What Does A Rapist Look Like?

This is what a rapist looks like (Cormac The Rapist Talbot)

CW: Rape, Sexual Assault, Male Violence Against Women

Before you read this, please note that I will not engage with any whataboutery, or cries of ‘Notallmen’.

Research into the type of men who rape women has focused on asking men who are taking part in anti-recidivism courses, men in prison, and men who have accepted that they are guilty of rape. These are the exception, not the norm. Men who abuse women and children are crafty. They are devious. They are manipulative. They are not monsters. They hide in plain sight and they convince decent, normal, average, folks that they are ‘good guys’. As we have seen so often, it is not unusual for them to be well-known, and well respected, members of their communities. They ingratiate themselves into elements of society, and carefully hide the less savoury elements of their personalities. Then, when allegations of abuse are made against them, they have an army of defenders who are willing to say ‘he was always very good to me’ / ‘but he’s on the board of the local school’ / ‘he’s a great GAA man’ etc. etc.

Then, there’s the false sense of security that Garda vetting provides. Garda vetting doesn’t weed out predators, it doesn’t give any indication of who is, and isn’t a rapist. Garda vetting just tells us who has a criminal record. Do you see the problem here? You could be a serial rapist, but because you have never been found guilty in a court of law, your vetting disclosure will not reveal how dangerous you are.

The basic lack of understanding of trauma, how it impacts people, how memory is not linear, how memories reveal themselves, how prevailing culture silences women – all these elements of society conspire to silence victims. Sometimes for decades, sometimes forever.

Talking to the men who are happy to talk to researchers; talking to the men who got caught; talking to the men who are aware of, admit to, and have remorse for, raping women; is talking to an extreme minority of rapists. We won’t learn enough from them to understand what a rapist is like, their motivations, their manipulative ways, their lack of empathy for their victims, their lack of concern for the long-term, often life-limiting, effects that their abuse has on their victims.

If you want to know what a rapist looks like – ask their victims. We’ll tell you. In return, though, you need to listen. You must be prepared to accept uncomfortable truths; to reject your pre-conceived notions; to have the humility to accept that you have been wrong, that you have been duped.

Abusers do not stop abusing, rather they must be stopped and perpetuating the myths that men who abuse are a minority, and that men who abuse are monsters, won’t stop any of them.


Today, I will be in the Garden of Remembrance, at a rally organised by Colm O’Gorman (Executive Director of Amnesty International, survivor of clerical abuse and rape, and the boy who sued the pope). We’ll be standing with thousands of other people in solidarity with those who were abused – physically, sexually, and emotionally – by the Roman Catholic Church.

This week’s visit by the pope has been hugely painful for many thousands of people on this island. People are finding themselves hurt, upset, and triggered all over again. Even as someone who was never sexually abused by a member of the Roman Catholic Church – although members of the church concealed that they knew my two elder brothers (Nigel Talbot and Cormac Talbot) were sexually abusing me – I have found details of the continued abuse of people by the Roman Catholic Church upsetting. I have heard from many survivors of clerical abuse how difficult and traumatic these weeks have been for them. I want them to know that I bear witness to their pain, I acknowledge it, I believe them.

I am going to the Garden of Remembrance today because it’s important to honour the truth of those who have suffered. It is important to honour the pain of those who have suffered – and to recognise the origins of that pain; the Roman Catholic Church and the Irish society that stood by in silence and allowed the rape and abuse of young children to take place.

I am going to the Garden of Remembrance today to honour the memories of those who can’t make it: Those who were murdered by the Roman Catholic Church; those who were sold by the Roman Catholic Church; those who had their bones broken by the Roman Catholic Church; those who had their spirits broken by the Roman Catholic Church; those for whom being there would be too emotionally difficult; those who died by suicide,  who are in addiction, who are homeless, who are in psychiatric units on account of the trauma visited on them by the Roman Catholic Church.


I am going to the Garden of Remembrance today because it’s the least I can do.

Unsolicited Pictures – A Follow-Up

Last week, I wrote about unsolicited dick pics, and what it feels like to be on the receiving end of them. To be clear, I have absolutely no judgement around solicited penis pictures. If sending nudies is part of the sex-play between two consenting adults, I hope it works well for them.


The unsolicited pictures, and the sending of them, however, started a conversation on Twitter, and a number of women asked me why men sent these pictures. Well, as a woman, I have no idea. So I decided to ask the men who send them. Now, this is in no way a rigorous piece of scientific research. It’s a Twitter poll. There were 74 responses, and one of them was from a woman who clicked by accident and bumped up option two by one number. There may have been more people who clicked accidentally, but I have no way of knowing. All I can tell you is that, from the first few responses, the results were fairly consistent.


So, here’s what I got:

As you can see, 8% of respondents said they send these pictures because they think their penises are gorgeous, with 14% wanting the person on the receiving end to express admiration for the penis they are presented with. I must admit, that I thought the percentage of those in the first category would be higher. In my experience, men think their reproductive organs are beautiful (most women don’t – penises are only thought of aesthetically pleasing by women when they have an emotional attachment to the man on the end of it). Again, I’m surprised that so few men admitted to sending unsolicited penis pictures because they want their members to be admired.


The final two responses are the ones that worry me most. Sixteen percent of respondents admit to sending unsolicited pictures to shock the person who would receive it. There is something disturbing about a man wanting to shock a woman with a picture of his genitals. It’s an expression of a desire to exert power over the receiver, which is distasteful, to say the least.


Finally, the majority of men – 62% of them – who responded admitted sending unsolicited dick pics in the hope that the woman who receives them will send back a photograph of her genitals. I feel duty-bound to let these men know that that’s not how it works. Women are likely to be disturbed and upset if men send unsolicited pictures of their genitals, and really not inclined to reciprocate.


If you want to send pictures of your willies, guys, please afford the intended recipient the courtesy of ensuring that it will be a welcome photograph – and don’t expect one in return. Instead, wait until one is offered.

Savage That There’s No Funding for SAVI

The Irish Government has said that there isn’t enough money in the coffers for a new SAVI report. The last one was produced in 2002.

A new SAVI Report is vital in order to get an idea of the current beliefs, attitudes, and – crucially – experiences of men and women in Ireland. Significantly for me, my eldest daughter was born in 2002, which means it’s very easy for me to remember that year. It’s not just nearly 16 years ago, it is a very real year for me. It means I can easily pinpoint 2002 in my memory, and compare and contrast now with then.

I am aware of how much technology has changed since then; how simultaneously enabling and disabling it is. I am aware of how much our attitudes towards sex and sexuality have changed since that year. I am aware that people are more aware, and more articulate around, sex, sexuality, and their sexual experiences now than they were then. I am aware that people who were young children in 2002 are now fully-grown adults. I am also aware that people who were young children in 2002, and who were being abused then, are now fully-grown adults who may, or may not, have ever had the opportunity to disclose and discuss their experiences. We need to capture this data.

We need to capture this data in order to inform policy, practice, and funding for people and services who care for those of us who are affected by sexual assault and abuse. We need to be visible and vocal about the fact that we are gathering this data so the people who are directly affected by it feel, and are, heard.

To commission a new SAVI Report would cost approximately €1m. The government has claimed they don’t have the budget. They do, however, have €64m for Irish Racing; they also have €16 for greyhound racing; they found an extra €500,000 for National Parks; and, of course, Leo the Liar easily found €5m for his own spin doctors

All of that tells us that sexually abused and assaulted children, women, and men in Ireland are worth less to this government than racing horses, bloodsports, trees, and Leo’s own personal public relations unit.  As if our self-esteem hadn’t taken enough of a battering already.



A Woman on Public Transport is Not Public Property

I read this today: It’s a story about a woman – Nathalie Gordon (@awlilnatty) – who was on a bus, with her headphones in, when a man made unwanted advances. She was polite to each of his intrusions, and the incident ended with him masturbating in the seat beside her, and her reporting this to the bus driver. The driver shrugged and asked her what she expected.


In response, Nathalie reveals that what she expects is:

Respect for women no matter who they are, or what they look like, or what they’re wearing; respect for women who don’t want go for a drink, who ask for help, who are afraid; to feel safe on the bus, the street, in her house or anywhere she chooses to go; not to be on guard everywhere she goes; she expects men to stop thinking every woman on the planet owes them something; good men to be on our side, to support us, to listen, to care, to stand up for us when we can’t, and to educate others.


It doesn’t sound like too much to expect, does it? Sadly, if you’re a woman, it appears that, if this is what you expect, you’re expecting too much. I shared Nathalie’s piece with friends. Interestingly, every woman who responded, had a similar story to tell. Honestly, I don’t think there’s a woman alive who has not been on the receiving end of unwanted male attention. Not only have we been on the receiving end of unwanted male attention, we’ve also been on the receiving end of comments like:

‘What do you expect – you’re a pretty girl?’ (So, should I disfigure myself to make myself less of a target?)

‘Take it as a compliment.’ (Really? Assault is a compliment?)

‘What were you doing?’ (Usually minding our own business.)

‘What were you wearing?’ (Clothes. Always.)


Those of us who also have daughters related our concerns regarding our girls, and how society views (literally), and treats, them. I was reminded of the work my girls and I had to do before I could allow them to take public transport on their own. To prepare my (then) 11 year old for taking a single bus (in other words, there was no need for her to change buses) from outside her school to the end of our road took hours. I spoke to her and her sister about the rules:

  1. Greet the driver (to be polite, but also so s/he registers that you are a minor onboard, unaccompanied);
  2. If you must sit beside someone, choose to sit beside a woman rather than a man.
  3. Stay sitting on the aisle seat, allow someone to pass by you, so they get the window seat.
  4. Stay downstairs. Even if there are no seats downstairs, and there are seats upstairs, stay standing downstairs.
  5. If possible, stay where the bus driver can see you.
  6. You do not have to be polite to someone who is making you feel uncomfortable.
  7. If you feel threatened or unsafe, move seats. You do not have to justify your feelings, even to yourself. If it feels wrong, it is wrong.
  8. If someone makes you feel unsafe, go to the bus driver and tell him/her.


Then, we role-played, several times, over several days, how to act / re-act if someone made them feel uncomfortable. We defined what that might be – talking to them when they didn’t want to be spoken to, saying things – racist, sexist or personal things – that made them feel uncomfortable. Pretending not to speak English if they felt that would keep them safer (they can get away with this, because they look ‘foreign’).   I gave them permission to be rude to someone they didn’t feel safe beside. I practised being a lecherous male and putting a hand on my daughters’ knees, so they could practise shouting ‘Stop touching me!’ (I was amazed at how long it took to get them to shout. How well society has taught them to be quiet!). I got them to practice getting out of their seats and going to the driver. I gave them permission to defend themselves, and showed them how.


As I discussed these measures with my friends this morning, a thought struck me; if I had sons, it would never have occurred to me to go to such lengths before letting them take the bus on their own. I can’t imagine that I would have felt the need to do more than have one conversation with a son about general safety and what to do if he was uncomfortable. The difference being that, as a mother of daughters, I know my children will have to confront a male making unwanted advances. I know they will need to know how to react. I know they will have to confront lecherous males (they do, on a regular basis), and I want them to feel empowered in those situations. Don’t get me wrong, though, even though I am aware that the girls will face unwanted sexual advances, doesn’t mean I’m resigned to the fact – it means I will continue to fight to change this fact. The first step in changing something is acknowledging that it exists in the first place.







Sadly, victim-blaming is a huge part of every survivors narrative. Questions are asked of her and her behaviour and demeanour that are never asked of a victim of any other type of crime. Questions like:

‘What were you wearing?’

‘How much had you had to drink?’

‘Why were you there on your own?’

‘Did you lead him on?’

‘What did you expect?’

‘Boys will be boys.’

‘Why didn’t you just tell him to stop?’

‘Why didn’t you just fight him off?’

A woman’s previous sexual experience and the fact that men can’t really help themselves will be discussed in certain quarters. This puts the onus on women to accept responsibility for, not just their own behaviour, but that of men as well.

The bottom line is that victims of rape and sexual assault are blamed for what happened to them. As a result, a lot of victims blame themselves. This sort of victim-blaming is used particularly around young children to ensure that they stay quiet and don’t report the abuse because they are told that society, power, people in charge will not believe them – or will blame them for what happened to them.

Should a victim have the temerity, the audacity, and the courage to even attempt to seek some form of justice (there’s that word again!), they will find that those who take the side of their abusers will blame and bully the victim. For many (such as the members of my own immediate family), this helps them to avoid dealing with their own culpability, shame, and guilt around their own abuse of the victim. Or the fact that they allowed the abuse to continue by refusing to do anything to help the victim. Far, far, easier to blame the victim than to look in the mirror and take responsibility for how they made matters worse (or, at the very least, refused to make them better) for the victim.







Here’s the thing about sexual abuse – it’s not sexy. In fact, it’s decidedly unsexy. For those of us who have lived through sexual abuse, sexual assault, or sexual harassment, one of the things that can be really difficult is disclosing to a (potential) sexual partner.

When survivors enter into new romantic/intimate relationships, the twin questions of when, and how, to disclose to this person can be difficult. Until you actually disclose, you can’t be sure how the other person will react – and, of course, you don’t want them to feel uncomfortable. Minimizing what you’ve been through might help the other person to feel less uncomfortable, but you’ll be doing yourself a dis-service. I would suggest discussing the approach you plan on taking with someone else; a trusted friend, relative, therapist or counsellor.

It’s never going to be easy to have the discussion, it’s never going to be easy to disclose (and, if you’re like me, you’ll resent having to every single time). After disclosure (which I always think feels like a ‘warning’), the unsexiness doesn’t end. There is the difficulty that every survivor encounters when they attempt to blossom as a sexual being. For many of us, the easiest thing is to exit the scene. By that I mean be sexually available to your partner, but unable to actually take part in the event. [Edit: I talk more about this here]. For many survivors of sexual assault, reclaiming their own sexuality is one of the hardest things they will ever have to do – not least because so few people understand, or appreciate,  the difficulties and complexities surrounding this reclamation. It’s decidedly unsexy.

Being a participant, rather than an observer, in your own sex-life, is the least we can expect. Getting there can, however, be decidedly unsexy.


There is just one cause for sexual assault: Sexual assailants. The person who is assaulted is never to blame. Never. Unfortunately, people are quick to victim blame, even when the victim is a child (like I was when I was first abused as a two year old).  These people, who make excuses for sexual assailants, rapists and paedophiles, seem to think that somehow, something a victim does excuses the rapist from their actions. That simply isn’t true. A victim never causes an abuser to abuse them. (Closely linked to the issue of cause and responsibility is the issue of consent, which I wrote about a few months ago. You can read that post here.)

No matter what – no matter what a person is wearing; what they have been drinking; who paid for their drinks or their dinner; where they live; what they do for a living; if the abuser feels they have been ‘led on’; if the abuser has had consensual sex with their victim on another occasion; if the abuser is a family member – the cause of sexual abuse is abusers.  Always.

There are no mitigating factors. There is no grey area. There is no question of a victim bringing it on themselves. There is no question of a victim causing their own victimisation. There is one cause and one cause only for the rape and sexual assault of women, children and men – and that cause is the rapists and sex offenders.

Different rapists may use different excuses – they were angry, upset, needed to feel powerful, needed sexual gratification, found their victim too attractive to resist – but that does not detract from the fact that they are the ones who caused the rape.

I know I’ve done little else in this post but repeat myself – and there’s a good reason for that: We still live in a society where people who are sexually assaulted are blamed for that assault, and are seen as causing the assault. This is never the case. We are never to blame for the assaults perpetrated on our bodies. The hatred men have for themselves is waged in a war on women’s bodies and women’s minds. The cause of this war is the men who wage it. not the women on whom it is waged.