"Nice guys" can be part of the sexual harassment problem, too

One of the most vivid memories I have, one that I replay time and time again in my head, is of leaving the site of my first sexual encounter. As I entered the car weak and confused, I told the boy driving me home that I had been raped. He asked me who had done it, and when I told him, he responded by saying that I must be mistaken, that the boy whose name I gave was incapable of hurting someone. I was told that he was a nice guy. 

As college continued, I found myself swimming in a sea of nice guys. Nice guys who walked me home and then took advantage of me, nice guys who liked me and praised me until they found out I was “damaged goods.” When they learned how I felt, they told me that they never meant to hurt me and begged for forgiveness, telling me they were good guys at heart which to me, felt like a negation of the few truths I had managed to cling onto. 

It is because of these “nice guys” that I am not at all surprised when I open up the news and see men that I had previously admired, who have claimed to support women, get accused of sexual assault. I am disheartened to learn that men who have capitalized on their acceptance of feminism are in fact perpetrators, but in no way am I surprised. 

I have found that everyone has a star whom they are most upset about. For my sister it was Louis C.K., for me it was Aziz Ansari. In my life and in the lives of those around me, we often forget that sexual predators are moving, dynamic people who are more than just their imprudence. We can admire and even love them.

In deciding whether or not to press charges against my assailant, I heavily weighed the devastation that my decision would put on his family. His family would have to see their son as more than the straight-A athlete that they knew him to be. But to me, he was an entirely different person. 

On one hand, I am very grateful for everything that has come to light and occurred since the Harvey Weinstein accusations came forward a few months ago, and I am floored by the speed at which the sexual assault conversation has accelerated. When I came to campus four years ago, I could have never imagined the support systems that have been built on both national and local levels. 

But I still worry about every nice guy who is able to wear a “Time’s Up” pin while simultaneously contributing to the culture of harassment. I worry that in this quickly changing culture, we will forget that assailants are our friends, our family, and even the nice guy who sits behind us in English class. 

There is a lot of conversation about privilege, and rightly so. Sexual assault is largely an act of exerting power over another individual. But what I haven’t seen yet is a conversation about how privilege is based on more than gender, wealth, or race. Assailants don’t all look like powerful, physically intimidating Harvey Weinstein or the successful, wealthy Aziz Ansari. 

They are in our communities and might not all look like the pinnacle of privilege. One of the most traumatic experiences I have had was with a boy who I considered a close friend that I knew worked two jobs on top of a full class-load. Though I knew he was not privileged in the traditional sense, from him, I learned that privilege can still be displayed and harassment can occur when we ignore what we hear or experience because we know them and they don’t look or act like the typical offender. 

I hope more than anything that this movement can teach us that sexual violence and those who commit it are three-dimensional entities. That it is not only the high-powered, sexist  executive, but also, the everyday man who outwardly praises feminism. We must all learn that it happens everywhere and is committed both against and by a diverse range of people. It is critical that we continue to include everyone in this conversation, nice guys included. 

Madeline Anscombe is a senior majoring in anthropology. Her column runs biweekly. 

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