We need to talk about how we talk about sexual assault and rape.

When the flood of #metoo posts came out, I resisted sharing my stories. I am tired of performing my trauma so people will believe women experience this. I don’t need to see the heartbreaking stream to know that this is happening.

I’m especially tired of it because the real problem is that perpetrators refuse to believe they could possibly have sexually assaulted, harassed, or raped anyone. They believe their actions are ok. They believe that this is all something that other people, other men, do.

I believe that’s bullshit. And I believe that we need to change the way we talk about this.


Whenever a story comes out, we get one of two narratives: we blame the victim or we frame the perpetrator as evil. Sometimes we do both at the same time via different media outlets.

A lot has been written about this first one, so I’m not doing to dwell on it other than to say victim blaming is bullshit and if you do it, you should be ashamed.

But I want to talk about the second one and how it damages survivors and contributes to rape culture.

Before I start, I want to make a few points clear. If you sexually assault or rape someone, you are at fault. There are no excuses. There are no mitigating factors. You harmed someone and you are responsible. You are also responsible for dealing with what that means for you as a person. Your discomfort is not the responsibility of the person you harmed.

That being clear, the way we frame sexual assault when we talk about it is harmful and dangerous. We frame perpetrators as evil, but it’s never that simple. What we think of as ‘evil’ isn’t abnormal. It is painfully normal. It’s all around you. It’s your neighbour or your family member or your colleague or that person you smile at when you see them on the train. It might even be you.

Framing someone as an evil monster ignores the complicated relationship many survivors have with the person who assaulted them and the multifaceted nature of humans. 70% of sexual assaults are perpetrated by people who know the victim. Many survivors continue to have some form of relationship with the person who assaulted them for myriad complicated reasons: family, friendship, love, professional obligations, and more.

The ‘evil monster’ paradigm ignores this. It ignores that perpetrators are complex human beings, and in doing so, it isolates survivors. It makes them feel they cannot speak up because of their complicated relationships with their abusers and because of the roles their abusers hold in communities they are a part of. We make survivors wonder if their experience is valid when to them, their attacker wasn’t the pure evil monster they hear about in the media.

The more subtle, pernicious part of this is that we also make it easier for other people who rape and sexually assault to distance themselves from their own actions. They don’t see themselves in the caricature they see in the media, so what they do can’t possibly be sexual assault. They get the message that what they do is ok.

The narrative we tell is far too simplistic. It’s lazy. And it’s harmful. My deep suspicion is that we, and especially men, reach for it because it gives us comfort and safe distance. It means we don’t have to deeply examine our own actions or the actions of those around us who we love. We don’t have to wonder if we’re one of the people who will freely admit to sexual assault as long as you don’t call it that.

We need to get better at believing survivors. We need to get better at respecting their humanity and agency and not blame them for being assaulted. But we also need to get better at telling the reality of these stories – that these assaults are perpetrated by complicated people who have friends and family who love them and who are good and kind in other ways but who are still rapists and people who sexually assault others. We need to do this not to excuse their actions, but to rip off the façade we’ve built so we have to face the ugly truth: rape is committed by people like us and pretending it’s not wont make it go away. We have to face it.