What would you think about someone confronting their rapist if it’s someone they know?
I would think that the confronter might be seeking closure and doesn’t yet understand how best to accomplish it. For the sake of simplifying a complicated question, I will proceed as though the confronter has already reported the crime to the police and the legal process has been completed. If not, the confronter is placing herself at unnecessary personal risk by privately confronting someone who has engaged in a terrifying act of sexual violence against her and who has not been held legally accountable. If the statute of limitations on rape has passed, the confronter can consult an attorney about the possibility of bringing a civil suit against the rapist. In this way she might receive some justice while also creating a paper trail that might contribute to protecting herself and others.
In movies and fiction, a confronter feels empowered after confronting her rapist. This is not the norm in real life. More often than not, a confronter does not experience the closure she seeks. That’s because the act of seeking closure from a rapist gives the rapist power over the confronter’s healing. For closure to work, the confronter cannot believe the rapist has something to give her. She accepts that she doesn’t need anything from him. The opposite is true. She has something he lacks: The truth about what rape is and who a rapist is.
Before attempting a confrontation, process the rape experience with support from a qualified psychotherapist. If a confrontation is to follow, it should begin with the confronter clearly stating the legal definition of rape. Next, state what the rapist did. Make a clear connection between his behavior and the definition of rape. Don’t argue. Be rational. Repeat the legal definition of rape and state what he did. Build the bridge that makes his denial harder to sustain.
In 2017, The New York Times reported on a study of men who commit sexual assault and rape: “Heavy drinking, perceived pressure to have sex, a belief in ’rape myths’—such as the idea that no means yes—are all risk factors among men who have committed sexual assault. A peer group that uses hostile language to describe women is another one.” The article goes on to explain that men who rape will freely acknowledge that they have engaged in “nonconsensual sex,” but don’t consider it “real rape.”
A confronter must understand that her rapist may not change, but she can change. She has healed, will heal, is healing. If the rapist is a sociopath or narcissist, he will not be capable of seeing himself as the problem. He may try to justify his crime by saying that his victim aroused him. Or he will tell a story in which he appears as the hero. Ignore it. By stating the truth, a confronter will have restored her own sense of power. And that, my friend, is closure.
One last thing, if we want a reduction in sexual violence against women we must raise empathetic boys into men who refuse to tolerate sexual aggression. We also must raise smart girls into women who protect themselves and others.