He's 'a good guy' - and other excuses we make for abusers
‘He can’t have hit Amber Heard: Pirates of the Caribbean was awesome, and he [Johnny Depp] is a hottie.’
This is not a lone sentiment. When Heard revealed that Depp had been verbally and physically abusing her for years the world reacted. Some people spoke of how “Johnny is one of the most sweetest men” they had met.
Cryogenics of abuse is what I term it. It’s the point when you know you are talking to someone who has assaulted another person but, because you want to interact with them and continue your relationship, you choose to ignore that little abuse fact.
I have been there. More recently and frequently than my “anti rape culture” and “anti victim blaming” self cares to admit. There are two instances that stain my memory: the first of which was finding out a friend has assaulted another friend – a matter that was never addressed. Not only was it not addressed but I went on to invite both parties to lunch at the same time because “we are all friends and good people”. The second was in a professional context: I brought two people into a project about women, knowing full well that one woman had assaulted the other.
In both cases the entrenched workings of rape culture and victim blaming allowed me to suspend reality for a time and not even think long-term enough to internally justify my actions. This could happen because the boogey people (abuse in same-sex scenarios is real so let’s be gender neutral about this) do not exist in the spaces I like to drink wine or do work, so letting these two slide was as acceptable “’cause “they’re cool people”.
Needless to say this thinking is as messy as eating curry right out of the pot while wearing a white dress, because it means victims of abuse have two options: either shut up or get their harsh reality side-lined, ignored or challenged in the name of social cohesion.
That is one of the core problems of rape culture and victim blaming: not wanting to address the problem of assault because it wrecks family dynamics, friendships, work ethic or good times. The idea of not wanting to deal with the reality that you know crappy people. That someone you may know is abusive scum even if they do get rounds at the bar when it’s happy hour.
It spoils everything to think that in their private space that person, who can churn out a great spreadsheet, make deadlines, hug your children or play a mean game of cricket, is a monster.
Even axe murderers and serial killers have drinking friends, girlfriends, poker buddies and people they greet every day. We think that to do wrong you must exist in a dark underground part of society, but you know why serial killers can be serial killers – because no one suspects that’s what they are. Same thing with rapists and abusers.
We seem to forget that abusive people are average everyday people. That the 182 556 recorded incidents of physical abuse were not carried out by some mythical trench coat wearing monster.
That they are brothers and friends we have known for years. That they are the well-dressed man at the bar and the guy who greets you every morning with a smile on their face. We seem to suspect that they are hobgoblins who crawl out of the earth at midnight to rape and pillage and torch the earth. They are not.
The reason a man can abuse his wife is he found someone to marry him in the first place and it is not the sociopathic recluse of a weirdo touching himself underneath his trench coat at the local supermarket who gets married. It’s the gorgeous guy with the good job. It’s the Johnny Depps of our world, the DJ Euphoniks. Hell, even the most stand-up television father figure of our time, Bill Cosby, could be cotton candy on screen and arsenic once the cameras stopped rolling.
We need to move away from this idea that there can be a suspension of belief because someone is a “good person”. You can never know what is happening in someone’s private spaces until you follow them around all day, every day for their whole lives. Simply following them on Twitter is not enough, even in this world of oversharing.
Once we get away from the idea that “a cool person” can’t be an abuser as well, then we can move away from a culture of blaming victims for the violence they experience and making then prove their pain rather than making monsters prove their innocence.
Kagure Mugo is the founder and editor of the HOLAAFRICA! blog