My Friends Are Red Dots

Warning: this piece contains mentions of sexual violence and assault.

I have written and rewritten this piece a few times now, and still can’t seem to find the right words to convey what I am thinking and feeling. Maybe that reflects less on my inability to write and more on the messiness that comes with discussing this topic; coherence has been a struggle throughout this process, so bear with me.

A few weeks ago, I discovered that my best friend had displayed unconsensual violence and aggression while having sex with another close friend of mine. Upon hearing this from my close friend herself, my initial reaction was one of shock and denial. While I did not doubt her story for a second, I ached to believe that he had not committed these acts, and that he had listened to me when I told him to be cautious and consensual with every action that occurred in that bed. The pit in my stomach told me everything.

Having received permission from my close friend to speak to my best friend about his disturbing behavior that night, I asked him to recount every single detail of that night. Whenever he spoke vaguely or stated an occurrence that did not align with the story I had previously heard, I would ask him to be more specific and to recall whether his actions were consented to. By the end of the conversation, he had conceded that he did not ask to carry out particular actions, yet concluded that “there are two sides to every story” and that “[I’ve] known [him] forever.” We have not spoken since then, and I await the day when he can take full responsibility for his actions. 

I will not be directing all of my anger and frustration at my best friend in this piece, as that would not be an apt encapsulation of where all my anger and frustration was directed at that time. I was angrier at myself than I was at him. I could not stop questioning whether I had fostered an environment that accepted this behavior, whether I could have said something or approached conversations about hook-ups in a manner that would have prevented these actions from happening. 

Upon intense reflection and internalization, I have come to few conclusions outweighed by innumerable lingering question marks. First and foremost, especially in situations involving sexual assault, it is wrongful to immediately defend an accused friend. It simply does not matter if they have historically demonstrated an understanding of consent or a respect for women and gender equality — nonconsensual actions are not beneath them because of these general attributes. Hand in hand with this is an additional conclusion that intentions do not matter. With minimal prior research on this topic, I’d safely assume that the vast majority of sexual perpetrators would go on the record and say that they did not “intend” to harm their victims. Screw intentions. Damage was done, and that damage was preventable. 

When I talked to my accused best friend, I was able to clarify his intentions because I had been granted permission to speak with him about his actions. If you find yourself in a similar situation where someone encourages you to address your friend’s non-consensual behavior, do not shy away from the opportunity out of fear of confrontation. It is uncomfortable. It is gut wrenching. But it is also necessary for the safety of their future sexual partners.

These situations, however, are not always as straightforward. In the past couple weeks following my conversation with my best friend from home, I have heard about two Bates friends demonstrating non-consensual sexual behavior with the caveat that the stories were not mine to disclose. How, then, am I to navigate my interactions with these friends? Do I pretend as though nothing has happened and move forward unfazed? Or do I cut them off and remove all of my associations with them and their behavior? I have not found a “correct” way to answer this, but the response must fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. Pretending nothing has happened when something clearly has happened only further perpetuates harmful behavior, while cutting off all contact with a friend with no explanation or closure feels unwarranted and unfair to both of us. 

I am a young man still figuring out how to address these situations. After all, no amount of preparation in the world could make hearing about a friend sexually harming others any easier to handle. What has become clear to me is that a cultural shift is needed — one that normalizes dialogue between men (this also applies to those who do not identify as men, but I am speaking more to the patriarchal norms that need to be unlearned in this instance) composed of healthy conversations surrounding hook-ups. This can manifest in many ways, but until we can learn not to treat women as sexual conquests who will accept anything and everything we do to them, weave consent into any conversation surrounding sex and hook-ups. A few weeks ago, I would have thought that this intention was enough. Now I’m just hoping I won’t have to write about another friend who is a red dot.