Every time new sexual assault allegations come to light, the same story plays out. The alleged assailant apologizes, declares that after much soul-searching, they have turned over a new leaf, and moves on with their lives. At this point, apologies for sexual harassment are so scripted that they rarely come across as sincere — something feminist activist Kate Harding pointed out in a hilariously sardonic tweet on Saturday.
Over the past few years, dozens of women have come forward to accuse public figures of sexual harassment or assault. Bill Cosby stood trial earlier this year for allegedly drugging and assaulting a Temple University employee, former Uber and Google employees have reported workplace cultures of recurring sexual harassment, and most recently, famed producer Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual misconduct by Hollywood figures. The list goes on and on, but little seems to change — especially not the inevitable public apologies, which seem to be lifted straight from the Sexual Assailant Handbook. This weekend, Harding highlighted just how little these apologies accomplish by comparing sexual assault to a different kind of assault.
"'I am sorry for all the times I stabbed men, just a little, in my previous workplace. After years of counseling, I stopped stabbing men,'" Harding tweeted, writing from an assailant's point of view. In another tweet, she continued, "'My childhood was bad, I barely even stabbed them and some of them are liars. But I am truly sorry & will be spending time with my family.'"
It has all the hallmarks of a typical apology for sexual abuse: downplaying the assault, blaming outside factors for their behavior, and a promise to withdraw from the public eye until the whole business blows over. But by switching out sexual assault for a good, old fashioned stabbing, Harding calls attention to how differently we treat rape and sexual abuse compared to other forms of violence.
It's been said before, but it's worth saying again. When someone is robbed, they aren't told that they should have hidden their possessions better. When someone is stabbed, they aren't expected to explain how their behavior led to getting hurt. The blame for these acts rests on the person who robbed or stabbed them — and a half-sincere apology usually isn't enough to excuse their actions. But when it comes to sexual assault, the story is wildly different. According to RAINN, perpetrators of sexual violence are far less likely to serve time in jail than those who commit other crimes, and unfortunately, an apology is often the most a survivor can expect from their assailant.
Even then, these apologies tend to spread the blame around. "It was a different time," assailants often say, as if the concept of not sexually harassing people is a newfangled idea. (Spoiler alert: It's not.)
Harding's tweet struck a chord with her followers, who turned it into an entire thread satirizing an assailant's typical apology. Some focused on the "different era" excuse. "'In the 90s, everyone was stabbing men, or chopping off their body parts. I understand now that this was wrong, but it explains the context,'" wrote one user.
Others pointed out how often the apology implies that assault — in this case, stabbing — is an integral part of workplace culture. Everyone else was doing it, too, so really, they can't be held entirely responsible for their actions.
Then there were the tweets that tackled victim blaming.
All in all, the thread is one of those "laugh because otherwise, you'll burst into tears of rage" moments.
You can check out the responses for yourself on Twitter. As depressing as the whole business may be, there's a silver lining: At least women are still capable of turning it into razor-sharp satire.