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Niall Carson

Graham Dwyer highlights the danger of thinking a 'type' of person commits sexual crimes

Until we accept that we have inaccurate perceptions about what kind of person perpetrates sexual violence, it will continue.

DESPITE HIS CONVICTION last week for the murder of Elaine O’Hara, Graham Dwyer does not seem to be going away. Although physically he is behind bars, his presence still lingers. His name continues to be a headline story, not just in the media but in the conversations of ordinary, everyday people.

Much has already been said and written as to the reasons why this man, this crime and this case has gripped us all. Some commentators have attributed it to the fact that his middle class, family life was so at odds with his sordid sexual life; others to the nature of the crime itself and how close he came to getting away with it; others to the arrogance and chilling sense of calm he displayed, despite the seriousness of the crime he was on trial for.

An ordinary seeming man

Or perhaps his hold on us and the reason why we are unable to easily erase him from our minds is because we all feel that Graham Dwyer was someone that we might have crossed paths with – even the ordinary, everyday people among us who do not mix in architectural circles, who do not fly model airplanes and who do not frequent BDSM websites.

Perhaps we exchanged pleasantries with him in a queue at a bus stop, served him a drink in a pub, bagged his groceries at the supermarket, chatted to as we played with our kids at the same playground, greeted with a smile as we both hiked on the same mountain, or sat next to at the cinema or on a flight. Despite reports that have now come out about aggression in his past towards his former partner and son, and former colleagues, Dwyer seems to have moved among the rest of us inconspicuously.

Not the ‘obvious monster’

On reflecting on his hold over us, I was reminded of a powerful piece written by Tom Meagher called ‘The Danger of the Monster Myth’ for the White Ribbon Campaign. In this piece the writer discusses his shock at discovering that the man who raped and murdered his wife was not the obvious monster he had imagined:

When I heard Bayley forming sentences in court, I froze because I’d been socialised to believe that men who rape are jabbering madmen, who wear tracksuit bottoms with dress shoes and knee-high socks. The only thing more disturbing than that paradigm is the fact that most rapists are normal guys, guys we might work beside or socialise with, our neighbours or even members of our family.

Meagher goes on to reveal why this perception we have of a rapists and murderers as monsters, and not as normal men, is such a problem. He talks about social situations he and other men have found themselves in where a peer says something offensive or derogatory about or to a woman but is not challenged by his friends, even though they may have felt uncomfortable about the comment and the impact it had on the female for whom it was intended.

“Men who may feel uncomfortable by a peer’s behaviour towards women, may absolve themselves from interfering with male group norms, or breaking ranks with the boys by normalising that conduct in relation to ‘the rapist’. In other words, he can justify his friend’s behaviour by comparison – “he may be a ___, but he’s not Adrian Bayley.”

Why does disrespect go unchallenged?

Like most women, I have been subjected to such remarks and comments at various times in my life. On every occasion I have wondered – does this man have a mother, wife, sister or daughter? – as I truly could not understand how any man could say such a thing to a woman if he had any love or respect in his life for one.

And so I can’t help but wonder if Graham Dwyer was the type of man to shout sexual comments at women from his car window as they walked down the street, or the guy in the group with the dirty jokes, or the one who made other men uncomfortable for the way he looked or spoke about their wives or girlfriends, or the colleague who was always borderline inappropriate with his female counterparts.

All of these incidents are still shockingly, as Meagher points out, considered normal and regularly go unchallenged, or are unnoticed altogether. But maybe if we just question this so-called ‘normal’, the signs of what lurks beneath will be there.

The White Ribbon campaign which Tom Meagher advocates for has a mission to combat harmful social norms that perpetuate men’s violence against women and invites all non-violent men and women to take part.

It is my belief that until we do, Graham Dwyer will never go away.

Anne-Marie Scully is a freelance feature writer and author. Follow her on Twitter @Orchard_Wall

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Anne-Marie Scully
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