Can Sexual Assault Ever Be Forgiven?

Olga Wolstenholme's picture

pc-159Do you ever think that sexual abuse has sometimes hurt the person who committed it just as much as the person who suffered through it? No, that's not quite right. This is a difficult thought to process. Let me try again, is a person who has committed sexual assault always defined by that action? For the sake of this post, let's momentarily put aside people who systematically abuse others and focus primarily on isolated incidents, because that is what I'm thinking about right now. 

I am not trying to qualify abuse or excuse it by saying "Oh, it only happened once, that doesn't make him a bad person", but there are people who have committed assault once in their life and will never ever do it again.  There are actions in our society that you only have to commit once for your entire life to be always brought back to that one instance: murder and rape being the top two on that list, and although, sexual assault can never be excused, can it be forgiven?

I'll try and explain the specific situation that has brought this question to mind without revealing too many identifying details.  A man that I have known for a long time, a man that I respect and love, recently told me about an event that took place when he was at most a pre-pubescent adolescent.  Without describing the entire event, let's just say that he used his fingers to forcefully penetrate a girl while one of his friends stood on her shoulders.

What happened was inexcusable.  He had no right to do what he did and it was just plain wrong, and I certainly don't want to sugarcoat what happened, but like any other story of sexual abuse there is a context and the man who did this is a fleshed out person as opposed to a cardboard cut-out of a typical monster.  He didn't suffer any kind of legal consequence, but what happened did affect him and his behavior for the rest of his life.  A couple decades later and the sexual assault that took place still informs the life of the attackers and of the victim.  I don't know the girl that this happened to and if I was her friend and she told me about this, I would want to crucify him in the most public of ways, but I don't know her, I know him, and he's not just a monster to be crucified.  It might be an easier thought for me to  deal with had he suffered legal consequences or had it beed acknowledged that "yes, this happened and it was wrong", but that didn't happen.

I've always had pretty black and white thoughts about people who victimize others. In my mind, ABUSER always equalled BAD PERSON and their actions were unforgivable, but that's not always the case.  Part me of me equally, although differently in kind, feels bad for the people who have to deal with what they have done or desire to do.   A lot of people who have the impulse to rape or molest (and I mean impulse on a psychological and pathological level) consider these thoughts torturous and completely horrendous and will go to great lengths to stop themselves from ever acting on them (i.e. voluntary castration).  I find myself feeling empathy for these people, and that is a hard feeling to contend with when their actions are inexcusable.

I don't have an answer to the question I have posed in the title of this post. Perhaps, I should have asked whether the person committing the sexual assault can be forgiven.  I think that is more to the point, because I think we can all agree that the assault itself can never be forgiven.  Ultimately, it is not my place to forgive the man I have spoken of, but to say it is the victim's place to decide is putting something on her shoulders that doesn't belong there, so perhaps the question can never be resolved, but what I'm asking myself is whether it's OK to consider someone who as committed sexual assault a good person or is this an action that you can never escape in terms of defining who you are?

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this is a powerful, unorthodox perspective

arvan's picture

I read this piece, hearing your points very clearly.  I also read up on the Roman Polanski rape of a teenage girl, this week.  She has declared that a) he raped her and b) she has forgiven him - because of her self-care and choice to live out her life without his rape being what defines her.  So, your timing is great.

Also, in the background of all this - is the truth that I was molested and attacked when I was a teen.  I don't wish any kind things for the man that attacked me.  However, I accept that it happened and that it influenced the person I have become.  Reading this post, I considered whether or not I could forgive my rapist and then I discovered something about myself.

I realized just exactly why someone can forgive a rapist.  Not as a gift to that person, not as an understanding of what the rapist may be going through - but as a freedom for myself.

I do not want the thought of him, the anger, the fear, the shame or the sadness that my attacker left me with.  All of those things are part of the life I had before I forgave that man.  I do not want to ever see him again.  I do not want to know anything about him. 

I forgive him because I love myself enough to want a life that I love.


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