Eleanor Doward

An Open Letter to George Lawlor

*An image of a Warwick student holding a sign that read ‘this is not what a rapist looks like’ went viral. The sign was part of a personal backlash against the consent classes at his university. He found the implication that he might not fully understand consent “incredibly hurtful”, and railed against the classes in The Tab. This is a response to him.*

‘This is not what a rapist looks like’ says George Lawlor’s sign.

Enlighten us, then.

What does a rapist look like?

There are many of them, according to statistics. They walk amongst us; they are friends, colleagues, acquaintances, classmates. Conviction rates are low. Very few reports even make it to court. Many choose not to report for various reasons. Because the victim is scared of the perpetrator, scared of the consequences. Because it’s expensive. And often traumatic. Because reliving the experience is simply not an option. Because they might feel in some way responsible. Because people might not believe them. Because they might be asked: why didn’t you do more?


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‘What does a rapist look like’ and ‘why didn’t you do more’ are in the same category of stupid questions that lead nowhere, because there is no answer. You can never do more. Someone, somewhere, can always lie the blame at your feet. You shouldn’t have been so drunk, you shouldn’t have gone home with him – you barely know him! You shouldn’t have worn that dress, it’s too sexy. Boys will be boys! But girls can’t be girls; at least, not unless they stay at home swaddled in jumpers, make-up free and painting their nails with a fresh coat of Rohypnol-detecting nail polish.

Can rapists not be middle-class, well-educated, smartly dressed students? Tell me, oh fountain-of-all-knowledge, what a rapist looks like, then. Are they hulking, shadowy figures down dark alleyways that only come out at night? Your naivety is showing.

You might well be affronted, as someone who claims that they do not need to be taught the consent that they already practice. But consider that one third of female students have suffered sexual assault or harassment at university. And as 90% of perpetrators are people known to the victim, that means quite a few of said perpetrators will likely be fellow students. So if you would like to know what a rapist might look like, look around. They are at your university. They are students. They might too, wear smart jumpers and pressed collars. They are not mythical creatures. And you show your privilege when you don’t acknowledge this.

When you hold up a sign that says ‘this is not what a rapist looks like’, Lawlor, you derail the focus of consent classes for the purpose of reacting defensively to an accusation that was never actually made. Consent classes didn’t call you a rapist. Consent classes told you there was a problem. A cultural, societal, insidiously pervasive problem that is – heaven only forbid – bigger than you and your ego. You ignored it. You spoke about you.

Consent classes aim to tackle rape culture. The concept of rape culture is not a palatable one, especially when you might have lived your whole life having never encountered it. The idea that you might have potentially have a part to play in it – in your actions, in your jokes, in your dismissals – is more disquieting still. What could be worse than being made to feel like you’re potentially part of the problem, right?

I can think of one thing.

Can you?




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