Why Do People Stay Friends With People Who Commit Sexual Assault?

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When a person sexually assaults or rapes another person, there is more than one victim.

The victim themself is, of course, the most injured party. But secondarily to that and to a lesser degree, there is also very genuine trauma for the assailant’s family and friends.

It’s truly horrific to discover that someone you love has done something terrible. Suddenly an act which is so easy to decry when it comes from a stranger, is called in to question. Even those of us who believe women as a default can be tempted to search for an alternative explanation when it’s someone we love who’s at fault.

When Donald Trump was caught on tape talking about grabbing women by the pussy, calling him out wasn’t hard. In fact, it was the most natural thing in the world. It was just another clarification that someone who we already knew to be a knob, was a knob. Publicly decrying him was easy. Famous people fell over themselves to criticise him.

But then Harvey Weinstein happened. If you’ve missed the story, it’s basically that the extremely famous film producer Harvey Weinstein has been accused of using his power and position to push women into doing things which made them extremely uncomfortable, from giving him massages to sex.

Hollywood has, for the most part, kept its mouth shut. Perhaps because they fear he still has the kind of clout which could compromise their careers. Or perhaps just because they don’t believe it’s true. Whatever the reason, it’s left me wondering. Why do people stay friends with those who sexually assault?

This is a big star spangled celebrity drama, but it happens in real life too. Just as often. I know dozens of women who were sexually assaulted (or at the very least have experienced some drunken behaviour which falls into a complicated grey area) and then have been expected to spend time with the person who did that them socially.

I hate talking about my own experience of sexual assault (or something akin to it, using those words feels dramatic and self indulgent) but to this day I am astonished at the way the person who stuck their hand in my underwear while I was throwing up/ passing out drunk, was treated.

Despite having been open about what had happened and what that person did, no-one cut him out. No-one said that they didn’t want to be his friend, or that he couldn’t be part of our friendship group. Everyone just acted a bit awkward when I mentioned what had happened and then carried on with their lives as normal.

Because no-one else seemed willing to cut him, I didn’t think I was allowed to. So I just continued to see him socially, feeling slightly sick whenever we had to be near each other. It wasn’t until years later, when I was better educated about consent and I understood that I was allowed to feel horrible about what happened, that I started to question his continued presence in my life.

I decided that I didn’t have to be in the same place as him, and that I no longer would be. It was an enormous relief. But, it meant missing out on things socially because he would be there. In the ‘me or him’ equation, which should have been clear cut, people were unwilling to pick a side. ‘I wish you’d just make up’ one friend said to me. ‘He’s willing to get over it if you are.’

My experience is not at all unusual. ‘People kept asking why we couldn’t get on,’ Anna*, 24 told Metro.co.uk. ‘Like we’d had a row where there was blame on both sides. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t get it. How bad of a thing would you have to do before everyone takes your side?’

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