On the word “Monster” (and its failures)

“What a monster!”

“That guy is just a monster.”

“Lock him up, he’s a monster!”

It’s something we’re heard, or said, countless times. It’s our go-to explanation for anything that we can’t understand. Anything that horrifies us or baffles us. And it is doing exactly the opposite of what we’d like it to: which is to stop the horrific things from happening.

I recently posted another blog about my experiences accidentally joining a cult, where the cult leader physically abused almost every member of the group, and sexually assaulted many of the male members of the group (https://justinxaviersmith.wordpress.com/2016/10/12/my-true-experience-in-a-los-angeles-rape-cult/). Of course, I received an overwhelming amount of feedback, much of which boiled down to, “I hope he rots in prison. What a monster.”

The use of the word “monster” in this circumstance lessens both the cause and the effect of what actually happened to myself and the other victims in this case. By dehumanizing our abuser and labeling him as a “monster,” we give up the ability to understand how and why these sorts of behaviors actually occurred. As a victim of the behavior, and as someone who actually fell for a lot of the “tricks” that men like this use to prey on young, hopeful individuals, I’d very much like to forego the usual use of the word and discuss more about the actual cause of this behavior.

First and foremost, the man who raped me was not a monster. He was a human. If he was simply a “monster,” none of this could ever have happened. Monsters make themselves known. Monsters have one purpose: to wreak havoc and to destroy. Humans have a different purpose: to be loved and appreciated. When we say, “he was a monster!”, we give up the ability to ever prevent this sort of thing from happening again. Because when our children or nephews or nieces meet someone like this, they won’t see a monster. They’ll see a human. A person who needs help. A person who offers them something exciting. A person who has a few flaws, but seems to have the best of intentions.

And that’s the real, horrifying truth of this sort of behavior. Our tormentors, our rapists, our cult leaders, our terrorists… they don’t look or act like “monsters.” They aren’t the horrific hate-mongers we paint them to be. They look and act like anyone else. They appear, on the surface, to merely be human.

When I first met the man who raped me, he seemed like a trustworthy, knowledgeable, confident individual. He claimed to have a lot of skill, a lot of information, and a lot of connections that could help me. All of these things would later turn out to be lies, but at the time, they seemed promising. He seemed, above all else, to have my best interests at heart. And that’s how I was tricked. That’s how I was trapped. That’s how I wound up, months later, being slapped across the face, grabbed by the penis and led around a room, and sexually assaulted by the very same man.

Had I met him and known immediately that he was a “monster,” it would never have happened. I would have walked away. I would have known that he wasn’t a person to be trusted. That he would hurt me. That he wouldn’t have my best interests at heart. But he wasn’t a monster. He was merely a man. A man with insecurities and a need to control everyone and everything around him. A man who knew exactly how to manipulate people into believing and behaving in a way that suited his own needs. And because of that, it’s important to note: this could happen to anyone. It could happen to your children. It could happen to your siblings. It could happen to your nieces, nephews, grandchildren, cousins, neighbors… it could even happen to you.

The face of evil does not appear to be evil when you first meet it. It does not present itself as a “monster,” for then you would never succumb. The face of those people you would label as a “monster” at first glance is simply another human being.

When you talk to your children about the possibilities and dangers of trusting people they don’t know, do not make the mistake of only warning them about the people who are “monsters.” Warn them instead of people. Because people are capable of doing monstrous things, regardless of what word you use to describe them.