Sunday, March 3, 2013

Friendship. Rape. Where Do You Draw The Line?

I was reading my news feed and went to fact check some data and stumbled upon this piece by Kate Clancy on the Science on Pregnancy and Rape from August 20, 2012 in Scientific American. It reminded me of a story from my past that I had practically forgotten about, but in retrospect had a significant impact on me.

It was when one of my friends had told a group of us a supposedly cool story about how his best friend had offered to drive a girl home from a party.

He told the story in the way that you could tell he really looked up to his best friend and his exploits in this story. The story goes that the best friend said he had to make a brief stop at his (a third) friend's house, he didn't come out, and when the girl eventually came in the two of them gave her some roofies and had their way with her. I remember how my friend, who was not in the story himself, finished the story with an emphatic "isn't that cool?"

Though I hardly consider myself all that socially aware at the time, I immediately called it out for what it was, replying "No. That's not cool. They raped her? How is that cool?!?"

According to him, I was missing something and not really getting the point of the story. Apparently I was taking the whole thing too seriously.

Meanwhile I was so disgusted that I eventually proclaimed to the group of friends that I could not be friends with someone who would brag about their friend raping someone. I think I was hoping he would somehow repent, but I was drawing a line in the sand.

He did not repent and it led to the deterioration of our group of friends, at least for me. Even the people that agreed with me weren't willing to sacrifice the friendship for it. He later confronted me about the whole thing explaining that to him being a friend meant sticking by your friend no matter what.

That was a defining moment for me. Even though I was in my twenties at the time, I think I was pretty immature in a lot of ways. However, even then this notion of unconditional friendship just didn't work for me. It didn't matter that these were *the* people I hung out with all that time. You had to draw the line somewhere, didn't you? I don't know how much my willingness to cut the cord was based on my previous experiences, or how much this incident framed my future ethics. Maybe a bit of both.

Where do you draw the line?


  1. Reading Raising Children Who Will Speak Up to Prevent Rape, Not Defend It, it seems that the holistic approach to teaching empathy is overlooked, as is the importance of teaching and prioritizing principals over popularity and acceptance.

  2. I think you guys are both right in a way. Friendship is about being there for your friend no matter what, but "being there for them" shouldn't mean that you endorse, condone, support, or excuse everything they do. We influence or friends to change their beliefs and behaviors all the time, sometimes in minor ways, and sometimes major ones, and drawing a line in the sand about what is or isn't cool is particularly righteous, but most of the time it doesn't bring about the kind of attitude shift that comes through a campaign of persuasion. That's how peer pressure works. It's not a dude saying "rape this girl right now!" It's a pattern of acculturation, acceptance, and comfort with a set of assumptions that over time can animate what sounds like a casual request to a command. It's soft power over hard power, and sadly, bad people do it better than good people do, because good people need it more, but bad people WANT it more.

    Pop culture uses the trope of the angel and the devil on people's shoulders, where the Superego and the Id try to sway the Ego into doing right or doing wrong. Our friends bolster those voices, and your pushback might have been sufficient to bring about an epiphany in many misguided people, but not for this guy. However, we don't know how much pushback would have led to that epiphany, if at all. You are well within your rights to say that it's not your responsibility to try to bring about that understanding in your friend, just as your other friends might also have concluded the same thing when they "let it go." But somewhere along the line, if your friend is going to "get it," *someone* has to assist him. He clearly had people in his life who were steering him in the other direction, and once you left his life, he had one fewer strong-willed person pulling him the other way.

  3. That's an interesting perspective, but I'm not convinced about the friendship part. First of all, where does is say that friendship is about being there for your friend no matter what? While we like to say that is the case, I don't actually think it is realistically feasible. What we try to have are friends that would never doing anything that would jeopardize our friendship. In reality there can be irreconcilable differences.

    For what it's worth, while I wouldn't say I launched a campaign of persuasion, the discussions, debates, and arguments on the issue were extensive. I just did not get into them in any detail here. So while there could have possibly been more that I could have done to bring about an attitude shift, I don't understand how he was right.

    There's a lot of ways that this guy could eventually "get it." More people drawing that line would definitely have a greater impact. Maybe it will be the girl he eventually married. Maybe it will be the daughter he eventually had/has. Unfortunately for some people empathy takes personal interest or investment.


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