Tampa: Can we convey the truth of child abuse through fiction?

This is a guest post, submitted by longtime regular HetPat comment box warrior ThatGuy.

Ally writes: I haven’t read this book and not sure I want to, but do recall the coverage of the Lafave case which inspired it. Just a few weeks ago the Daily Mail ran a highly sympathetic profile of her, sparked by a new biography by a self-described ‘friend.’ It is worth noting that the Mail piece described her conviction as a “sex scandal” and her crimes as “indiscretions.” You will notice the words “criminal” “paedophile” “child sexual abuse” or for that matter any kind of “abuse” are entirely absent. I think this makes ThatGuy’s case all the more relevant and compelling.]

CONTENT NOTE: Child sex abuse.


Recently I read ‘Tampa,’ a fictional account of an attractive 20-something teacher who has sex with underage boys. I’m not exactly first to the party on this, the book came out in 2013, and was strongly inspired by the real case of Debra Lafave which happened earlier still. (The author, Alissa Nutting, went to the same school as Lafave).

The book in short: attractive 26-year-old Celeste Price starts her first permanent teaching job.  She grooms and then has a lot of graphic, gratuitous sex with one of her 14-year-old students. After a few near-misses, her current victim moves away to live with his mother, and Celeste grooms and abuses a new 14-year-old. She gets caught, goes to trial, and gets a non-custodial sentence. She spends the epilogue in a new location with a new identity, having sex with new teenage boys.

In interviews, Nutting hints that she wrote the book as something of a commentary on the double standards to which we hold male and female sexual offenders.

The book is pretty gratuitous, it’s a little telling that most media coverage focused on the extensive graphic depictions of sex rather than the paedophile protagonist, and ultimately I felt somewhat frustrated with how it dealt with sexual abuse of underage boys, despite the author’s comments.

That said, the book serves as a useful case study of how child sexual abuse of boys by women is viewed by an audience sympathetic to the victims.

The book falls into a pretty big pitfall right off the bat – Celeste’s victims are portrayed as enthusiastically-consenting partners. Now I’m not saying that children would universally reject sexual contact in this case (If Ms SexyHott were to try to initiate a sexual relationship with 14-year-old me, I doubt I would have refused) but it ends up treating the stereotype of the perpetually horny teenage boy as an unquestioned truth.  I’m sure this won’t be surprising to most of you, but for all the bravado and sex talk you might get from teenagers, they can and often do have interests and priorities beyond sex.  At fourteen I was thinking about videogames, how to save up enough money to go see a film with mates, how to pass my exams, transformers, what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, trying to be funny and reading pulp fantasy books.  There’s no real thought put into the conflicts that would arise between a child and an adult.  Conflicts, which given the power an adult teacher has over a child student, would always be biased in the former’s favour. “Want to play videogames instead of having sex? I guess I’ll just make your school life hell”.

The above being said, Nutting does try to be sympathetic, but does so in a fundamentally misguided way. The sexual abuse is never portrayed as harmful in itself, but is instead packaged in other harmful behaviours to make the victims seem more, well, like victims.  Of the two of Celeste’s victims that end up in court, one of them seems positively thrilled to brag about having sex with the hot teacher.  There isn’t any thought about how encounters like this can effectively set the scene for a child trying to navigate adulthood – how exploitation like this can reverberate through the rest of a person’s sexual life. We’re never really asked to condemn Celeste because she fucks kids, but rather because she lies, cheats and is generally a terrible person while doing so.

On the other side of the coin, the way that the book portrays the sexual offender rather than the victim is not so stellar either. Celeste is something of a caricature criminal, as said, she lies, cheats, drugs people, and does all of this with no regret. I’m strongly reminded of the attitude of certain groups when a (typically male, white) mass shooter rears his head.  “He must be sick in the head!” they cry, “there’s nothing that can be done!” Nobody takes ownership of the culture or society that breeds this sort of hate. Similarly, Nutting by portraying Celeste as a moustache twirling cartoon sociopath who is an Incurably Bad Person, dodges any requirement to examine or assign responsibility to anybody for shaping and creating the ‘Celestes’ of this world.

Towards the latter sections of the book, the way that these cases are reported and prosecuted is examined through the lens of Celeste’s trial. The book here closely apes the LaFave case here, even down to the offender’s sexy modelling shots being released to the media. This is also IMO, where Nutting’s best insights come – Celeste’s hotel room is surrounded by angry protesters- all of them “pear shaped Soccer Moms.” But if you browse the comments on similar cases to this, you’ll often find that those minimising the crime are male. Sometimes, you’ll find a male user pointing out the sentencing discrepancy for an equivalent male offender, (usually with the subtext of arguing for more jail time for women in general – I’m looking at you, Mr Davies).

The defence team’s moves lean heavily on patriarchal assumptions about sex and power, The victims are called as witnesses for the defence, and asked to state whether they consented, and enjoyed the encounters. Celeste is given a makeup artist and stylist to make her look as young and innocent as possible in contrast to the teenage boys. It’s perhaps a little ironic how aware the book is at this stage, given that it falls into some of the same patriarchal assumptions that are exposed and manipulated in the trial.

Overall, the attitudes reflected in Tampa aren’t heartening. While there’s clear recognition of some sort of injustice in these cases, that sexist assumptions about what boys are and want and society’s inability to view a young blonde woman as a perpetrator of sexual crimes, there isn’t a recognition that sexually abused boys in these cases are actually victims. Any responsibility of society (patriarchal or otherwise) in nurturing and abetting these criminal behaviours goes unexamined. Sadly, Tampa is indicative that we have only really started to think seriously about these crimes, rather than the last word.


  1. Carnation says

    This is interesting on a number of levels. Some reflections of males as victims of sex crimes.

    Firstly, the patriarchal assumptions surrounding the victims. Let us imagine that the case was real and that the trail was fairly contemporaneous. The victims right testify, and believe, that they consented and that they didn’t really have anything negative to say about the experiences. It would take a huge amount of emotional maturity and self-awareness for them to understand that their concepts of trust and authority had been compromised. Likewise for their understanding of sexuality, usually (and arguably) best formed with partners of similar maturity. But more challenging than that is the expectation of them to be able to reject the rigid patriarchal assumption that they, as males, were not entitled to see themselves as victims.

    “We’re never really asked to condemn Celeste because she f*cks kids, but rather because she lies, cheats and is generally a terrible person while doing so.”

    This made me think of the Nigel Evans case (not the age, but the positions of power/authority). It seems that none of those who testified considered themselves victims, but from what I have read, none of them invited the encounters and much was made in the press of his heavy drinking.

    “Any responsibility of society (patriarchal or otherwise) in nurturing and abetting these criminal behaviours goes unexamined.”

    Different sex of offender, but I just read that four footballers coached by Barry Bennell have taken their own lives. That is a horrific toll, and I can’t believe that it’s a coincidence.

    It calls for more than the criminal examination of the behaviours, it calls for more of what’s been happening; victims being believed, more conversations about how males can be victims and about how they can be victims without society demanding that they seek violent retribution against their abuser themselves. Such nonsense literally kills people, in my opinion.

    Returning to the novel and the case, I wonder what motivates women such as Celeste? I would suggest that, in at least some of the instances, the motivations are based in power (as per male offenders) but perhaps with a different thread. The power to… what? Assume infatuation/adoration? The power to grant something that’s assumed to be so strongly desired?

    I don’t know, I’m just throwing things out there. I think one of the points that That Guy is making is that we are none the wiser as the book doesn’t explore this. That in itself is interesting.

  2. That Guy says

    @ Carnation

    I wonder what motivates women such as Celeste? I would suggest that, in at least some of the instances, the motivations are based in power (as per male offenders) but perhaps with a different thread. The power to… what? Assume infatuation/adoration? The power to grant something that’s assumed to be so strongly desired?

    This is something that continually ground my gears throughout the book- There’s a heck of a lot of Celeste masturbating to boyband music videos and movies featuring prepubescent boys, Alyssa heavily leans into the notion that Celeste’s pedophilia is a physical attraction, she’s repelled by features like facial hair or musculature that suggest maturity. There’s comparisons to curdled milk.

    This being said, right at the start of the book, there’s two nearly throwaway lines that suggest that a part of Celeste’s motivation is to permanently psychologically mark her victims. “Never again will the gap between his inexperience and my proficiency be greater”.

    Celeste doesn’t seriously reflect on why she’s attracted to kids, which considering the trouble it causes her, is surprising, and as noted, a big missed opportunity.

  3. sonofrojblake says

    The missed opportunity, it strikes me, is that it falls into the trap of focusing on the perpetrator at all. You can’t convey the truth of child abuse by asking “but why did she do it?”. You convey the truth by asking “what was the real, ongoing effect on the victim(s)?”. Otherwise, as in the clear example of this book, you’re just in it for the titillation, because hey, that’s what sells books, right? I mean, it’s not like Alissa Nutting is donating the proceeds to a charity supporting male victims of sexual abuse or anything.

    For a good example of how to do it right, see the movie “Room” (NOT “The Room” – very different thing…). Victims are a young woman and her son, abductees. Without giving anything away, once the crucial point of plot has been resolved you never see the perpetrator again, hear anything about him, or have any information about him. The film focuses on the effects on the victims and doesn’t glamourise the perp AT ALL.

    Of course, the perp isn’t an attractive blonde woman, so…

  4. That Guy says

    @ sonofrojblake

    Also absolutely true, the only analysis of the lasting effects on the victims is through the trial section, which takes place (iirc) 6 months or so after the abuse is discovered. Like I said above, of the two victims in the trial scenes, one isn’t portrayed as being harmed at all, and the other is harmed not because of the abuse itself, but because Celeste betrayed his trust and ‘cheated’ on him with the other victim.

    I’m not an expert on the lasting effects of child abuse, but I imagine that the effects of child abuse of this nature would manifest themselves most obviously in future relationships and sexual encounters (or lack thereof). I haven’t researched this though so I could be talking total nads.

  5. Ogvorbis wants to know: WTF!?!?!?! says

    The victims are called as witnesses for the defence, and asked to state whether they consented, and enjoyed the encounters.

    There also seems to be (from your post on the book) that boys/ teenagers/ young men are the aggressors, never the victims. That boys cannot be victims. Did he say yes? Did he enjoy it?

    Now, my abuser was a man, but some of the same tropes still apply. Even years, hell, 40 years later, I still have problems viewing what I did as abuse. What was done to me as abuse. Because I did say yes. Mostly because saying yes was less painful than saying no. I (sometimes) enjoyed the abuse. That’s the way our bodies evolved — certain stimuli produce certain responses. Sadly, this is a common tactic here in the USA when adult abuses boys/ teenagers/ young men.

    . . . there isn’t a recognition that sexually abused boys in these cases are actually victims.

    And I still, on bad days, seeing myself as a victim.

    Aaaah, the smell of patriarchal society in the afternoon. Smells like . . . bullshit.

  6. Marduk says

    Look at Brigitte Macron right now. There is no lack of coverage of how she met him but nobody will really say it was wrong. The strongest condemnation I can find is that Hadley Freeman will aver its “ok to raise an eyebrow” concerning the “weirdness” involved but is still prepared to “cheer on” a woman guilty of historical grooming offences. Tres chic seems to rather the consensus view.

    It is claimed its OK because it ended well(?) but I have to say what really alarms me about the case is Brigitte’s own comments on the subject which are almost textbook nonce speak (claims he was unusually mature and intelligent for his age, “talked as an adult”, they had a “relationship of equals” etc,) I don’t expect the Met to have arrested her yesterday but a certain amount of calling out might have been appropriate, nobody should be unchallenged in making statements like that. They were not equals, he was not an adult.


    The BBC of all institutions should not be uncritically fawning over people who say things like that.

  7. StillGjenganger says

    @Marduk 7

    Not sure I agree with you there, for two smaller and a bigger reason.

    First, there is no such thing as ‘a certain amount of calling out’ in this kind of thing. If you want a stronger response than you are getting, the next stop is the full measure of condemnation (compare with Woody Allen, if you like, either ‘before’ or ‘after’ Weinstein).

    Second, the ‘talked as an adult’ stuff is the only thing you can say that could justify the relationship – which is why all the nonces would say so. Whether is is true or not in an individual case is a separate question.

    But the bigger point is that what we are trying to prevent here is the sometimes terrible damage you get when people are too weak or immature for the relationships they get pushed into. In an ideal world we could judge on the actual maturity and damage involved. But since that is impossible in practice (and would 1) make it way too hard to convict anyone beyond a reasonable doubt, 2) leave it too easy for anyone to decide that their case was of course the exception ) we work off a hard age limit. 15 is over the age of consent in France, but relationships with your pupils are still illegal AFAICS, and rightly so. Going out with your 15-year-old pupils may not be invariably damaging, but it is an unacceptable risk. If anyone had raised the case back then (depending on exactly what happened when), Brigitte Macron could have ended up ruined and in jail. And she would have nobody but herself to blame for taking that kind of risk with her pupil’s lives. But with Macron himself having decided, by going away, coming back and marrying her, and staying with her over decades, that he chooses to see it as OK, it would be a bit much for the rest of us to override him and try to ruin the result.

  8. That Guy says

    @ Ogvorbis # 6

    Thank you for bringing your perspective to this, (and in case I haven’t said before, you have all my sympathy for what you’ve been through).

    The thing that got me about Tampa, and from some of Alyssa’s interviews, is she didn’t start from a position of thinking of boys in these cases as victims, but after th LaFave case, tried to challenge herself on this, and began to recognise some of her own double standards. She does recognise that this sort of shit happens in the criminal justice system, and there’s some nudges about patriarchal assumptions of power “Young boys, their libido is like the sasquatch and their brains are like a flea, which one do you think will win?” one character is quoted as a character witness for Celeste.

    The problem is that while Alyssa recognises there’s a double standard, Tampa gives the impression that Alyssa recognises that this is wrong, but doesn’t particularly grasp *why* (coz teenage boys like sex).


    I was not aware of the exact nature of the Macaron’s relationship


    But the bigger point is that what we are trying to prevent here is the sometimes terrible damage you get when people are too weak or immature for the relationships they get pushed into. In an ideal world we could judge on the actual maturity and damage involved

    I’m really not comfortable with this line of reasoning. I’d say it’s incomplete to say the damage is purely because of maturity of victims, a significant component is because of the power one partner has over the other.

    A teacher has power over a pupil, and shouldn’t pursue a relationship in the same way that an employer or superior should pursue a relationship with a subordinate employee.

    In the case of a teacher, that power differential is magnified by the immaturity of the student.

    Similarly, I don’t think people should start relationships with their step-kids, nor carers with their service users, nor should police with members of the public they are supporting as part of their duties. (All of these things have happened, and with many gender combinations).

    I get that there are some stories where these things have happened and there’s been happy endings for everyone, a family friend of mine started a relationship with her school bus driver, and has been married to said gentleman for the past three decades or so, but its a game of russian roulette. For every one story like this, I’m sure there’s many damaging, exploitative relationships that never see the light of day.

    Bear in mind, that predators and abusers actively manoeuvre themselves into positions like this to exploit power differentials like this.

  9. StillGjenganger says

    a significant component is because of the power one partner has over the other
    Similarly, I don’t think people should start relationships with their step-kids, nor carers with their service users, nor should police with members of the public they are supporting as part of their duties
    I get that there are some stories where these things have happened and there’s been happy endings
    but its a game of russian roulette. For every one story like this, I’m sure there’s many damaging, exploitative relationships that never see the light of day.

    I actually agree with all of that.

  10. StillGjenganger says

    On a slightly different topic, this article is both understanding and insightful (especially from one of the enemy, as I might say 😉 )

    It still leaves me a little worried. It points out that it is very hard to believe accusations of various kinds of abuse against people we care for, so you tend to refuse to believe them instead. And she proposes as a remedy that we must ‘learn’ to disregard these feelings,, and that accusations should be dealt with directly by an independent agency that is not susceptible to such feelings. That would certainly increase the punishment rate. But is there not a downside to a society where we learn to disregard what we feel about people and believe all accusations as a matter of course?

    Any comments, anyone?

  11. Marduk says

    An “independent system” is not a bad idea. In practice many large organisations, if faced with something like this, would call in external help too.

    The rest of it is Jess wanting to engineer a way to forgive the unforgivable in Lena Dunham and it doesn’t work. Dunham already knew better, she is already “trained”. In defending her Jess falls on the trope of denying agency and refusing assign accountability. Its a type of feminist rhetoric I’ve never really understood and it always feels like a two steps forward, three steps back kind of move.

    But alternatively, if the world’s most prominent feminist, deeply “respected” by international politicians like Ms. Philips, really can’t be expected to do feminism properly, I think all this really does is show you how unreasonable it is to expect ideological perfection from everyone else 24/7. What chance does a 60 year old welder in rural Idaho have of meeting a standard for thought and language that Dunham can’t meet? Maybe this spirit of forgiveness and the idea that we are all struggling with difficult things but probably mean well in the end could become a positive idea to move things forward? But again, its Jess Philips, that isn’t her point is it.

  12. sonofrojblake says

    is there not a downside to a society where we learn to disregard what we feel about people and believe all accusations as a matter of course?

    This is where “believe the women” really needs clarification, otherwise cynical news-baiting predators like Dunham and her apologists will exploit it, shouting down any suggestion of nuance as MRA-fuelled misogyny. “Trust, but verify” would be better. What has been wrong with… well, everything so far has been the institutional as well as public response to allegations of sexual assault has been “NO! REALLY??? Are you SURE???”. That is, the kneejerk is explicitly disbelieving scepticism. What’s being asked for is not uncritical acceptance of allegations, but rather supportive scepticism. I can’t see a downside to that.

    As for the Guardian, I can’t take it seriously as long as it continues to employ and publish the journalist I unfailingly refer to as “paedophile apologist Barbara Ellen”. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2009/nov/29/barbara-ellen-madeleine-martin-comment

    What is it with a certain strand of leftie that they, grudgingly, reluctantly, but openly, defend paedophiles?

  13. secondtofirstworld says

    I’m a writer myself and my biggest fear is loss of personhood via conditions like Alzheimer’s or general dementia. I’ve read about actors who started to slip back into characters they portrayed (and Peter Sellers could only be interacted with while in character) so there’s a slim chance I too will confuse my own reality with something I created.

    Abusers, especially older men, fully aware of what they’re doing is criminal do their utmost to silence a much younger victim. What remains is the silent scream, the guilt, the self loathing. The process of being enveloped by one’s self like an ever narrower corridor.

    Can we explain abuse through fiction? I feel personally obligated to do it, so as to spare the burden of victims from re-traumatizing themselves. What empathetic people know is that sexual and physical abuse is about power, not lust. The pure cut comes from being the closest to literally physically and mentally controlling an other being to the point they can take it, give up or it ends.

    Needless to say I’m firmly against gratifying statutory rape. The idea behind the universal suffrage was to lift up the blue collar crowd where they can gain access to education and workplaces of greater wealth. There’s a proven correlation of acceptance/tolerance of sexual abuse and low level education. Interestingly, despite college being free in America for a long period and plenty of scholarship which made majority whites the most college educated, the majority of enablers is also white.

  14. lucythoughts says

    Sonofrojblake has this right I think (and wow, that article was really quite shocking).

    But, what Jess Philips says is true, and it doesn’t even need to be someone we love, most people are unwilling to believe anyone they even know is an abuser. I think when it comes to contemplating rape and sexual abuse it is like people have a split personality, in one mental compartment there is this terrible, awful thing called rape, which is done by these terrible monstrous beings called rapists, and in a different mental compartment they have all the people they have ever been even casually friendly with, and never the twain shall meet. Real life example, many years ago a guy who was part of my social circle at the time was spreading a story, bragging about an incident in which he had sex with a girl while she was unconscious. Now, we know there is a word for that, right? But if you think a single one of his friends was emotionally capable of taking that word out of the mental box it lives in, and applying it to this guy they had known for years, then you would be sadly mistaken. I’m not saying everyone felt comfortable about it, but if you had turned around and said “so, what you are saying is you raped that girl?” I don’t think there was a single person who wouldn’t have been shocked and indignant at the accusation and hurried to explain how there were all sorts of circumstances that made it okay, or at worst, just a bit dodgy, but certainly not rape. And, to emphasise, that is when the revelations were coming directly from the perpetrator not from the victim.

    I have seen similar things happen two or three times and whilst it is possible that I know a particularly unsavoury and self-deceptive cross-section of society I don’t really think I do. I think this stuff is just really common and we have ways of protecting ourselves emotionally from it. We like to keep things nice: it is stressful to confront or reject someone we are used to being friendly with, it is much easier to contort reality to excuse them. One of the ways people do that is by believing, on an implicit level, that BAD rape has no context and once a context appears, whatever it may be, it ceases to be rape at all. What this does though is make it incredibly hard for victims to come forward or acknowledge what has happened to them, because in most cases the friends who know the victim also know the perpetrator.

  15. StillGjenganger says

    @Lucythoughts, Sonofrojblake

    What you say is true, Lucy, but I think you are missing a point. In fact you arguably have it backwards: It is not that people think that if there is any kind of context it cannot be rape. It is that they know that once you accept the wrod ‘rape’ there cannot be any kind of context. Rape overshadows all other considerations, and forces you to dismiss everything except that this person is a rapist, and therefore an evil monster. Roman Polanski is the obvious example. The man raped a 14-year-old girl. He was convicted of it, he has confessed to it, there is not the sllightest doubt. The people who argue whether this is really a ‘rape’ kind of rape are not so much outrageous as ridiculous. But they do it anyay, because accepting the obvious facts would mean that they can no longer enjoy his films, even as cherished memories, and can no longer admire his undoubted artistical talent.

    For rape, child sexual abuse, and maybe murder that is how it is. But it is not the only way it could be. For theft, drunk driving, or even manslaughter it is still possible to accept the facts without dismissing everything else as irrelevant. People generally can still read books by Jeffrey Archer without having to pretend that he mever committed perjury. And to me it raises the question: if people should stop denying the facts, what, exactly should they do instead?

    This interacts with Sonofrojblakes point that supportive scepticism would be much better. Which it would – but what would be needed to make it possible? He is quite right that there used to be a knee-jerk refusal to believe, as a way to dismiss unpleasant situations. But is there really room for an alternative, except for a knee-jerk insistence on believing? The police, at one extreme, could surely do it – because they are not personally inivolved. They can adopt a suitably supportive professional attitude, do their investigation, follow their procedures, hand the result to the CPS, and wash their hands of the consequences. That is their job,after all. At the other extreme, supportive scepticism can have no place within a family. If your daughter accuses your husband of molesting her you can neither fudge it nor stay neutral. Both sides have a claim on your trust, on your support, on openness and solidarity, and you cannot satisfy one without dumping the other. That is why those situations are so terrible (and why you can eaasily be tempted to direct your anger against the person who forced you to choose rather than the person who caused the problem in the first place).

    In between, student against student, colleague against colleague, artist against artist there might be room for that supportive scepticism. But that would require that you keep your judgement open and leave both sides as active parts of your social life. Which is likely to satisfy neither. Here the Allen/Farrow case is a good example. Unless you choose to always believe tha accuser regardless, what possible reason could there be for banning Woody Allen from the film world? Surely it is not too far from 50:50 on the facts which side is lying? Not banning him is hurtful to the Farrows, of course, much like not expelling a student accused of raping a fellow student is hurtful to the victim/complainant. But here is where you start having to make trade-offs. Do you choose: to ‘believe the woman’ regardless? Or do you remain sceptical even when that is hurtful to people who say they are victims? Do you force people to choose between dismissing rapists as totally evil or denying the facts? Or would o you accept having less clear condemnation in return for having the facts accepted?

  16. lucythoughts says


    Depends what you mean by accepting less clear condemnation. There is a big difference between asking for people to accept “context,” meaning circumstances which mitigate the crime, and asking for people to believe that a sex offender may not be any more a sadistic monster than any other violent criminal. It doesn’t take a monster to do a monstrous thing. Some sex offenders clearly are just downright evil, like Savile, but many others, as far as I can see are rather ordinary people with rather ordinarily crap ethics and a rather ordinary capacity of banal, selfish cruelty. The few I have known weren’t evil or inhuman, but they definitely weren’t nice people who made a mistake either, they just honestly didn’t think there was anything wrong with what they were doing. So if you want me to consider the “context,” which mostly seems to mean whether the victim was drunk, on drugs, dressed provocatively, flirting, in someone else’s house, the spouse or partner of the perpetrator, etc., then no, I’m not prepared to allow that as mitigation. On the other hand, if you want sex offenders to be considered as a mixed bag containing both truly wicked and just pretty rubbish human beings, rather than as a unique category of monstrous entities, then that is okay by me. Indeed, it might make people more willing to see it when it is going on right in front of their eyes rather than tying themselves in knots of denial. However, it wouldn’t help to sort out the personal dilemmas of people who have to decide whether to stick by a friend accused, or offer their continued support to a friend they know to be guilty. That is just a very tough judgment call.

    On the whole though, I don’t think it is the victims who want to present sex offenders as inhuman monsters anyway, because they know that they are mostly like everyone else, which is why they can win their victims trust, abuse them and then get away with it. In my experience it tends to be the bystanders (and particularly the hang ‘em and flog ‘em brigade) who act as if rapists are something quite different from everyone else, and the cynic in me is inclined to think it is a strategy to control the narrative and abrogate responsibility. Two familiar versions go like this:

    a) Rapists are the lowest form of life on the planet and should be strung up by their goolies; b) people this deviant must be extremely rare and obviously I have never met one; c) so women should be able to avoid them by taking basic precautions; d) therefore women who “cry rape” are either lying or victims of their own extraordinary naivety and recklessness.

    a) Rapists are monstrous beings wholly unlike ordinary people, who strike out of the shadows like an act of God; b) this makes them something entirely unique and pathological, not one extreme end of the normal spectrum of sexual behaviour; c) therefore no changes to the social context in which they operate will make any difference (e.g. education strategies or changes in the acceptable norms of sexual conduct etc); d) consequently the responsibility for reducing the number of rapes must fall entirely on the victims to change their behaviour.

  17. says

    There is also an ideological point here. The notion that all male prisoners are responsible for their own crimes and architects of their own misfortune while women prisoners are invariably helpless and hapless victims of circumstances is, quite frankly, a pretty stinky slice of patriarchal benevolent sexism. The reality – on both sides of the equation – is far more messy and ugly.

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