There is a longstanding, firmly entrenched myth in our rape culture that perpetrators of rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence are sick, mentally ill, unwell, “out of control”, and/or crazy. These notions exist in comfortable concomitance with programs and commentary that suggest that abusers need anger management classes in order to learn how to control their rage and/or respond more appropriately to challenging situations.
Let me break it down for you: this is absolute nonsense, and is propagated by rape culture, rape apologists, and (you guessed it) rapists and perpetrators for several reasons. Yes, it’s important to acknowledge that there are some people who are actually mentally unwell; who are driven by real, diagnosable disorders. Pedophilia is one example: the individual who experiences actual sexual desire for children; who feels that only children “get” him/her; who mistakenly identifies their emotional and physical transgressions upon children as love. However, the concept of pedophilia is mistakenly applied in the media and general vernacular to all individuals who sexually assault children, when in reality child abusers who actually fit into that diagnosable category are few and far between (comparatively speaking).
I digress, but the above example should easily translate. Another: serial rapists who are compelled by mental disorder to assault and/or maim. Again, while these individuals exist, they make up a phenomenally miniscule “chunk” of the population of rapists overall.
This is because frequently, sexual assault, sexual harassment, domestic violence, and rape are perpetrated by thinking, deliberating, mentally-fit individuals who make conscious and calculated choices to execute their attacks.
(See this position statement by Mental Health America which outlines the stigmas and inappropriate rationale behind a common link between sexual assault and mental health issues.)
Abusers typically are not “out of control” in most situations. They handle frustrations and challenges with their bosses and coworkers, with public figures like restaurant servers or retail employees, and with authority figures (like the police). Their abuse is deliberate and purposeful, with intent to gain power and control over their victim(s).
But the myth that abuse is a “loss of control”, that it is the result of anger or frustration, that perpetrators are “crazy”, functions to legitimize the assault by erasing the original intent (power and control) and to excuse and absolve the perpetrators of their actions by suggesting they were not in their right minds, or, as Nancy Pelosi put it, requiring “medical intervention”.
Anthony Weiner was not crazy when he sent pictures, or tweeted, or chatted, or had any sexually indiscriminate relationships, criminal or not. He was not “unwell”, as NYT’s analogy to Representative Patrick Kennedy’s leave for drug rehab suggests, nor was he a victim of his “impulses”.
Anthony Weiner made some mistakes, but the operative part of that sentence is that HE MADE THEM. A sincere apology that accepts the responsibility for and consequences of his actions is appropriate. A flamboyant, misguided ploy to distract and minimize the scandal, the actions, and intentions behind and implications of sexual assault the world over, is not.