The subject title is the content warning. No graphic details, but the situation is exactly that bad.
Dear Captain Awkward,
Three years ago my sister (she/her:31) and I (she/her:36) met a man (he/him:29) while we were out. I hooked up with him a few times, but ended it on bad terms after a night when he drunkenly tried to force sex. He apologized the next day, and it was clear that our acquaintance was over.
My sister continued to spend time with this person without telling me until I found out. She overrode my concerns about that despite her being aware that I’d ended the hook-ups after he’d been drunk and things had gone really poorly. She started hooking up with him over the next year and a half (she overrode my concerns about this) and eventually told me that she intended to date him. I asked her not to since I view him as a predator. Can you imagine what she did? She has been resolute that she loves him, and although she mourns the loss of our closeness, she wants to find a way for us all to work things out.
I haven’t seen this man or spoken to him since the day he apologized for repeatedly trying to force himself on me. My sister is aware of all of the circumstances at this point, but we haven’t been able to come to any kind of agreement moving forward.
I do not want to deny my lived experiences by “getting over it” and making nice with a person I don’t feel safe around. It’s been over a year since she’s told me he’s the partner she wants, and we’ve been strained ever since.
I feel as though I’ve said everything I can to her, but maybe you know the Magic Words to ask my sister to choose me this time.
Thank you so much for your time.
– What’s the Plan?
Dear What’s The Plan?
I am so sorry this happened to you and that it keeps happening to you. I think what’s left to you is to hold on tight to your “WTF?” instincts and not allow your sister and her rapist boyfriend to complicate an incredibly simple thing: If your sister wants to “work things out” and be “close again,” it’s actually pretty easy! There are two incredibly obvious steps!
1. Dump that guy.
2. Apologize to you profusely.
Until that happens, she’s the second biggest asshole you know in love with the biggest asshole you know. Again, I’m sorry.
Asshole #1: This dude is not sorry for what he did. Contrite, regretful people don’t do a sex crime and then text back “Sure, let’s hang out!” to their victims’ baby sister. People with even a shred of conscience or self-awareness hear, “Stay the fuck away from me you, rapist piece of shit,” do the math that says that there are 7.8 billion people on the planet, and make the obvious choice to attempt their redemption arc on some other family’s time. No. The fact that he’s okay with any of this is diabolical.
Asshole #2: I can’t tell if your sister just doesn’t believe you, believes you and doesn’t care, actively gets off on twisting the knife in your back, or is one of those absolute soulsuckers who think Being In Love justifies anything they say or do to other people. (Hint: People fall in love with unsuitable people all the time and have to break up with them for all kinds of reasons. If your one chance at true love means dating someone who tried to rape your sister, BE SINGLE.)
She’s almost certainly being lied to and manipulated by Asshole #1, he’s almost certainly going to mistreat badly her at some point, and she’ll probably need someone to help her crawl out of this romantic and ethical sewer in one piece someday. But whatever number he’s running on her, she has choices, like the one she made back when he was Just Some Random Guy From The Bar and she knew what he did to you and texted him back anyway. No.
He may be trying to run the abuser’s playbook and isolate her from her family, and you don’t want to let him “win.” But right now, your safety depends on keeping your permanent, icy distance from both of these people and not letting them isolate YOU from the rest of YOUR family. When your sister actually leaves him, you can decide if you are up for helping her. Until that happens, please, please, please choose yourself.
Given the circumstances, if you want to talk to her about this again, my script advice is allow yourself to be as angry as you actually are and name the behaviors in plain, specific language.
Rapists, abusers, and people who shield them from accountability use vague language, passive voice, subjectless sentences, and ambiguity to minimize and obfuscate. Think: All those “campus rape epidemic” headlines where nobody ever mentions any rapists, or all those chemical weapons that deploy themselves at protesters every night in U.S. cities.
Every single time somebody who carries out (or excuses) sexual violence says the words “It’s complicated…” with that little ellipsis right after it, it is a very, Very, VERY good time to stop right there and un-complicate it with short sentences that contain a clearly defined subject and direct object connected by an action verb: [PersonA][Raped/Groped/Forced/Hurt/Threatened/Overpowered/Assaulted][PersonB]. Everything is complicated, life is complicated, but rape is way less complicated than rapists and those who want to keep excusing and enabling them pretend it is.
You mentioned in a longer version of your letter that you have kind of a third parent role in your sister’s life, so you’re probably used to smoothing the way for her, reassuring her, and generally being The Reasonable One. It is time to stop doing that. If she’s going to choose him? Make her reckon with what she’s really choosing. Name his behavior. Name hers. You didn’t have “a hookup that ended incredibly poorly,” you fended off multiple rape attempts, told your sister about them to warn her and keep her safe, and she dated the guy who did that to you.
Now she is telling you she misses “being close” and is pressuring you to “work it all out somehow.” What does that mean, like, exactly? Is she asking you to spend time with your rapist for her sake? ‘Cause if so, that’s an easy one: NO. Is she asking you to pretend, for her sake, that this doesn’t actually bother you as much as it does? Bippity-boppity-nope!
In your longer email you mentioned that you had asked your sister what the plan is for telling family why you aren’t ever celebrating Christmas together again or why you won’t be going to her eventual wedding, and what I’ll say about that is: Never, ever lie for or cover up for this man.
You don’t have to detail your own trauma to your family to justify your decisions about your own safety, so if certain people get told “We’re not in touch right now,” “She knows why” or “You’ll have to ask her” because that makes you feel safer, so be it. But you do not have to keep secrets for rapists and you do not owe your sister silence about this, ever. “I love weddings, but I’m gonna skip the one where my sister marries a guy who tried to rape me” is an unimpeachable reason to check “No” on the little RSVP card and redirect your dyed-to-match bridesmaid-dress-and gift-toaster budget toward a relaxing getaway or therapy co-pays. Straight up forever you are allowed to say “Nana, the reason Sister is disinvited from Christmas this year is because several years ago when we all first met, her boyfriend tried to rape me, I told her what happened, and she dated him anyway. I don’t break bread with rapists or let my family knowingly do so.”
Also, you’re allowed to claim Christmas and other holidays. “Sister, I want to see our family over the holidays, so please plan to take The Rapist somewhere that is else this year.” Your sister knows exactly what your ground rules are, and she will just have to figure it out, and also, fuck that guy running for thinking he could roll up to YOUR family celebrations and expect to be fed anything but broken glass.
I hope the rest your family isn’t shitty about it, but if you keep focused on being as angry as you actually are and using plain language, I even think you can fend off the usual apologia.
“But it all happened so long ago!” “Yup and when I’m done being mad about it I’ll let everyone know, but this is not that year.”
“But she’s your only sister!” “Yes, I noticed that too, which is why it hurts really bad that she’s inflicting my rapist on everyone in our family.”
“But he’s such a great guy, come on, this can’t be right?” “Right, I thought he was a great guy, too, and then I found out he really, really wasn’t, and now you’re finding out, too, which is no fun, to be sure, but I sure wish I could have found that out during an awkward conversation.”
“But surely you don’t want your sister and her boyfriend to be alone on Christmas!” “They’re not alone, she gets to hang out with the love of her life, my rapist, and my rapist gets to hang out with the sister of someone he tried to rape, it’s a love story for the ages.”
I’ve been watching I May Destroy You all week, which is a new show from Chewing Gum creator Michaela Coel where she uses fiction to reckon with her own real-life sexual assault. The show refracts stories about sexual consent and harm across many situations within the same friend group and one thing I appreciate is how incredibly clear-eyed Coel is about the absolute obvious wrongness of violating someone’s sexual consent. It shouldn’t be so revolutionary to remove the ambiguity and euphemizing and second-guessing from depicting sexual assault, but it is.
In the five episodes I’ve seen so far, she has held up a mirror to every single sketchy situation where a person might be like, “Wait, was that….rape? Like, RAPE-rape? Or was it just ‘a misunderstanding?’ Did they really ‘mean’ to do that? Am I remembering it right? I mean, I consented to having sex with this person, just not that, specifically. It’s probably nothing, I’ll be fine” and then held up a city-block-sized dramatic and comedic BILLBOARD that says “Look, can we stop pretending about this? It was absolutely rape, it was wrong, the person who did it knew it was wrong when they did it, it’s actually really hard to ‘accidentally’ sexually assault someone, it doesn’t actually matter if you remember it perfectly, it doesn’t matter if you were high or drunk or sleeping around, you didn’t deserve any of it, and it’s okay if you are not fine about it.”
It’s tough going and I have to space episodes out and pause it frequently to breathe (seriously, ALL THE CONTENT WARNINGS apply, if you think this isn’t for you, probably go with that instinct ) but even so as a survivor I have been very moved and felt very seen and loved and valued by this piece of art. I’m not to the end, but I can already see that this is somebody who has decided to reckon with truth and reckon with harm in a way that is truly rare.
Anyway, Letter Writer, prose is starting to fail me in processing the sheer amount of WHAT THE FUCK fury at your sister and this absolute moral abscess of a man so I am gonna try poetry for a minute. Perhaps in rhyme the gall of these lovebirds being all “Sister, why are you so unfairly not letting us treat you like shit forever?” will become so absurd that I will find that exact headspace where hysterical crying turns into hysterical laughing and I can sleep tonight.
If you don’t want to see classic poems rewritten so they are about not dating the dude who tried to rape your sister, stop reading now.
The Road Not Taken (in homage to Robert Frost)
…Two paths diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
J/k, I’m not sorry
I picked the one marked ‘no rapists allowed!”
And that has made all the difference.
This Is Just To Say (in homage to William Carlos Williams)
I have stopped dating
to avoid forever
he was an asshole
and so gross
Thirteen Ways Of Not Dating A Rapist (in homage to Wallace Stevens)
Among twenty possible choices
The only right one
Was to not date your rapist.
I was of many minds
Like a planet
with 7.8 billion people who aren’t your rapist.
The rapist manipulates and lies
It was part of the pantomime.
A man and a woman
Walk into a bar
The woman walks right back out of the bar
It was full of rapists.
I do not know which to prefer
The peace of mind
Of knowing I’m no longer dating a rapist
Or the peace of mind
Of knowing I’m not being an asshole
To my sister.
Icicles filled the long window
Maybe when the rapist stopped by
One would fall
And stab him in the eye
And then a blackbird would poop into the hole
At just the right moment
Nature is beautiful sometimes.
O readers of Captain Awkward
Why do so many people try to justify
Hanging out with abusers?
Do they not see how they ruin everything?
I know big words
And how to make long sentences
But I know, too,
That one can just break up with rapists.
When the rapist fucked off forever out of sight
It marked the first moment
It was possible to believe
That he might actually be sorry.
At the prospect of meeting rapists
Across the holiday table forever
It would be okay to scream
“Fuck you, I will not.”
He rode over boundaries
He rode over good sense
He mistook our family for his hunting ground
Time he was corrected.
His lips are moving
The rapist must be lying.
It was not inevitable
It was a series of decisions
And one obvious decision
Is to not date your sister’s rapist.
Dear Letter Writer, you are awesome, these people are terrible, you can’t fix them, I’m so sorry, you have been very patient and honest and tried to behave with as much grace as humanly possible, there are no magic words, sometimes WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU are the only words that make a lick of sense. ❤