The Stanford Heroes Show Us That Good Men Exist, But They Need To Act
By Liz Hamill Scott
Like everyone else, I’ve been bombarded by the story of the Stanford Rapist and Judge RichWhitePeopleGetOffEasy and Big Daddy RapeApologist. As a Stanford graduate, my heart hurts to see the name of my school involved in such a vile incident. I read the victim’s statement through tears. In particular, I was struck by a letter within the letter, toward the end, in which the writer addresses two men.
These two men are not the men who are getting all the airtime. They are not the rapist or his defenders or enablers. But they’re a crucial part of the story and, in the end, they’re the part I hope we remember.
I want to talk about the two Swedish guys who interrupted the rape: Peter Jonsonn and Carl Arndt.
This case has shown so clearly at every turn how rape culture warps men’s ideas about women, about masculinity, about sex. But these two young men resisted. Upon seeing a motionless mostly-naked woman being thrust upon by a guy behind a dumpster, they did not shrug and keep on biking. They were not willing to let it go as “not their business” or “oh, she must have consented ’cause she went to a frat party” or “a bro’s gettin’ laid tonight.” That seems too easy to be worth praising — “noticed a crime in progress and cared” — and yet it’s rare enough to merit notice.
Carl and Peter had reportedly already passed a couple having fun up against a tree and felt no need to intervene. This wasn’t a Sherlock Holmes moment; it’s not actually that hard to tell the difference between a couple who are groping each other and a man sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. But Carl and Peter didn’t just notice — they acted. And their actions made all the difference.
They didn’t worry about their own safety in that moment. (Granted, there were two of them and one rapist, and they look pretty fit in their Facebook photos.) They didn’t feel kinship with the blonde, pale-skinned guy just because they shared some physical attributes with him.
Instead of ignoring the situation, Carl and Peter broke it up. And when the rapist ran away, they ran him down, held him, and called the cops. They gave statements to police. They testified at the trial. At least one of them cried for the woman they found lying motionless on the ground.
These men have gotten little press for their actions so far. Few people know their names. By contrast, the rapist’s name and yearbook photo and swimming career and snack food preferences have been splashed across the internet. Petitions to recall the judge are flying. The rapist’s father’s letter has been published, and so has the character-witness letter from the rapist’s high school friend.
For all my friends who are parents of sons out there, I hope and pray that you tell them this story. Because unlike so many rape stories, this one doesn’t just have villains.
It has heroes. And their names are Carl and Peter.
These are examples you can hold up to your sons to show them who they could grow up to become. Brave, compassionate, willing to put themselves out to help a total stranger. Understanding enough to realize that a motionless woman on the ground behind a dumpster didn’t “want it” — that, in fact, she needed help. Compassionate enough to provide that help. Nervy enough to approach a stranger and yell “What the fuck are you doing? She’s unconscious!” Courageous enough to chase the perpetrator down when he tried to run away and to keep him down till the cops showed up. Serious enough to follow all the way through, giving witness statements to law enforcement and testifying in a court of law — in a foreign country, no less.
Now there are two men I want to meet. I’d like to know their parents too — I imagine their sons didn’t pull their morals out of thin air.
We talk so much about toxic masculinity and rape culture when stories like this hit the headlines. Men commit rape and men defend them, and then the MRAs come oozing up out of the sub-basement to defend other men against the assumption that there’s anything wrong with how some men behave. It’s easy to walk away thinking that our culture of masculinity is irrevocably broken.
But here and now, we can change the conversation. We can give young men and the parents of boys something positive to balance out the messages they receive from people like Judge Persky and Brock Turner’s father. Carl and Peter have given everyone a priceless gift: the gift of showing us what good men look like — or rather, what they act like.
It’s not enough to just point to Carl and Peter and say “some men are good.” But they can be an inspiration to other men to act according to their conscience and their morality. To speak up and speak out. To accept no version of masculinity that aims lower than decency, integrity, or courage.
In my life I’ve met thousands of men. I’ve personally known hundreds of men. I’ve been staggering drunk at parties with dozens of men. And out of that enormous number of men who’ve passed through my life, only one of them ever raped me. (Yes, I’m a college rape survivor too. Which makes me about as rare as air molecules, sadly.) My father, my husband, my uncle, my cousins, my father-in-law, my dear beloved male friends — good men all. Even in a broken culture, good men can grow.
But like the rest of us, these good men grow up bombarded with messages that women are passive sex objects, trophies and targets who need to be “scored” and then “nailed.” They see rapists going unpunished, coaches and parents hastening to cover up and excuse and victim-blame, DAs refusing to prosecute, and judges handing down lenient sentences. And in that poisonous environment, with no guiding light but their own confused conscience, it’s really easy for good men to go bad.
Who can men, especially young men and boys, look up to as role models? Carl and Peter, that’s who.
After all, Carl and Peter saw a near-naked, unconscious woman lying on the ground, just like Brock Turner did. And yet, unlike him, they didn’t take that as invitation or entitlement. Neither one of them responded by taking video of her, or fondling her, or in any other way violating her. Again, it’s a low bar, but it’s one that men are not socially encouraged to clear.
Instead, they went for the rapist. They acted on a sense of morality that says rape is wrong, rapists should be caught and arrested, and witnesses to rape should stand up for the victims in the moment and in court. They got him arrested, and actively helped get him convicted for felony sexual assault.
Because men can do that. Men do do that.
Imagine that instead of just saying “not all men,” we lived it. Imagine that rapists really were the exception, that they couldn’t count on their friends and families looking the other way or making excuses or egging them on. Imagine teaching your son that he can grow up to be just like Carl and Peter. That he could be the hero to help a girl at a party someday. That he could even be the guy who stops an assault before it happens. That being a “real man” means being a decent one.
Good men do exist. They even existed in this story. And people want to hear about them — hopefully not just to assuage their anger and guilt, but to learn a better way. I wrote a little Facebook post about Carl and Peter before we even knew their names, and thousands of people shared it. That tells me that people are hungry to read about good men. It tells me that there are thousands of men out there who want to be good men, and who are starting to realize that you achieve this not by protesting about your goodness, but by acting. It tells me that there are thousands of parents out there who want to raise good men.
In the midst of sorrow and rage and heartache, I have so much hope.