Up Front by Emma Hart

29

The Missing Stair Part Two: The Creeper and the Excuser

Trigger Warning for Rape and Sexual Harassment

 

Let's talk some more about the Pervocracy's Missing Stair post: 

I gave almost no details about the guy except "he's a rapist," I immediately got several emails from other members of that community saying "oh, you must mean X."  Everyone knew who he was!  Tons of people, including several in the leadership, instantly knew who I meant.  The reaction wasn't "there's a rapist among us!?!" but "oh hey, I bet you're talking about our local rapist."  Several of them expressed regret that I hadn't been warned about him beforehand, because they tried to discreetly tell new people about this guy.  Others talked about how they tried to make sure there was someone keeping an eye on him at parties, because he was fine so long as someone remembered to assign him a Rape Babysitter. 

I think there were some people in the community who were intentionally protecting him, but there were more who were de facto protecting him by treating him like a missing stair.  Like something you're so used to working around, you never stop to ask "what if we actually fixed this?"  Eventually you take it for granted that working around this guy is just a fact of life, and if he hurts someone, that's the fault of whoever didn't apply the workarounds correctly.

 I know that's hard to get your head around. A rapist is completely different from Racist Christmas Uncle, right? If you were aware that somebody you knew had committed a rape, you'd deal with it, right? I read the above to a friend of mine, who was incredulous. "If everybody knows, why isn't he in prison?" I was speechless. Eventually I replied, "Because Everything about rape." 

What about somewhere short of that? What about the Creepers? The ones who have a habit of touching people who don't want to be touched? The hand on the leg, the accidental brushes, the sexual remarks that make people really uncomfortable? Would you do something about that? 

The thing is, all up and down that scale, these things go unreported, and so those people are still around. If our rapists, our sexual harassers, are people we know, they're people you know, too. 

If this seems unconvincing, if it seems like it must be really uncommon, this Captain Awkward post is a salutary lesson: 

I’ve talked to Creeper about this last incident and tried to explain that his behaviour is making every woman in our social group very uncomfortable; that approaching a woman in the dark, putting his hands on her without permission, and implying that because her boyfriend wasn’t there that she was up for grabs was Not Fucking Cool

 

I’ve stopped inviting friends to parties because I don’t want to subject them to Ben’s creepiness, and I spend most of my time trying to avoid him when he’s around. I don’t want to be one of those girls who tries to tell their boyfriend who he can and can’t hang out with, but I feel unsafe and afraid around Ben. I also feel completely betrayed that my boyfriend isn’t taking a strong stance against a guy who, let’s face it, tried to sexually assault me.

 It's long, but it's worth reading. And if this kind of thing still seems unusual, and unreal, try reading the comment thread. It was eventually closed after seven hundred comments, and the stories just kept on coming.

Or there's this. I was sexually assaulted when I was at high school. The Monday morning after that Friday night party, I walked into my English class and sat down at my desk, right in front of two of the five guys who'd done it. Nobody, including me, ever did anything about it.

Yes, there are women who are Creepers. But they're not socially sanctioned the way male Creepers are. Men get 'boys will be boys', women get slut-shaming. 

These guys, with their funny jokes about how we owe them sex, their comments about our tits and our clothes, who only see women as Potential Sex, they're part of our lives, something we live with. Something we're expected to work around. 

One of the reasons women tend not to talk about this stuff is the tendency for people to minimise it. It was a joke. You misread the situation. You're over-reacting. It is a Big Fucking Deal to actually say to someone, "Your creepy friend is a Creeper who creeped on me." If someone crosses that perilous bridge with you, for the love basic human decency, take them seriously. 

I've had someone look at me kind of blankly and say, "But you coped, right?" Yes. That's how I want to feel after a night out with my friends. I want to get back afterwards and think, "Well, I coped with that. Huzzah!" 

Then maybe we're told, "Well, just be clear with him. I don't know why women don't just say 'no', clearly and politely. That would fix everything." 

There are two problems with this. Three if you count, "You're being a dick: stop it." Firstly, we are conditioned to not make a fuss. This is where everything from the last column comes in. If we confront the Missing Stair, no matter how politely, we're seen as causing the problem. The social conditioning to put your head down and say, "No, it's okay," when it really fucking isn't is very strong. 

Secondly, there's all our collective experience of what sometimes happens when you say No clearly and politely. The times that's the point at which the "compliments" become abuse. Because Jesus, chill, and get a sense of humour, and you're probably a lezzer and you're too ugly to fuck anyway. The times that's the point at which the abuse becomes assault. 

These guys' biggest friend is the Rape Myth. You know the one. Of course you don't know any rapists. Rapists are slavering animals, completely disconnected from society, who wait in dark lonely places for women who are stupid enough to not Take Sensible Precautions. They don't have friends, or families, or work-mates. 

Saddest-Panda-type Creepers are (generally) not rapists, but that doesn't mean their behaviour is okay. If someone is making a bunch of your female friends deeply uncomfortable, that's already a problem. 

They might not tell you about him. They might just casually ask if he's going to be at an event before they decide if they're coming. If he sits next to them at a bar, they might get up and go to the loo, and come back and sit somewhere else. They might lie about having a ride home when he offers them a lift. They might stare bleakly at the opposite wall while he put his hand up their skirt. 

When I talk about Creepers with women, they tell me their Creeper stories. Most men tell me they don't know anyone like that. Several times through my life I've said, "I don't know, there's a guy in that group who makes me really uncomfortable," and another woman has said, "Is it X?" And yes. It always is. 

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