“In order to avoid stranger rape, women need to avoid situations in which it would be difficult for them to get help or escape,” Dr. Choy advises. I think of Michael’s victim, talking to a handsome stranger on a crowded boardwalk. I think of all the times I’ve been in similar situations, and how safe I felt on the street at night—for the first and only time in my life—when I was married to a six-foot-four, two-hundred pound man.
Dr. Mary Koss contends that the problem simply cannot be solved on an individual level. “We have a deadly combination in America: the gender power imbalance, coupled with the degree of violence in our homes,” she says. “If I could prescribe two remedies for sexual assault, they would be, first, to issue a national call to action to end family violence. Second, I’d pass policies, similar to those that exist in European countries, that lessen the power differential between men and women: equal pay, incentives for equality in the political process, generous parenting leave policy for mothers and fathers.
“The closer a society comes to equality,” Dr. Koss concludes, “the less violence against women there is in it.”
I ask Michael, the true expert, the same question. “What can a woman do,” I ask him, “to protect herself from a man like you?”
“A guy like I used to be,” he corrects me quickly, then answers, “Quit looking for the guy in shining armor. Don’t make yourself vulnerable. Stay out of the bars, stay away from drugs, quit looking for Mr. Goodbar. You don’t have to have sex with a guy the first night you meet him—fall in love with him first. Quit looking for that quick fix.”
Struck by the irony of the advice, considering the source, I press on. “Do you think you’ll ever rape a woman again?” I ask.
“No,” Michael answers emphatically.
“Do you think all rapists should be incarcerated?” I ask.
“Yeah,” he answers.
“And what about therapy?” I ask Michael. “Has being in the group made it any less likely that you’ll reoffend?” Dr. Choy leans forward in his seat, as eager to hear the answer as I am. “I’ve learned a lot about women’s feelings,” Michael says. “And guys’ feelings, and stereotypes. Stuff like that. Dr. Choy’s pretty good.” Michael grins at his therapist. “He knows the right questions to ask, and he knows how to steer us back when some guy’s going out of bounds.”
“Thanks, Michael,” Dr. Choy says.
Michael nods. “I’m one of the ones who’s going to get better,” he says.
“Is he?” I ask Dr. Choy when I see him later, in private.
“I believe so,” he answers. “For one thing, there’s the external deterrent of imprisonment.” He picks up Michael’s chart, flips through the pages. “And based on what Michael has been saying in group, I believe that he’s taking responsibility for his offense. He has expressed remorse. And he’s starting to see the superiority of a well-rounded, mutually satisfying, intimate relationship. He’s not engaging in manipulation to coax women into bed anymore.”
“How do you know that?” I press him, aware that the monitoring of Michael’s behavior—such as it is—is left to his parole officer, who makes occasional home visits and administers random drug tests. “It’s purely my clients’ word that I have to go on,” Dr. Choy acknowledges. “But that’s what Michael is claiming. And I believe him.”
*Michael’s name has been changed.
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