When Thomas Meagher heard the man charged with raping and murdering his wife speak in court, he had a horrifying realisation — the suspect seemed like a human and not a monster.
Here’s what Meagher wrote in a post published by Salon this week:
I had formed an image that this man was not human, that he existed as a singular force of pure evil who somehow emerged from the ether. Something about his ability to weave together nouns, verbs and pronouns to form real, intelligible sentences forced a refocus, one that required a look at the spectrum of men’s violence against women …
Meagher’s wife, 29-year-old Jill Meagher was a victim of that violence in 2012 after a night out with work colleagues near Melbourne.
When she left a bar at 1:30am, a random stranger named Adrian Ernest Bayley followed her. He dragged Meagher into a secluded area off the road and raped and strangled her, then buried her body in a shallow grave miles away.
Bayley, convicted of past rapes, had been released from prison on parole. He was later convicted and sentenced to life in prison for his crimes against Meagher, ineligible for parole again for at least 35 years.
By the time Bayley’s trial began, Meagher’s husband Thomas had begun to think of his wife’s killer as a monster rather than a man. Then he heard Bayley speak coherently in court.
Thomas realised that his initial image of Bayley as a monster is a commonly held myth centered on the false notion that all rapists are violent, psychotic strangers entirely different from other men.
That myth helps perpetuate rape and violence toward women because it ignores the fact that most rapists are actually victims’ acquaintances, friends, family and significant others, Thomas explains.
In the United States from 2005 through 2010, 78% of sexual violence offenders knew their victims, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Thomas argues that the “rape-monster” myth also promotes sexist and disrespectful attitudes toward women. That’s because men rationalize such behaviour by reminding themselves how different they are from the mythical rapist.
“What would make this tragedy even more tragic would be if we were to separate what happened to Jill from cases of violence against women where the victim knew the perpetrator, had a sexual past with him, talked to him in a bar or went home with him,” he writes.
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