Dear George Lawlor,
Recently, George Lawlor, a student at Warwick University in the United Kingdom, told the world that “This Is Not What a Rapist Looks Like” in a photo accompanying an article about the “waste of time” consent class he was invited to on Facebook. According to him, the invite was “a massive, painful, bitchy slap in the face.” But you know what’s really a slap in the face? Rape. By arguing that he is not what a rapist looks like, and by promoting the idea that consent classes are a waste of time, Lawlor opposes assault prevention and instead promotes rape and sexual assault as an established part of our society — something that cannot be prevented but only dealt with post-assault. This idea is the epitome of the phrase “don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness.” In this case, permission is consent, and forgiveness is the trauma felt by the victim.
In a follow-up interview after his article went viral, Lawlor explained that he meant that he, as an individual, does not look like a rapist. That, if you really knew him, he’s clearly not a rapist on the inside. That we are the problem, that we are to blame, because we judged his book by the cover. The way in which Lawlor covers his tracks, blaming the offended for his offense, is eerily similar to how rape victims are accused when facing their attacker: What were you wearing? What were you drinking? Why did you leave your friends? But here’s my question to Lawlor, and to a society bent on blaming the victim: Why does it matter?
Lawlor argues that consent classes are pointless because the “real rapists” won’t attend them anyway, and that consent is so obvious that to have a class on it is a waste of everyone’s time. But if rapists are off hiding in their evil lairs all the time, and consent is so obvious, then why is one in four women on college campuses raped? By abstracting rape as something that most people are incapable of committing, and by disassociating assault as a problem separate from college campuses, Lawlor accepts rape as an institution while simplifying consent to a written definition of “yes versus no.” Thereby, he denies it as a physical practice of respect. On paper, Lawlor does not look like a rapist, because on paper, rape begins and ends for him. Yet, for 25 percent of college women, rape is active, rape is real, rape happens. And it is committed by men on campus, boys who “don’t look like rapists”, who probably look very similar to Lawlor. Rape happens, but if the demographic committing this crime the most paid any attention to prevention against rape before it happens, maybe then consent classes wouldn’t be called a waste of time.
If Lawlor actually thinks that a free hour-long consent class is a waste of his valuable time, he should consider the extensive Rape Aggression Defense course women take. Or the pepper spray they have to buy. Or the cabs they have to ride in at night. Or the drinks they have to watch. Or the doors they have to lock in their own 33 Harry Agganis Way dorm because even in their homes, even in their schools, even in their sleep, they are not guaranteed the safety that any human should innately expect. Because it’s men like that that make women like them afraid. Talk about a waste of time.
I began this article as an open “Dear George Lawlor,” letter because I’ve heard that after abuse, post-rape, there is a class where you write a letter to your attacker, to try and help you cope as the victim, to try and help you find forgiveness. As they say “don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness.” And though George Lawlor did not attack me, I feel violated by the establishment that makes him think he is right. So dear George Lawlor, I say on behalf of women and rape survivors everywhere: you are not forgiven, no one who looks at themselves and thinks “This is not what a rapist looks like” is forgiven.