Anyone and no one looks like a rapist

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Photo of George Lawlor holding his "This is not what a rapist looks like" sign.

Skye King writes an open letter to George Lawlor, writer for a popular online newspaper, and self-professed ‘This is not what a rapist looks like’ guy.

Dear George,
You hit the headlines after you wrote an article slamming the National Union of Student’s I Heart Consent Campaign. I think many would agree with me that you misunderstood the essential point of consent classes. To add insult to injury you snapped a photo of yourself, holding a sign with the words capitalised, ‘This is not what a rapist looks like’.

I am curious to know what exactly you think a rapist does look like. You wrote that rapists are ‘foul predators’, which perpetuates the myth that rapists are scary looking strangers, lurking in dark alleys, waiting for their prey. The reality according to Rape Crisis UK, is that 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped every year, and 90% of victims know the perpetrator. Clearly a perpetrator can be anyone, and yes, even someone who looks like you.

According to a study by researchers at the University of North Dakota, nearly one in three college men admitted they would force a woman to sexual intercourse if they knew no one would find out. But when researchers changed the word to ‘rape’ that number dropped to 13.6%, which suggests that college men don’t think forcing a woman to have sex with them is a sexual crime. In the UK, a 2015 Telegraph survey found that one third of female students in Britain have been subject to unwanted sexual advances or sexual assault, and over half of those surveyed knew someone who had been sexually assaulted. Though the study and survey were conducted in two different countries, it’s interesting to see how the numbers mirror one another, no?

While at university, my friends and I have experienced varying levels of unwanted sexual attention, ranging from unpleasant to assault. Worse still, my friends blamed themselves, saying, ‘I knew the guy, we were sort of going out’ and ‘I was dressed slutty and I shouldn’t have gotten so drunk’.

You wrote, ‘Yes means yes, no means no. It’s really that simple.’ No it isn’t… and here’s why: imagine this, a girl decides to look after a very drunk guy she has met at a club. They go back to her home so he can sober up safely, but he then forces himself on her sexually. She tells him ‘No’, she doesn’t want to have sex. The drunk man does not like hearing the word ‘No’ and so he intimidates her. Fearful that the man will attack her, she succumbs to his sexual advances. Evidently, from such an example, it isn’t as simple as a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’, right?

You claim that potential perpetrators, the ones who need the consent classes, simply wouldn’t attend. I suppose you do have a point there, and I believe ideally consent classes would be mandatory for everyone. Much like the compulsory fire safety talk that students must attend, a short talk about consent would be just as useful to students when they start university.

The point of consent classes isn’t to label people like you as potential criminals by saying this is ‘what a rapist looks like’; rather it is to try and paint a broader picture of what consent means and how to keep yourself and others safe. Crucially, students and society as a whole fundamentally misunderstand consent and still hold onto many myths regarding sexual violence.

I understand you will soon be attending a consent class, because you think it only fair to do so after criticising the class. I truly hope that after attending such a class you will genuinely have a change of heart about the I Heart Consent Campaign.

Best wishes,
Skye