Rapists Explain Themselves on Reddit, and We Should ListenS

Rapists and would-be rapists are opening up about "the other side of the story" — theirs — on a massive Reddit thread about the motivations behind sexual assault. The conversations range from exasperating to disturbing, and the whole of it may make you want to roll your eyes in disgust. But you shouldn't dismiss the thread as mere rape apologia. There's plenty of that, sure, but there's also a lot more to it.

Yesterday, a Redditor solicited stories of sexual assault from assailants. "Reddit's had a few threads about sexual assault victims, but are there any redditors from the other side of the story?" he asked. "What were your motivations? Do you regret it?"

Given the disturbingly high amount of men's rights activists and rape apologist Redditors — a recent Reddit thread counted the many, many ways the site is "anti-women" — it's easy to see why some would be skeptical about the possibility for productive discussion. "In other words: Yeah, yeah, enough about rape victims, let's hear from the REAL VICTIMS here: the POOR MENZ," Shit Reddit Says lamented. A commenter added, "The thought that my rapist is PROBABLY a redditor and could very well be getting patted on the back RIGHT NOW by HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE for relating how rough raping me was for him is making me literally nauseous."

But it's impossible to talk about the reasons people rape without involving rapists in the discussion. Rapists aren't hiding in the bushes: around two-thirds of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim, and 73 percent of sexual assaults are perpetrated by a non-stranger. It's a mistake to think we're justifying rapists' actions by listening to their stories. Some of them are tough to read, but their brutal honesty illustrates how a lack of communication and education perpetuates rape culture. Ignoring or dismissing these men (and women) out of hand may be an effective coping strategy for a given individual, but not for society. It gets us nowhere.

So why'd they do it? What were they thinking? Here are some of the reasons why rapists said they raped or almost raped from the original thread.

(What they perceive as) mixed messages:

She ran to my bed and didn't want me to touch her. I didn't understand what had happened. This hypersexual person who had offered to give me head suddenly didn't want to touch me.

Or:

I was a freshman and hooking up with this girl who got naked in bed with me, then said no. I think she just wanted to do oral. I was extremely horny and already close to doing it, so I ignored her and did it. She realized what was happening and tried to clamp her legs shut, but it was too late and I was much stronger than her.

Or:

Sue had always been quite flirty, she was a cop's daughter and I feel that lead to her being a bit rebellious. I remember instances from years ago (possibly 8th grade or freshman year) where she would make jokes about different bras or thongs she was wearing, and was always freely talking about sexual desires and experiences. She just had this unusually sexual way of carrying herself, I don't know if anyone knows what I'm talking about, but she'd kind of leave her mouth hanging open/bend over quite a bit/almost unreal-porn star like.

Remember though, this was all happening in my high school library during study hall. Not a whole let ever happened more than some dry groping. I wanted to take it further though, she had really begun to turn me on...

Or:

I can't remember how it happened, but me and the girl (she was maybe 17) ended up play wrestling with me pinning her down. We were all laughing, but we when made eye contact...it was "that" look we exchanged. The.."I'd fuck you" look.

Now, I remember exactly what I was thinking at the time. This girl gave me "the look" earlier, she invited me into her bed. What teenage girl would pass up the oppertunity to be with a 22 year old guy? She MUST want it. I tried again, and slid my hands over her body.

Peer Pressure:

I got peer pressured in to hooking up with this girl. I kept saying I didn't want to and my friends kept saying I had to lose my virginity. They say this for about a week and finally new years come so I figured might as well. We are both completely wasted and go to a room. I was to drunk to get it up so I fingered her and ate her out but she wasn't really into it. So I stopped and then threw up all over her and I passed out. I guess she ran out and told them I raped her. She never said stop or anything but I could see how she could have froze up in fear. I don't doubt she feels molested and I feel like an awful person but it wasn't rape as SnugglesWithRuggles pointed out it was rape.

Women are objects for the taking:

Ended up happening again after a party. She was a good friend. I was drunk and super horny. I looked at her and knew I could never be with her. She had already hooked up with my friend. It was that feeling of never being able to do something, or have something. I looked at her and just saw something I would regret not trying for. So I thought if I could feel her I would know what it was to be with her. I grabbed her boob, over the shirt. I touched her lip and she moved her head. I stop dead thinking I woke her up, but she relaxed again. I started going upstairs but felt a sudden urge to lift her skirt. I ran my hand across her ass and between her legs. I was so drunk I turned on the light to get a better look, then quickly realized that it would wake her up and turned the light off.

Biology (The "I can't help my dick!" argument):

Most girls don't really understand how horny guys are, how much stronger guys are, how guys will rationalize what they do. I see feminists and women on the Internet saying that no means no and women should be able to get as drunk as they want and not be sexually assaulted, and I couldn't agree me. But the reality of the situation is that women have to be careful because guys are one way when they're hanging out and another way when they're horny or worse drunk and horny. That doesn't make what happened okay, but it is what it is.

Bad influences:

I was an extremely isolated youth who came from a broken home. My escape was the internet. At about sixteen I was exposed to alot of PUA material, which (not having a father or mother really around) shaped my life up until I was about 20. Most of the material was very objectifying and sexually aggressive towards women.

Multiple men said that they didn't end up going as far as they had intended once they actually looked the woman they were with in the face:

I'm a good man. I have a wife and a couple of kids now and I'm a good father and husband. I'm a pretty moral guy. But I think the thing that has always stuck with me...is how close I came to actually doing it. If I hadn't looked up at her face and seen what she was feeling, I might have continued. In my mind, at the time, she wanted it. I can remember staring at the ceiling while on the couch thinking "in a couple of minutes she's going to come out here and get on top of me."

Or:

...It was then I looked at her face. She was petrified. I at that point pulled myself together, rolled off her and apologized. My hormones were RAGING. I asked her why she didn't want to. I told her what I thought above. She started to cry.

That's arguably the most disturbing takeaway from the thread: these guys are so disconnected from reality that they don't even feel the need to look women in the face to be sure they're interested.

It's very clear that many of these people didn't feel like what they were doing was wrong because they didn't (and/or still don't) think of themselves as rapists. Rapists are the scary strangers hiding in the bushes. Rapists don't feel remorse. Rapists prey on pure girls, not sluts who show cleavage and want to fool around. Some even say that straight up; "I didn't want to be the kind of guy who pressured girls, so I said it was fine [when she asked if she could stop performing oral sex]," says a man who had literally just pressured a girl who had "always been quite flirty" to go down on him.

Many stories end with Redditors expressing how horrible they feel about what happened:

I have never in my life felt as shitty and depressed as when she told me that she felt what happened was rape. The depression made me have to drop out of school and go live back home. My parents thought I was gonna try to kill myself so I started taking medication and going to therapy and it actually helped a little. I'm over my depression now but I never, and will never, feel as low as I did because of that night.

I still think about it sometimes, and I feel terrible. It took a very long time for me to get over her. Dated another girl immediately after for many months, wishing it was this first girl the whole time. Then I met someone who really helped me get past her. I've never done anything like that ever again, and never will. I just wish I hadn't learned that lesson in that way, and that she had to suffer for it.

It's not hard to see why some people would dismiss this thread as a circle jerk of rape apologists, especially because some quality Redditors assured the storytellers that "it's not your fault." (This is Reddit, after all.) And certainly this isn't light reading for everyone. But I think it's a mistake to write it off. Charlotte Shane put it well in a recent essay for The New Inquiry on moving past rape by being able to talk about it in non-victimizing terms:

...our culture is unable to address rape with the sobriety and clarity the topic deserves because we are still unable to address sex with the sobriety and clarity it deserves. The contention that rape should be regarded as an asexual act has done nothing to remedy this. Nor will it. As activist and writer Wendy McElroy points out, "there can be as many motives for rape as there are for murder and other violent crimes … Rape is every bit as complex." Insisting that no rape is ever "about" sex but is rather about an individual man acting on a patriarchal mandate to sow terror by exercising "power" does a disservice to us all.

This sorry state of affairs should foster honest conversation, not suppress it. We should not be so desperate to establish the seriousness of rape that we stigmatize intelligent discussion of it.

(Emphasis ours.)

"Let me leave you with this message, you never know who someone truly is, so be careful," said one man who posted a particularly disturbing account of how he used to repeatedly rape women. "I'm going back to my main account to do normal reddit looking at cats and posting pictures of bacon, and I think it's kind of funny that no one will ever know if the person they're talking to on reddit, or someone who moderates their subreddit, is me on my main account... just food for thought."

He's right — not about the "be careful" victim-blaming, but about his multifaceted identity. We have to acknowledge that the people telling these stories and making these decisions are the men (and women) next door, not necessarily inhuman savages. Otherwise, anti-rape campaigns will continue to tell victims to dress and act differently as a matter of "prevention," college campuses will continue to report high rates of sexual assault, and people will continue to take advantage of others without even looking them in the eye while doing so.

Nothing will change if we discuss rape culture in a vacuum. Taking the discussion beyond that vacuum, however, means opening it up to a wider audience that isn't necessarily sympathetic. Reddit may not be the best place for that, but it's certainly a start — and that's important. It's in these less-protected, less-sacred spaces where the conversation is needed the most.

Illustration by Jim Cooke.