Most often the stranger is…someone you know

Posted: June 2, 2009 in prison, general, prisoner rehabilitation, prisoner writing
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In his April 21 posting, Better Man writes about something close to my heart as a former advocate for victims of sexual assault and abuse. He writes, “That’s the truly scary aspect of all this—it’s the men you love that are offending your children.” This is such a difficult message to get out. Better Man is correct. It was a rare occasion (if I can even think of a single incident, which, off the top of my head, I cannot) when a victim of a sexual assault came to our office because she had been assaulted by someone she does NOT know. When I was working with victims it was most often a relative—a father, grandfather, uncle—or someone in a position of power—a teacher or babysitter—who was the perpetrator. Typically the assault was the culmination of months of “grooming”, a process by which an individual develops a relationship with the victim so that reporting the crime becomes more difficult. Who wants to send their father to jail? What child would want to say that the man who is supposed to love and protect her is also harming her? The process of grooming is meant to confuse and shame the victim. Perhaps Better Man can speak more to the process of grooming in an upcoming post as I’m sure it’s a topic he discussed in his own therapy.

I’ve been working on the lecture I will give on my experience working at the prison when I go back out to school in July. I want to speak to the reasons why it is easier for all of us, myself included, to be able to quickly deem people good or bad, but how such a system ignores the obvious. Good people can be responsible for terrible acts (and bad people are often capable of goodness). This is often the case with sexual violence. “Good” fathers are abusers. “Good” uncles are abusers. Think about how many times you have heard when a sexual perpetrator is exposed, “I never would have suspected him.” It is so much easier to perpetuate the myth that the man to fear is the stranger lurking in the bushes. It’s easier because in such cases it is much clearer who is good and who is bad. It is easier because it is also easier to point our fingers at strangers than it is to look within our own social circles, let alone our own families.

What the perpetuation of this myth of the stranger in the bushes really does is limit the conversation on sexual violence in this country. It makes the story of sexual violence more Hollywood and less reality, which alienates victims who think maybe they are the only one out there experiencing what they are being put through.

I thank Better Man for writing about this important subject.


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