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'Good Guys' Can Be Sex Offenders: How Bias Can Blind Us To Truth

Dr. Lisa Lawless

Dr. Lisa Lawless, CEO of Holistic Wisdom
Clinical Psychotherapist: Relationship & Sexual Health Expert

Good guy and bad guy spelled in lettered blocks
Trigger Warning
This article discusses detailed acts of sexual abuse and rape. 
For help, please see our Sexual Assault & Rape Resources

But He Seems Nice

I remember a moment that would forever change me. I was working as a young therapist, fresh out of college, with sexually abused girls. To my dismay, one of the girls was slated for a supervised visit with her father, which the court had permitted after he had sexually abused her for years.

I found myself grappling with this decision, striving to understand the rationale behind it. This visit marked the first time I would meet a sexual predator face to face. I tried to prepare myself for the monster I knew him to be. I had read all the court documents on my patient's chart and processed her abuse with her.

I had consoled her when she began weeping after being triggered by watching an innocent cartoon that took her back to a moment of sexual abuse. I knew what he had done. As his appointment neared, somewhere inside me, I guess I was expecting Hannibal Lecter to be wheeled into my office.

To my horror, when he came in, I was struck by how normal he appeared. In fact, he was downright charming. It was challenging to connect his personable warmth with the disturbing accounts of him doing things like making his six-year-old daughter give him oral sex while he let her watch cartoons.

It would have been easier for me if he had appeared grotesque, making him easy to spot. Yet, here I was, shocked by his amiable presence without a shred of palpable threat looming.

Since then, I have personally and professionally been taken aback by how ordinary or even pleasant someone might seem despite the hidden dangers they may present. Reality often paints a different picture than we expect.

There Are A Lot Of 'Good Guys'

Human behavior is multifaceted, and sometimes, even those we least expect can err gravely. Many sex offenders are seen by those who know them as 'good guys,' and they may even be popular and well-liked. Let me explore this with you on a personal level for a moment to give you a more intimate glimpse.

Exploring My Social Media Pages For 'Good Guys'

There are so many 'good guys' on my social media pages who went to high school and college with me who were inappropriate, crossed boundaries, and even sexually assaulted me. If I wanted to blow up their lives, I could easily just truthfully post about the many scenarios where I was talked to inappropriately, groped, grabbed, and fondled despite never initiating it and clearly saying no when it happened.

These 'good guys' are out there living their best life, with wives and children working at their secure job, all the while not giving a thought to the time that they forced my hand down their pants to feel their penis despite me adamantly saying no and pulling away and even punching them.

I see them posting pics of their latest vacation with their family, their fundraiser at church, or their latest job promotion. They most likely never think of the time they grabbed my breast or butt in the middle of school or at a party and sexually humiliated me while they laughed.

The 'good guy' who came into a friend's bedroom where I was lying down at a party because I did not feel well, and proceeded to put his hand over my mouth and forcefully hold me down and rape me, is out there living his best life too.

No one knows about who he is and what he did other than those close to me. He was captain of the football team at another high school, extremely popular, and had a lovely girlfriend. He was and most likely still is thought of as a 'good guy.'

While I called him the next day and threatened him that if he ever came near me again, I would report him, I struggled for years to even acknowledge that what he did was rape.

It wasn't until I was drawn to work at Rape Crisis during college that I learned about acquaintance rape that I realized that not all rapists hide in alleyways and put a knife to your throat. Some are just friends of your boyfriend, who decide to force you to have sex with them by holding you down, choking you, and covering your mouth to muffle your screams. Then they just go about their way, leaving you to wash the smeared makeup and tears from your face and deal with the PTSD it caused.

Sometimes, I have pondered why I don't speak out about who assaulted me. Like many survivors, I have chosen my own path to find peace by healing with silent anonymity regarding their identity.

That is not to say I have never called out bad behavior. I have many times. I even chose to pursue a restraining order and police involvement with a stalker. However, when it came to the acquaintance rape I experienced, I decided that the re-traumatization of a public accusation was not ideal for me and my healing process. However, if that should change for me, I will also honor that choice, as is every survivor's right.

The Part That Keeps Me Up At Night

If you know me and are reading this, you may be thinking, "Holy crap, are you okay?" Please know I am. I have spent many years processing this and have sought support when needed.

What I will say is that if you ask a woman in your life if she has 'good guys' that she sees out there living their best life on social media who assaulted her in some way, she will most likely tell you she can relate to what I am sharing with you. That is the part that keeps me up at night.

The 'Good Guys' Are Plentiful

Sadly, these 'good guys' are plentiful, which became even more clear during onset of the #MeToo movement. About 1 in 4 women (1 in 71, or 1.4% for male victims) in the United States will be survivors of rape or attempted rape by the time they are in their mid-twenties, and over 75 percent of these assaults will occur between people who know each other.

So, when I hear about a survivor who courageously stands up and speaks their truth no matter how long it took for them to do it, I am in awe of their strength. And when people close to the accused sex offender insist that they are really a 'good guy,' I am sure they sincerely mean it. After all, to them, he is. He did not cause them any pain or suffering, so why would they think he would?

The Celebrity Good Guy Image

Hollywood scandals or political controversies often bring this to the public eye. Haven't we all, at some point, wrestled with the conundrum of admiring someone's work while being disappointed by its creator?

Taking pleasure in an individual's artistry—be it music, acting, or even their political stance—while disapproving of their actions can be a genuine emotional tug-of-war.

Furthermore, it's a reflection of broader societal concerns: What do we value? What standards do we uphold? And most critically, what message are we conveying to those hurt by these actions? It's essential to remain introspective, aware, and empathic as we navigate these complex waters.

When We Know An Abuser

How can someone who seems so harmless or charismatic have such a dark secret? And why is it so hard for many of us to believe it when they do?

You've seen it countless times when the press interviews a neighbor of an abuser. They often are heard saying something like, "They seemed like such a nice guy; I just can't believe they could do something like this."

One of the most challenging aspects of understanding human behavior is reconciling the dissonance between our experience with someone versus the private interactions we may not see.

The truth of the matter is that many people we know have done bad things, and while there can be positive aspects of their personality, they can also harbor a dark side. Every soul, including our own, dances between light and shadow.

While we might cherish certain qualities in a person, we must also be alert to our biases about them. It's easy to admire specific traits in individuals, yet it's crucial to remain grounded in the truth that everyone can act out harmful behavior, and some of us do more damage than others.

When a victim of abuse finds the courage to share their pain, their voice deserves to be heard and believed. We must have the courage and empathy to understand their pain because if we do not, then what does that say about us?

It's More Complex Than Black & White

Our cognitive biases often lead us to make quick judgments about people based on limited information. When someone is typically kind, generous, or talented, we often imagine them as simply 'good.'

However, this black-and-white thinking closes our eyes to the potential that people we think we fully know, regardless of how awesome they might seem, can do harmful things.

Look, I get it; it's difficult for us to wrap our minds around two opposing views of the same person simultaneously. It creates a dissonance and is deeply unsettling. It's a blow to our judgment, trust, and sometimes even our own self-worth.

The Truth About Abusers

Predators, rapists, and abusers don't typically look or act like the monsters we've come to imagine from horror movies or crime shows. In reality, they are more often the charming neighbor, the supportive coworker, or the beloved celebrity. They can even be a family member or friend. That's when it gets really hard because they can be the people we most admire, respect, and even love.

Keep in mind that harmful behaviors aren't always packaged in obvious warning signs. Understanding this is vital in supporting victims who often face disbelief and skepticism. I am positive that had I publicly outed my rapist, many people would have been in disbelief. After all, to most people, he was a 'good guy.'

Male Sexual Assault & Rape

When discussing sexual assault, the conversation often gravitates toward women, but it can unintentionally overshadow that boys and men can be, and are, victims of sexual assault as well. This includes non-binary and trans people. Moreover, it may surprise some that the majority of the perpetrators of these crimes are primarily heterosexual men.

This is because sexual assault and rape are not about sexual orientation or attraction; instead, it is based on exerting dominance, control, and power over another person. A heterosexual man can assault another male not because of his sexual preference but to express power or humiliate.

Why don’t we hear more about it more? Stigmas around masculinity and homophobia can sometimes create an added wall of silence. Men may feel societal pressure to be strong and dominant, believing that admitting to being victimized would somehow challenge their masculinity.

Hearing Victims

Believing victims becomes even more essential when we realize how difficult it is for them to speak their truth, especially under the weight of a perpetrator's potential for a good reputation and our own biases.

However, it is essential to understand that when we inadvertently perpetuate a culture where abusers feel protected by their public image, we create a safe space for abuse to thrive.

The Responsibility Of Being An Ally

When faced with unsettling revelations about someone we admire, it is understandable that our first reaction might be denial or skepticism. But as allies, it's imperative to prioritize empathy, open-mindedness, and support for survivors.

This also means confronting our own biases and standing up for what is right, even if it's painful. The true test of our own character lies not only in how we treat those we admire but in how we respond when their facades crack.

Why This Is Primarily A Male Problem

An estimated 80-90% of offenders are male, while 10-20% are female. Thus, this is primarily a problem we find in men. Furthermore, an estimated 91% of victims of rape & sexual assault are female, and 9% are male, although it should be noted that male survivors often go unreported.

That being said, it's worth mentioning that female perpetrators exist and might be underreported due to societal stigmas or misconceptions about men being abused.

There are several theories as to why we see this pattern so prevalent in men:

Societal Conditioning and Power Dynamics

Historically, patriarchal conditioning has positioned men as the dominant figure in relationships. Think of it as a script handed down through generations that not every man follows, but, for some, it can translate into seeking control in ways that aren't healthy, possibly manifesting as abusive behaviors.

Toxic Masculinity & Poor Emotional Expression

Often, men are socialized to suppress their emotions and fail to communicate in healthy ways. This suppression can cause distortions in seeking validation or connection. Furthermore, anger and control are often acceptable masculine expressions, which often translate into abusive behaviors.

Lack Of Healthy Sex Education

Open conversations about sexuality can be taboo, and this lack of education and healthy understanding of sexuality can lead to misunderstandings, suppressed feelings, and instances where boundaries are not recognized or respected.

Our Words Matter

How we discuss sexual assault and rape in our society can sometimes inadvertently obscure the true source of the problem. Think about it. When we ask, "How many women were raped last year?" the phrasing subtly removes accountability.

Contrast this with, "How many men raped women last year?" Suddenly, there's a clearer emphasis on the perpetrator. It's like saying, "The vase broke," versus "He broke the vase." The difference is profound, isn't it?

It's vital for us to recognize that our words matter. They shape our perceptions and can either perpetuate a culture of silence or foster accountability.

How Are We Raising Our Sons?

Such framing of sexual abuse and rape inadvertently diverts attention away from a more profound issue permeating our culture, which at the core is the problematic way some men are raised and socialized.

Abusive men grow up with blurred lines of personal boundaries and often find themselves entangled in a societal web that sometimes promotes bullying and unhealthy dominance. We must be bold in our discussions and address the underlying factors.

In today's society, many men find themselves on a challenging emotional journey and struggle to find an empowering place in the world without being abusive. From a young age, boys are often steered away from expressing vulnerability, which can diminish their capacity for empathy for others and themselves.

When we ask our boys to build walls around their emotions, we may unintentionally foster unhealthy assertiveness and aggression. This can lead to behaviors that appear more as bullying or abusive rather than as a true leader worthy of respect.

A Call For Healthier Masculinity

As young girls wave goodbye to their middle school years, an unsettling majority have already faced the sting of sexual harassment. Meanwhile, boys haven't been spared either, confronting homophobic taunts and bullying.

Toxic masculinity paints a picture of men as dominant and sometimes even violent, and believe it or not, both men and women can sometimes perpetuate this tough guy image.

But here's the twist: contrary to what many think, this isn't just how guys naturally are. This isn't about biology; it's learned.

If Monkeys Can Do It

In a fascinating study on rhesus monkeys, as seen in the natural settings of an island, the impact of 'toxic masculinity' came into sharp focus. When the more aggressive adult males were removed from a group, a dramatic shift in behavior occurred.

Without these aggressive males, the community began to change. The group now made up of females, young males, and gentler adult males, displayed less aggressive actions. They even began engaging more in grooming - a sweet, nurturing behavior much like how humans might hug or support each other.

Interestingly, when younger males from other parts of the island joined this kinder, gentler troop, they came in with their original aggressive tendencies. But soon, they quickly picked up on the community's calmer, more supportive vibes and started acting in kind.

What this study teaches us, beyond the world of monkeys, is the profound influence of our surroundings. The culture we create, based on shared values and behaviors, can shape even deeply ingrained habits. This isn't just a monkey thing; it's a lesson in how positive change can ripple through any community.

A World Without Men For A Day

In a viral post, women were asked a thought-provoking question: "What would you do if there were no men on Earth for a day?" Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, many of these women shared their wishes to indulge in simple pleasures.

Activities like stargazing at night or running a quick errand after the sun sets. Activities that might seem trivial to many men but can be anxiety-inducing for women given the ongoing safety concerns.

The sheer volume of women who expressed this sentiment underscores a more significant issue. With countless women facing harassment, the deep-seated desire for a safer world is easy to understand, even if just for a day. This imaginative exercise reminds us that we have much work to do.

Creating A Real Good Guy

When raising and educating boys, we should foster values of honor, integrity, and the courage of vulnerability. Imagine a world where our boys are celebrated for their ability to truly connect and empathize. To act as admired leaders and examples through behavior, not just words, for others.

Boys need to be encouraged to take ownership of their feelings and talk openly about issues that affect them, valuing all genders as human beings worthy of respect.

It's essential for us as a society to recognize these patterns, question them, and work towards creating an environment where men feel safe expressing their emotions and learning healthier interpersonal skills. Our collective well-being depends on it.

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