Why is it so hard to believe someone we like is a predator?
When we hear a report of predatory behavior about someone we know, our immediate reaction is usually, “What? Him? Not him. I like him.”
Maybe it’s a celebrity you’ve been following for years.
Maybe it’s a well-respected member of your congregation.
Maybe it’s your best friend.
We just can’t believe it. And so we don’t believe it.
Even when we know the statistics about sexual assault and rape. Even when we say, “I believe women.” Even when we tell ourselves, “If that ever happened around me, I’d do whatever I could to offer my support.”
We know, on an intellectual level, that the statistics indicate we do have predators within our circles, but we still have a hard time believing it when a predator is unmasked.
Because we want to believe we are the kind of people who would know evil when we saw it.
Because if such evil was right in front of us, and we didn’t recognize it, what does that say about us?
Does it mean we’re too stupid to read the warning signs?
Does it mean we don’t have the gift of spiritual discernment?
If we missed this, what else in our lives have we missed?
Can we trust our judgment at all?
Instead of looking at the situation objectively, we make it all about us and our ability to read others and discern the truth.
We overestimate our ability to identify lies. We can only identify a lie from the truth about half the time.
That doesn’t make us stupid. And it doesn’t mean that we can never trust our judgment about anything. It just means we aren’t nearly as good at this as we think we are.
What it means is predators are highly manipulative. It means they can fool even the most intelligent people.
A predator is an expert on luring people in and earning their trust. Assuming you aren’t a predator, you are not an expert on that. So, how could you see it?
Often, when we can’t imagine someone we like could do something like that, it means we can’t image ourselves doing something like that. And that’s a good thing, but we have to be careful about that.
We identify with people we like, and sometimes that blurring of our identity with theirs makes us feel more defensive of that person that we should be.
“If a guy just like me could do that, what does that say about me?”
What it says is that guy probably wasn’t ever like you, after all. He just pretended he was. Because by ingratiating himself to others, he was able to slip past our guards without being detected.
Because predators know exactly how to sweet-talk everyone around them, not just their victims. Because predators are invested in making sure if a victim does come forward, nobody will believe them.
There’s a reason why, “But he was such a nice guy,” is a cliché.
They’re almost always “such a nice guy.” That’s how they gain people’s trust so they can prey on them.
Are we disbelieving because it’s impossible we might have felt some connection to someone who later betrayed the people around them (including us)? Or are we disbelieving because of pride? Because we want to believe, “I would have known if something was wrong.”
We really never know what’s going on inside another person’s head. We really have no way of knowing who is being honest with us and who is manipulating us.
I don’t want to imply we should never trust other people, but we do need to exercise a certain amount of awareness.
And, if we aren’t the victim, we need to remember we’re on the outside, looking in. When we’ve got nothing at stake, personally, it’s easy to dismiss reports. That’s especially true when we know the accused predator, but not his victims.
False accusations are incredibly rare.
False accusations from multiple victims are even less likely.
A false accusation from someone who has a lot to lose by making that accusation? You see where this is headed.
Instead of allowing our pride in our own ability to identify evil to cloud our minds, let’s look at it logically.
Logically, if an accusation has been made, it’s probably true.
Instead of believing what we want to believe, we need to believe what makes the most sense.
The predator’s primary victim is the person he assaulted or abused. But, in a way, the secondary victims are all the people he fooled along the way. He betrayed your trust too.
So, instead of standing against the primary victim, stand with them in solidarity against the person who betrayed you both.
Image Credit: flickr user Thodoris N (Creative Commons)