Sometimes I look back on a youthful memory and suddenly realise “now I understand what was going on then.” And although it was long ago, far away (were things so much better than they are today?) I have a belated thank you to make to some genuinely nice guys. I think that what they did has probably been done by others elsewhere, and those guys deserve thanks too. But let me set the scene.
In early 1980, when I was beginning my last 2 years of high school, my dad got a transfer and we moved away from a large coastal city to a small town in the Riverina district of NSW. I was 16, and not especially thrilled. I missed my friends I’d known for years, I missed the beach and I missed the school where I’d just been voted a prefect and was heavily involved in extracurricular groups.
This is not to say my new town was an awful place. On the contrary, it was perfectly pleasant as country towns go, and they go very well as long as the crops cash in. The people were friendly enough, particularly amongst my age group. The divide between born-and-bred and blow-in was a bit more difficult to cross for my parents, but there were enough blow-ins in the banks and public service to band together, and only the squattocracy held utterly aloof.
There was nearly always a party on the weekend: even if it was just a bunch of cars on the riverbank with the lights on, the tape-deck blaring and a whole lot of booze. There was no problem for a girl (harder for the boys) getting into one of the 20 pubs, despite the age restrictions for under 18s. Particularly if you had an older boy buying you drinks.
Perhaps not entirely coincidentally to the above, all the senior high school girls dated boys three or four years older, who not only could buy drinks but had cars (every single one a lovingly polished V8). These older guys were the mates of elder brothers and cousins, guys they’d known for years. Blow-ins like me got to meet these older boys by being invited by the couples as extras.
This left a real gap for the 16 year old guys. All the flirty girls in town were snapped up by the older guys – that left the girls whose character or looks discouraged flirtation, or the really young girls – and that wasn’t on. Because it was a given that the couples going steady longer than a month were having it off (although there were actually exceptions), thus no pool of candidate girls under 16, the age of consent. So the 16 year old boys played a lot – a real lot – of sport, and sometimes came along to the pubs and the parties, and looked on.
So I felt a bit bad for the guys in my class when I realised. No girlfriends (at least until they got a car). I didn’t feel so bad I dated any of them of course, as by this time I had my lovely boyfriend (hereafter LB) – all of 20, whom I eventually treated badly. But I knew exactly how to relate to the nice guys that nobody dates – every school has them. They’re not unattractive, they’re considerate and reliable, and every girl would “hate to lose a friend” by dating them (I’m amazed the bloody rampages happen so seldom, honestly). Essentially they become honorary brothers, which I bet really sucks. But they often, thankfully, take that very seriously.
By the end of ’81 I felt I knew the town fairly well, although one can never fully know a place where one hasn’t absorbed the history through childhood. But amongst my peers I’d watched in two short years several engagements, a marriage, and two enormous funerals attended by what seemed like the whole town: a death by drink-driving car crash (my dad had to write the road authority’s fatal accident report) and a death by shooting accident (his girlfriend was in my year).
The latter occurred the same weekend my grandfather died. I remember clearly trying to suppress my sobs that Monday in the senior girls’ bathroom. My classmate had suffered a devastatingly unexpected loss: at least my grandfather had eighty years to his credit.
There were hostile whispers: “Why’s she so upset? What’s she got to cry about? Was she up to something with him?” Finally, unable to bear the suspicion, I apologetically confessed to my own less shocking bereavement, we fell on each other’s necks, and it was OK. Suspicion about the guys rooting around was as much part of the town fabric as the booze, and blaming the girl was the standard response.
However the point of this story, despite my dilatory digressions, is those Nice Guys in my high school year, and how they chose to interact with part of the town’s recent history. Painting the picture of the town – boozy, tight-knit, and matey – is essential to understanding both what they did and why I never realized the power of it until recently.
Town History: EveryoneKnew that certain girls had DoneTheDirty while drunk. There were whispers of a gangbang involving a girl from my class from a few years before I blew into town. In retrospect I find it interesting that no names of the guys concerned were bandied about.
Maybe if I hadn’t been going with LB I’d have heard more about who to watch out for. But having a LB was protection from other guys when you got drunk, even if your LB had gone down to Melbourne for the footy: you were out of bounds. Even for Roota: a pseudonym, but his real nickname was equivalent. Australians are notorious for bestowing ironic nicknames, but Roota’s was considered well-earned, yet he rarely actually had a girl by his side.
We guessed that he just couldn’t keep a girl interested after he’d charmed her into bed, although bed is here a misnomer. He was well-known for giving paralytic young girls a lift home, and was considered a gent for doing so. Many of those girls ended up having sex with Roota in his car, although hardly any chose to date him afterwards. There was occasional ribaldry about how he must be a dud roota, ha-ha.
Roota certainly wasn’t the only guy to engage in the one-night stand. Both guys and girls in that town had drunken fumbles they later regretted, but only Roota had only one night stands. Constantly. After a while, he was looked on a little askance – why couldn’t he get a steady girl? It started to be put down to his reputation. No-one wanted to be Roota’s latest notch on his gear-stick.
Now here’s where I treated my LB badly. I dropped him to concentrate on studies, not wanting to party every weekend, and feeling that it wouldn’t be fair to LB to have a girlfriend that didn’t want to go out. Not that I discussed it with him, I just informed him he’d be better off without me while I hit the books. He was hurt, particularly when I later went out on occasional dates with other guys. I was wrong then, to judge that his affection for me couldn’t withstand my decision to go out less often.
It was also a wrong decision in that I was now fair game for Roota. This was when I started to notice the Nice Guy Patrol (NGP). Those sporty guys in my class with no girlfriends seemed to be always around in the background. They now had cars, a few of them attracted girlfriends after all, but generally the NGP hung around with us and made sure that if we started chatting with Roota or any of his lesser imitators they casually joined in the chat. Being tee-total, they were always the chauffeur of choice at the end of the night. They were brotherly safe.
I especially remember our Year 12 farewell party. Well, vaguely actually. I was so drunk that at one stage I fell asleep on the toilet and someone had to climb over the stall to unlock the door. I then went outside for some fresh air. Who materialised? Roota, exuding bonhomie and a solid shoulder to lean on, and he started walking me toward the car park. Halfway there, a few of the NGP arrived and cheerfully offered to help Roota help me walk it off. I spent about half an hour alone in the front seat of one of their cars sleeping it off (there was
another girl sleeping alone in the back), and then I went back in to dance some more.
Why did they look after us like this? I think they had figured out what Roota was really doing, and wanted to stop him. I now believe that Roota was a predatory serial sexual assaulter, calculatedly targeting drunken young girls. This is, however, speculation in that I never heard anyone say that Roota raped them: that is why I’m not specifying the town or using his actual nickname. Nicknames hang on for generations sometimes in country towns.
Nonetheless, this is what I believe was going on, and it is for these actions I wish to thank the NGP. Without them, I am convinced that I would have been the latest in a long line of girls to come to and realize that Roota had stolen a fuck. And like a lot of the other girls who never dated Roota after he fucked them, I would have been devastated and blamed myself.
I wouldn’t have blamed Roota: after all, I must have encouraged him somehow when I was drunk, right? Why else would he do that? But I wouldn’t have wanted a guy who could “take advantage” like that as a boyfriend. Who would? So, another standard weekend for Roota, dateless but not fuckless, and a young woman who stopped going out for a while. But it was always the girl who got blamed for “not looking after herself”; nobody blamed Roota for having it off with a girl in that condition.
These days, a man having sex with a girl in a non-consenting alcoholic stupor is readily characterised as committing sexual assault. But back then nobody saw it that way and certainly didn’t talk about it that way. The only sort of sexual assault was rape, and rape was force: overpowering a woman, not just getting a girl so drunk that overpowering was unnecessary. Rape was only committed by strangers (the well-known statistic today that 3/4 of rapists are known by the victim was unknown to us and would have been considered incredible).
If someone you knew had sex with you without using force, even if you didn’t actually consent because of alcoholic incapacity, then nobody you knew would consider that rape. No bruises, no rape. Nobody in town called Roota a rapist, and I bet that he didn’t then, nor does he now, consider any of those stolen fucks as rape.
But stealing fucks is rape. It was the same as the sleazebags today who slip Rohypnol into girls’ drinks then walk them off, wait for them to pass out and rape their insensible bodies. Every girl before and since the days of Roofies who woke up to the sinking realisation that they’d been fucked by someone they trusted not to is right to consider themselves as having been raped.
Fuckthieves are rapists. And no, it wasn’t your fault to trust a guy that you knew (that’s what nice girls are supposed to do, isn’t it? Otherwise you’re a bitch). It’s the fuckthief’s fault for deciding that stealing sex from you because you passed out was an OK thing to do.
There was a code of silence in that town about what Roota was doing. People didn’t want to think about his pattern of “taking advantage” because Roota was a nice guy that they’d grown up with. There were no overt warnings to any of us girls about Roota, although in some folk-unconscious way perhaps the choice of nickname was at least an oblique warning. The NGP took it a step further, ensuring that while they were around Roota was never left alone with a girl whose decision-making was clearly impaired.
This is one of the ways that men can take charge in preventing rape. Let other men know it is unacceptable. Don’t stand by if a male companion targets a girl incapable of informed consent. Don’t think it’s not rape if it’s not forced. Booze is no excuse. Report him if he brags about stealing a fuck later. This was harder then than it is now, when sexual assault legislation is clearer about what constitutes rape outside the scope of overpowering force.
The NGP used a grassroots masked shame/shunning technique because they lacked the nuts and bolts of how to openly combat Roota’s sexual predation. After all, back then no prosecutor would take Roota to court. But today maybe they would (and how having to insert that maybe outrages me).
Now, some men might be asking: what’s in it for us? Sure, altruism is right, I’d certainly want other guys to watch out for fuckthieves around my loved ones, and that’s all very warm and fuzzy. But how can I convince other guys to stop fuckthieves without an obvious benefit?
Simple. Every time a fuckthief assaults a woman, that woman won’t trust other men to be decent, safe guys, even though most of you are. Back then each girl kept her shame and betrayal to herself, but today we know better and warn our friends about creeps like that. And the creep’s mates too. A dozen or more of that woman’s friends will also have lessened trust that the guys they know are decent and safe.
Fuckthieves tend to be serial assaulters, so a single fuckthief can easily generate a hundred or more mistrustful women through word of mouth. So, if only one man in a 100 thinks it’s OK to steal sex, he’s screwing it up over and over again for the rest of you.
You want to have fun with vibrant, sexually confident and open women with no awkward trust issues? Stop the rapists, all rapists including fuckthieves. Don’t keep quiet about it if you know a fuckthief. Blame the bloke, not the booze. Don’t go vigilante and bash them, they’ll just get sneakier. Report them for sexual assault, then stand up and tell the truth about them in court.
I’m not sure what has happened to any of the NGP now. I left town to go to uni, my dad was transferred again, and I haven’t been back for over 20 years. I have no doubt that the erstwhile dateless NGP are now partnered, parenting and uncle-ing and being the best possible male role models a child could have.
I don’t even remember the names of all of them, but I do know the heads of the NGP were Bryan, Nick and Chris. I never thanked them then, mostly because what they did for us was clandestine. A few of us joked about them protecting us from doing stuff we’d later regret, but Roota wasn’t mentioned. It wasn’t better then than it is today: we can be open now about sexual assault and how men can and do prevent it.
So, belatedly, thanks. Thank you, Bryan. Thank you, Nick. Thank you, Chris. Thank you, other members of the effort to monitor and contain Roota. To all the other men out there who’ve been parts of a NGP somewhere, thank you too. Thanks too to the bloggers and commenters at Pandagon and I Blame the Patriarchy, for inspiring me to write about fuckthieves and how to stop them.
To all the Rootas out there: more and more of your mates are realising you are a raping shit, blaming the victim doesn’t work so well these days, and you won’t get away with it forever. Stop it, now, or enjoy 15-20 years inside.