They May Not Look Like Monsters…Abusers and Perpetrators Are Probably Not Who You Imagine
About a month ago I found out that a young man who I had gone to middle school with had suddenly died. For the purposes of this story, let’s call him Ross. It was a shock and a tragedy. While I hadn’t spoken to him in a long time, my mother was good friends with his parents who I often saw on every visit home. But the shock of his death was nothing compared to the phone call I got from my Mom the day after his funeral.
During the reception at the funeral a young woman approached his mother. Her purpose was to inform this poor woman that Ross had confided that he had been sexually assaulted by other boys in the class during our big class trip that had taken place out of town. (I’m not going to even get into the inappropriate timing this woman had, that’s a rant for another day). Understandably, his mother was shocked. His whole family was shocked. Ross had never once mentioned or indicated anything like this to any of his family or other friends.
“Did you know anything?” My Mom asked me. “Did you ever see or hear anything on the trip?”
“No!” I replied, also in shock. “This is the first time I’ve ever even heard a rumor that something like this happened on the trip.”
I attended a very small school. My grade only had 24 students, and we all knew each other. We had all been at each other’s birthday parties and milestone celebrations. We’d had co-ed sleep overs together. We were always around each other.
For a brief moment, I was in complete disbelief. Was this girl even telling the truth? How are we only hearing about this now that he is dead and we can’t corroborate the story? If something happened, how had Ross hid it for so long? And lastly, were any of the guys I knew really capable of such a heinous thing? Maybe this girl was confused and it had happened somewhere else with a different group of guys.
In the moment I wanted to scoff at the idea. Sure, some of the guys could be jerks sometimes, but for the most part they were GOOD guys. I think of the boy who carried my books and helped me open doors when I was stuck on crutches for weeks. I think of another boy who brought me tea during a youth group dance where I was sick and lost my voice. I think of the boy who let me cry on his shoulder when a class trip to a Holocaust museum made me cry. I think of the boy who held my hand when I was scared of heights and having trouble on a hike. Surely, none of these boys that I had known and loved could ever have done something as awful as sexually assaulting a fellow classmate and friend.
But couldn’t they?
After a bit of reflection, I had to admit to myself that it’s possible. I just wouldn’t have known it or wanted to see it. Because no one knows better than me that those capable of great harm don’t necessarily look or act like the monsters we think they are.
I suffered through horrific sexual abuse as a child. And if you met my abuser, you’d honestly like him. He doesn’t look like what you might think. He’s no boogeyman under the bed, or like the creepy guy on the train, or the scary shadow in a dark alley. You would never get that vibe from him. Whenever I would meet his friends they would be so ecstatic to meet me just because I happened to be related to him. To his friends, family, and community he is a man who is warm and kind. He’s involved in charities. He does so many good and important things for the community. If you met him or knew him you would walk away thinking “That’s a good man.”
But that “good man” molested, raped, and messed with my head for a large chunk of my childhood.
But you would never know from looking at him.
I think that one of the big reasons that society often has such a hard time believing victims is because people often think that if someone is capable of horrible things, then it should be obvious that they were a bad person. We were once taught that the lines between good and evil are crystal clear. We should clearly be able to recognize the distinction between them and recognize those traits in our fellow humans. But the real world doesn’t work that way. A man (or woman) who does good things, can also be capable of doing terribly harmful things. They just don’t appear to be the monsters we want to imagine them out to be.
That’s why it’s possible that someone you might like could also be someone who hurts and assaults people.
That’s why it’s possible that men we might have once admired for their talent and actions, like Bill Cosby, R. Kelly, or even someone like Elie Wiesel, might indeed be guilty of the horrible things they are accused of. No matter how much it hurts to hear.
That’s why it’s possible that boys who I had once considered to be friends and genuine good guys might also be guilty of doing something horrible. No matter how much it might break my heart, and the hearts of their families and friends, to learn about it.
We have to learn how to believe victims, no matter how much we like the person they have accused.
With Ross dead we may never get the full story of what he had endured. But if he were alive, I wish I could have told him, “I believe you. And I support you.” Because that’s what every victim deserves to hear, no matter who they are accusing. And I’m sorry that I ever hesitated.