are so often empathetic with people accused of harassment or assault… And I think it’s maybe because we don’t want it to be us…

A somewhat fair number of stories of sexual assault seem to be told as a “night gone wrong” with people who know each other. And I think – especially as the conversation about assault gets louder and louder – that people are afraid they’re gonna kind of “accidentally” assault someone.

…And that’s a weird thing to think, right? That someone could even do that accidentally? But I have a number of friends – even guys I’ve slept with before, so I know(!) how kind and attentive they are in bed – who are either a) scared of “accidental” assault or b) have a “gray area” story, usually from when they were younger, and we didn’t talk about this stuff as much, and a girl felt taken advantage of because maybe he didn’t realize how drunk she was, or maybe he didn’t realize how hard he was pushing if she was unsure…

I know so many people with one or two iffy stories in their past, and nobody wants to feel like they assaulted someone…

Even I can think of little things I’ve wondered about, now that I’ve been thinking oh so much about consent and the issues surrounding it…

2 examples below:

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I don’t get drunk very often… But one night, I was drunk. And I was out with friends, and we all were drunk. And on of my suuuuuper hot drunk friends (whom I’ve known for years) was like, “Make out with me!” And I was like reeeeeasonly sure-ish that we both were un-drunk enough that we still had our brains about us enough… But I didn’t really think to say, “Wait. Am I taking advantage of you? I know I’m drunk too, but still. Are we for sure the same level of drunk, and is it an acceptable level to make out with you?” I just said “OKAY” And we did. And it was really freaking fun.

And a group of us fell asleep at her house and in the morning, we both talked in the morning (soberly) about how fun the night and making out was.
So, everything seemed fine. But in a different universe, that night could’ve potentially maybe gone a different way.
That story doesn’t seem like a big deal, and thankfully in that instance it wasn’t. I’m just saying, I see. I see how a situation that doesn’t seem like a big deal could turn into one if the night goes another way.

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I’ve also thought about how I used to wake up in the morning next to the dude I was so madly in love with, and be like, “Hiiiiii, would you like to have sex this morning, pretty, pretty, pretty please?” And sometimes he’d be a little sleepy or grumpy-ish or whatever… But I always kind of thought we were playing a game in which I was the super cheerful one like, “What if you had sex with me just a tiny little bit? Like, what if you just gave me one orgasm, preeeeeetty please?” – kind of moving around and putting my face close to his face and all that…  And he’d be playing “grumpy morning guy” who was like “hmmmm… hmmm, and then YES!” and he’s grab me and it would be wonderful. And to me, it was SO wonderful, and it was this fun morning routine.

And I’m as certain as one can be that’s how it was for him too, because he’s joked about those mornings with me and said how mornings aren’t the same without it, and he misses those days “when the biggest eyes in the universe would be starting him in the face,” and all that. And so, considering he doesn’t bring up any issue with it, and has only ever talked about how much he loved it, and misses it, I really do think it is a “fun game” as opposed to coercion. But I think you can see how between two other people, in another world, it might not be this “cute morning routine/game” – if you both are super happy to play, or if one partner doesn’t feel fully free to tell the other “hey, but for real, I need to sleep longer” If the same words and body language are done, but the second partner felt super pressured or coerced or threatened, it’d no longer be an adorable game between people who loved each other. You know what I’m saying?

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And I know it’s sort of like, “Well, all things would be different if the details were different.” And that’s true… I dunno… I just – we all want to think we’re good people (I think? Or at least most of us do.) And we want to believe that we’re reading every signal correctly, and we’re all on the same page, and we’re not pressuring anyone, and we’re not being threatening and on and on and on. And I think the vast vast majority of the time, I go out of my way to try to make sure I’m doing all those things to the best of my ability… But when there are teeny tiny things that you could see how oof, with some slight tinkering that could be a bad situation for someone, so I guess, maybe maybe maybe I could sort of see how someone could accidentally get caught up in a situation they don’t mean to (maybe)…

So, then I think the though process goes something like, “well, maybe, just maybe it could happen to me somehow – I could be the ‘bad guy’ potentially.” And if it even could maybe happen to us – that we could maaaaaaybe misjudge a situation and become an “assaulter” of some kind. well, then perhaps are brains are a little bit like “maybe we need to invent a world in which nobody can be one. ‘Cause if no one can be one, we can’t either…”

I *think* that’s why some of us are so quick to dismiss assault because we’re afraid of a situation gone wrong – of trying to be fun, or adorable, or silly, or sexy, or carefree, or something and accidentally being abusive.

I don’t know how often that actually happens. (I bet not often at all, ’cause that’s not really how it works… For the super super super duper most part, assault is not just a really nice aware person accidentally making a misstep…) But I know it’s a fear (as I’ve heard many people talk about it). I think we maybe give empathy to the perpetrator, because we’d want someone to give empathy to us.

And I get that. I’ve done that(!) – given empathy where it’s maybe not really quite warranted. And that’s kind of kind and human of us to be empathetic…

And I understand the idea of “innocent until proven guilty” (even though sexual assault is so hard to prove) .

But my goodness, from the other side now, I understand in this visceral way how hard it is to hear people (especially your perpetrator) get the benefit of the doubt over, and over, and over (and over) again… especially when oftentimes I’m not given the benefit of the doubt at all. “Well, you must be exaggerating… lying… crazy” “Why would you be alone with a man?” etc., and the never-ending barrage of accusatory or ridiculous questions. So, it’s nice I guess that we want to be human and have empathy, but why do we often only have it toward the perpetrator? Can we not see ourselves in the victims? Are we that sure it couldn’t happen to us – that that would never be us? Or are we so afraid that someday it could be, that we must take this super strong stance that the victims must’ve done something wrong? Because if it’s their fault, and they made some fatal error that weeeeee would neeeeeever do, well, then maybe we’re safe…

And everything I’m saying is revolving around how we relate to the people in the situation. But should we maybe stop trying to have ourselves at the center of our thoughts and just think about the people involved? Does it matter if it could happen to us or not, if it happened to some other human? Can we just be empathetic, no matter how it relates to us?

I’m tangenting (shocking, I know), but back to my original point… When I’m saying that potentially we go pretty easy on most perpetrators, I’m not trying to say we lose empathy for people, or we bathe in skepticism…

I’m just saying I have no idea what the answers are… But this is a little hypothesis I thought I’d kinda just raise for discussion here.

I'd love to hear from you! So whaddya say?