Inside the mind of a serial rapist

A fascinating Reddit conversation explores rape from the other side

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published July 27, 2012 8:00PM (EDT)

It may be a convincing hoax. Or it may truly be a portrait of the inside of a serial rapist's mind. Either way, it's the most chilling thing you'll read all day.

On AskReddit earlier this week, the question was posed, "Reddit's had a few threads about sexual assault victims, but are there any redditors from the other side of the story? What were your motivations? Do you regret it?" The responses quickly flooded in. Stories from people who knew rapists. "My brother is serving time for sexual assault on his under age daughters," writes one commenter. "I can tell you first hand he has no remorse. He blames his ex-wife and his daughters for 'doing this to him.' He will get out in 2015 and he is totally convinced he is a victim." There are stories from people who've done awful things and still rationalize them. "I ignored her and did it. She realized what was happening and tried to clamp her legs shut, but it was too late and I was much stronger than her." There are stories from people who did things in the most messed up times of their lives, things they regret horribly. There are stories from people who'd been confused, and can now recall with clarity and wisdom how easily a moment could change dramatically. "I remember pulling off her and she kept crying," writes one man. "I then do remember doing something i'm probably most ashamed of is asking her to finish me off, more begging for it... I hate to say it but after it was done I went to bed, she stayed up crying." Another admits, "Later, I realized the big difference between what she had offered to do and what I had tried to make her do. MUCH later I realized that I had basically assaulted her, and that was why she broke up with me."

It's an unflinching and incredibly insightful document, a reminder that the persistent notion of sexual assault somehow only counting if it happens to a modestly dressed lady who's attacked by a stranger in utter BS. It happens in vague and complicated situations, every day and night. It happens between buddies. It happens between boyfriends and girlfriends. The lines are not always clear-cut. And that's what makes the entire thread a fiercely illuminating conversation. How can you not feel the obvious pain of both parties involved in the story of a man who says that a classmate he'd been friends with had said, "okay I guess" to sex but later admitted "she felt like I had raped her"? How can you not ache when he goes on to say, "I have never in my life felt as shitty and depressed as when she told me that she felt what happened was rape. The depression made me have to drop out of school and go live back home. My parents thought I was gonna try to kill myself"? How can you not try to have the same measure of compassion for the guy who drunkenly undressed a female friend as the girl herself, who says, "He had been really drunk, I had been really drunk... so I talked to him, he apologized again, and we moved on. I forgave him a very long time ago"?

The thread is a powerful testament to the insidiousness of sexual coercion, and of how damaging to both men and women the culture of silence can be. It's still expected that nice girls won't make a fuss. Females are still  raised to keep quiet and not make a scene, even when they want say no. They're raised to keep quiet, even after they've been abused. And that's nowhere more harrowingly clear than in the story of the man who claims to be "a post-colleged age male who raped several girls through use of coercion, alcohol, and other tactics over a course of 3 years."

His story reads like a textbook guide for would-be rapists -- a chronicle of a guy who says he is no longer in that "dark and horrible place in my life," but sure has a shuddering knack for tapping into the predator mindset. He describes himself a good-looking guy who now has a beautiful wife, a man who learned early that "after a while it became boring to go after the sluts and sorority girls that would easily throw their cunt after you." A man who figured out he needed more of a challenge. He describes in nauseating detail how he'd zone in on lower-hanging fruit: "a girl who was a bit damaged, had a shitty ex-boyfriend, or family issues, came from a small shut in town, that sort of thing," and make his move. After laying the groundwork of flirtation, he'd invite her over to watch a movie. He'd ply her with alcohol. He'd make sure the room was cold so she'd snuggle in. Then he'd make his move. Sometimes the girl would yield, leading to what he calls "consensual and boring sex." Other times, as he puts it, it went differently. "I'm a muscular guy, over 6' around 200 lbs. and most of these girls may have been 125-130, really tiny and easy to pin down," he writes. "To be honest, even remembering it now, the squirming always made it better, they didn't want it to happen, but they couldn't do anything about it. Most girls don't say no either. They think you're a good guy, and should pick up on the hints, they don't want to have to say 'no' and admit to themselves what's happening."

And that right there is the line that is the sharp knife into the heart of every person who has ever been in a similar situation and felt ashamed. Every person who has thought later, "It was my fault." That line is your worst fear come true. It's your confirmation that you're not wrong, that you didn't make this up in your head, and that he was not a good guy. But I hope that line can also be your greatest comfort. I hope it assures you that when the bells were going off in your head that what was happening was wrong, it really was wrong. I hope it demonstrates the difference between the guys who did dumb, selfish things and are desperately contrite about them, the ones who now say, "If I hadn't looked up at her face and seen what she was feeling, I might have continued," and the sociopaths who get off on your fear. I just wish to God there were an easy way to tell those two groups apart. And I am so, so sorry that far too many among us have crossed paths with the latter.

Post-college rapist guy might just be a terrible joke, a fake story designed to stir up conversation. But I'll tell you this – he is dead on the money when it comes to channeling the utter lack of empathy and compassion, the creepy braggadocio, and the egocentric self-justification of a sex abuser. Well done, sir. I don't know if you're really a rapist, but I believe you've got the right stuff to be one, for sure.

What makes post-college male, above all the other contributors to the Reddit conversation, so spot-on is that he knows so well that he's the smiling face in your yearbook. He knows he's the cheerful neighbor with the lovely family -- and the woman on the other side of town who's still traumatized by what he took from her one long ago night. He knows he's your coworker and your fellow parent on the PTA. He's the memory of the guy who's never stopped haunting you. And he's everywhere. As he himself says, with obvious delight, "I think it's kind of funny that no one will ever know if the person they're talking to on reddit, or someone who moderates their subreddit, is me on my main account."

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Reddit Sexual Abuse