Monsters (a blog entry in progress).

We’ve all seen this video.

I found Poppy’s report appalling–and yet, as I’m a recovering sociologist, I also found it perversely fascinating.

We want to find that the rapists are generally monsters who tear the wings off of flies and microwave baby kittens. We’re angry because this reporter didn’t find them to be utter and complete beasts But in fact, they’re not.

This isn’t to excuse them because they’re “great football players” or “young men just starting out” or anything else. Just the opposite. I think the message to take away is that people who are not monsters in the rest of their lives can still be rapists.

And that’s monster enough.

It’s rather like the idea that arose immediately after WWII that the Nazis had to be horrible people because they had done such horrible things. They had to be different from us in some fundamental way.

In fact, as Stanley Milgram and other social scientists showed in the post-war period, there’s very little or no difference between a Nazi and a citizen of New Haven. See:

We need to understand that any of us (at a minimum, any of us who is male) can be a rapist. It doesn’t mean that we are. It means that the difference between those who are and those who aren’t can’t be measured by what we do in the rest of our lives. It has to be measured by what we do in this area of our lives.

Moreover, as a friend commented when I made essentially the same post on Facebook, we need to think about the consequences of the rape for the victim.  I missed this.  The victim’s family gets mentioned in this report, but the victim, hardly at all.  What happens to her?

Now, in part, neglect of the victim is something that happens commonly in criminal cases.  After all, a criminal prosecution is not about victim v. criminal, but is about state v. criminal or the wonderful bit of legal fiction, the people v. criminal.  So when there is a trial, it’s not about the victim (though media reports will likely include some of that), but about the criminal.

And I’m ashamed that I bought into that (as my friend pointed out) but at the same time it goes to my greater point.  We focus on criminals because we can cast them as monsters.  Victims are in most ways just like us.  It’s the criminal–the rapist, the murderer–who is different.

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