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Can Sexual Assault Ever Be Forgiven?

October 9, 2009

Do you ever think that sexual abuse has sometimes hurt the person who committed it just as much as the person who suffered through it? No, that’s not quite right. This is a difficult thought to process. Let me try again, is a person who has committed sexual assault always defined by that action? For the sake of this post, let’s momentarily put aside people who systematically abuse others and focus primarily on isolated incidents, because that is what I’m thinking about right now. 

I am not trying to qualify abuse or excuse it by saying “Oh, it only happened once, that doesn’t make him a bad person”, but there are people who have committed assault once in their life and will never ever do it again. There are actions in our society that you only have to commit once for your entire life to be always brought back to that one instance: murder and rape being the top two on that list, and although, sexual assault can never be excused, can it be forgiven? 

I’ll try and explain the specific situation that has brought this question to mind without revealing too many identifying details. A man that I have known for a long time, a man that I respect and love, recently told me about an event that took place when he was at most a pre-pubescent adolescent. Without describing the entire event, let’s just say that he used his fingers to forcefully penetrate a girl while one of his friends stood on her shoulders. 

What happened was inexcusable. He had no right to do what he did and it was just plain wrong, and I certainly don’t want to sugarcoat what happened, but like any other story of sexual abuse there is a context and the man who did this is a fleshed out person as opposed to a cardboard cut-out of a typical monster. He didn’t suffer any kind of legal consequence, but what happened did affect him and his behavior for the rest of his life. A couple decades later and the sexual assault that took place still informs the life of the attackers and of the victim. I don’t know the girl that this happened to and if I was her friend and she told me about this, I would want to crucify him in the most public of ways, but I don’t know her, I know him, and he’s not just a monster to be crucified. It might be an easier thought for me to  deal with had he suffered legal consequences or had it beed acknowledged that “yes, this happened and it was wrong”, but that didn’t happen. 

I’ve always had pretty black and white thoughts about people who victimize others. In my mind, ABUSER always equalled BAD PERSON and their actions were unforgivable, but that’s not always the case. Part me of me equally, although differently in kind, feels bad for the people who have to deal with what they have done or desire to do.  A lot of people who have the impulse to rape or molest (and I mean impulse on a psychological and pathological level) consider these thoughts torturous and completely horrendous and will go to great lengths to stop themselves from ever acting on them (i.e. voluntary castration). I find myself feeling empathy for these people, and that is a hard feeling to contend with when their actions are inexcusable. 

I don’t have an answer to the question I have posed in the title of this post. Perhaps, I should have asked whether the person committing the sexual assault can be forgiven. I think that is more to the point, because I think we can all agree that the assault itself can never be forgiven. Ultimately, it is not my place to forgive the man I have spoken of, but to say it is the victim’s place to decide is putting something on her shoulders that doesn’t belong there, so perhaps the question can never be resolved, but what I’m asking myself is whether it’s OK to consider someone who as committed sexual assault a good person or is this an action that you can never escape in terms of defining who you are?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. wakingpersephone permalink
    October 19, 2009 4:06 am

    Great question, great topic of discussion and one you never hear about because people tend to get so incensed by it! I’ll start by saying I was raped about 20 years ago. It was a date rape situation before date rape was widely recognized by the average person (I didn’t even know the term then and I was 19 years old! It was 1988 just for reference). I didn’t tell my parents. I didn’t tell anyone at first. My parents don’t know to this day. It still affects me now but I’ve worked through a lot of the issues surrounding it. I have one hurdle to go and then I think I’ll largely be free of it but part of it will always be with me. Trust issues linger possibly for a lifetime.

    However…

    Trust issues also linger from home invasions and assaults and hate crimes etc etc etc etc etc. Something I have a HUGE problem with regarding sex offenders is campaigns to “keep sex offenders off Facebook/Myspace/websiteoftheweek” There is NO other criteria for this aside from being a registered sex offender. You have to take into consideration things like the fact that one can have a conviction for consensual sex with someone who is legally underage in a particular state (and yet not another state) and be a registered sex offender because it’s considered statutory rape! I think that these campaigns are just WRONG. It’s particularly telling that there are no campaigns to keep paroled murderers off of Facebook/Myspace etc. Or convicted drug drealers.

    There’s a belief in our society that sex crimes are the worst possible offenses. Full stop. Why do we believe that? Is it really true? Who decided this? Was it women? I’m not so sure they are the worst possible crimes and it’s certainly not true in all cases. There are always grey areas like statutory rape. I think hate crimes can be just as horrific.

    I think it’s absolutely possible to consider a person such as your friend to be a good person if that was an isolated incident because of odd circumstances. People who get off on the power and violence of violating another person against their will in any way, sexual or otherwise, are dangerous.

    You often hear, especially on tv shows, that sex offenders can’t be reformed or cured. I think that’s way too broad a generalization. Rapists, maybe, and certain other offenders, but there’s a very wide spectrum and I think people hear “sex offender” and don’t really hear “flasher” or someone who got caught getting a public blowjob unwittingly too close to a school, you know?

    Are you able to expand on how it informs your friend’s life to this day? I’m rather interested to know what you mean actually. Was it something that he felt negatively about immediately afterwards and learned from right away or did it take some time for him to process?

    On a side note, another thing that bothers me is pedophilia (and the term pedophile). Pedophilia is NOT an action it’s a sexual preference. Pedophilic behaviour is the action. A person can be a pedophile and never act on it. I don’t know how possible or common/rare that is (I don’t know much about it) but I know that distinction is never ever made and it really bothers me. People use pedophilia to mean child molester and that’s completely inaccurate.

  2. October 19, 2009 4:01 pm

    I didn’t ask my friend how long it took him to process it or whether he immediately realized it was wrong, but I would assume that he realized how wrong it was from the get go. One of the ways in which it has informed his life to this day, is his inability to be dominant or forceful with any women. I mean, to the point where he will never be the one to make the first move and he won’t indulge in any kind of rougher sexual play even if that is what the woman he his sleeping with wants.

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