Popular media often depicts rapists as mentally ill monsters. This falsehood does harm, and not just to those struggling with mental illness. It allows rapists to say, I didn’t rape anyone; as you can see, I’m clearly neither mentally ill nor a monster. They think their clean bill of mental health and normal, human appearance are sufficient alibis for committing sexual violence.
This misconception is what enables apparently upstanding citizens like Brett Kavanaugh to use nonsensical defenses like I didn’t drink excessively; I’m religious! I didn’t sexually assault anyone; I was a virgin! I didn’t party; I’m smart!
One can be all these things at the same time. One can be a virgin assailant. One can be a heavy drinker and intelligent (just look at all the famous writers). One can be an alcoholic Christian (just look at AA). And, finally, one can be a rapist and a respectable community member.
Resisting these paradoxes makes it impossible for victims of sexual violence to report, to come forward with the truth of what happened to them. Because even in 21st-century America, insisting that you’re a promising athlete gets weighed in the balance of whether you sexually assaulted someone—or, at least, means that the sexual assault you committed wasn’t sufficiently bad for you to serve your full sentence.
Similarly, victims with blemished pasts (e.g. criminal records, infidelity, mental illness, etc.) suffer no less for having those pasts. One can have a history of consensual one-night stands and be a victim of sex-trafficking. One can be both an addict and a survivor of attempted sexual assault. One can struggle with mental health and survive rape.
So stop telling us that our professors couldn’t have sexually harassed us because they’re professors. Stop telling us our bosses couldn’t have assaulted us because they successfully climbed the corporate ladder (think of how much female competition they scared off in the process). Stop telling us our exes couldn’t have stalked us because we dated them, didn’t we.
If we can all start making the mental and emotional space for people to be their honest, complicated selves, we might start making space enough for us to heal.