When Christine Blasey Ford came forward last month to accuse Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her in high school, it turned an already heated Supreme Court confirmation fight into a national referendum on demeaning, disrespectful and even criminal behavior by men toward women.
Although Kavanaugh vehemently denied professor Ford’s allegations, the debate made us wonder how many men out there had witnessed or been involved in sexual misconduct against women that they’d prefer not to talk about. And, given an opportunity to reflect on those incidents today, what might they say?
To probe this topic a bit deeper, we asked men about their own experiences with this sort of behavior. We got hundreds of responses. Almost all of them were anonymous and, unsurprisingly, about half were from trolls.
By granting anonymity, we hoped to get an unvarnished window into men’s thoughts on this issue, even though it also made their accounts nearly impossible to corroborate.
The New York Times recently published a similar article including only on-the-record narratives from mostly older men. They were insightful, but the content was relatively reserved and centered largely on the men’s regret. Perhaps that’s to be expected. When people’s identities are attached to a story, the stakes of telling it become very real.
The responses we’re sharing are a bit different. We ended up with stomach-churning accounts that spoke to the disturbing depth of the problem of sexual assault and misconduct. Other men reflected candidly on less toxic behavior ― and even on gender dynamics as a whole ― without fear of being ostracized by peers or having other men question their masculinity.
But we’d be remiss not to acknowledge the strong resistance to this exercise as well. Some respondents argued that by broaching this subject, we were denouncing natural male behavior or unfairly demonizing all men. Others were eager to push back by noting that women have made false rape allegations, which is true but statistically rare, and that men can be victims of sexual misconduct perpetrated both by other men and by women.
The following narratives, lightly edited for clarity, are pulled from the dozens of responses we got from men who appeared apologetic, remorseful or, at the very least, deeply introspective about past behavior or specific incidents involving women. Some of the stories may be upsetting to some readers.
Men, if you have a story of your own you’d like to share, fill out the form below.
I was hanging out at my favorite local bar with some friends on a busy night. A young woman I knew from school and was friendly with went to the restroom and I followed her. The bar was small and only had a unisex bathroom. Before she could close the door, I followed her in and shut it behind me. She was standing against the wall with this surprised look on her face. Even 15 years later I can still remember it. I went to kiss her, but she put her hand against me and said no, that she was in a relationship. At that moment I realized what I was doing wasn’t right and muttered some apology and left.
I am not sure what prompted that behavior that night. Thoughts of “going after what you want” and “being assertive is a good trait in a man” ran through my head. I never once thought how it may appear to her, me being much larger than her, cornering her. Being drunk obviously played a part, but I’ve been drunk before and after, and it never happened. Thinking back, I know I was sexually and emotionally frustrated from being single for a while at that time.
I didn’t see it in the context of this being a common thing that makes women afraid. Richard
The following day I texted her and apologized again. She was kind and said it wasn’t a big deal and that everything was OK. Until the Me Too movement, I hadn’t given my actions much thought after that, but that has changed. I never thought of myself, much like most men I assume, as one of those who are part of the problem.
I regret it now, knowing that so many women face actions like this consistently, some worse, some more subtle, that I couldn’t be a better person in that moment, that my actions could be one of many for that woman that makes her afraid of going places or trusting men she knows.
In all honesty, after my apology to her, I never thought of it again. At the time I didn’t think of my behavior as a problem. A drunken mistake, but not more than that. I didn’t see it in the context of this being a common thing that makes women afraid.
I don’t know if I’ve witnessed or partaken in inappropriate sexual behavior toward women. And this is, I reckon, as important a statement as any; for we (as men, regardless of sexual preference) are more or less programmed with certain behaviors which are considered “okay,” “correct,” “manly” or “commonplace” ― which is why many of us simply don’t know.
I went to a party in college with a couple friends. It was a random party one of my buddies heard about. I didn’t know whose house it was. We had been drinking and party hopping all night. The party was well underway, 30 or more people there, loud music, dancing, etc.
At some point I had to go to the bathroom and headed to the back of the house to find a bathroom. There was a line of guys standing by a bedroom door. One of them asks me if I want to get laid. I didn’t answer and went into the bathroom. When I came out the guy who asked me if I wanted to get laid tells me to come here. He opens the bedroom door and pushes me inside.
That was 43 years ago, and I have never forgotten it.
There was a guy screwing a woman on the bed. He gets off of her and pulls up his pants and says, “She’s all yours.” And leaves the room. There on the bed was a naked woman, passed out on her back with her legs spread wide open. I was shocked. I tried to wake her up, but she wouldn’t wake up. I pulled the covers up over her and hung out for about five minutes to let the guys in the hallway think I was doing it to her. I was physically sick thinking what all these guys had done to her. I left the room, found my friends I had come with and we left the party. I’ve never told anyone, even the guys I went there with.
That was 43 years ago, and I have never forgotten it.
I regret not being able to wake her and get her out of the house so she wouldn’t experience any more abuse.
I’ve never told anyone. Why? It was one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever witnessed.
As a man who has been a teen, and been a boy, I have no doubt that those things for which I am contrite and have regrets, that those times I wish I had changed my behavior and acted better, are not the same as the times others remember most, that are indelible in their memories.
Recently, someone apologized to me for something that happened 15 years or more ago, and it was something I barely remembered. And so, I assume the guilt I hold on to is not centered on the same subject as the hurt someone else holds on account of my actions.
For men, I must believe, this gulf is wide, because most of the time we are not made to look back, or account for our actions, or apologize, or to even imagine that our actions could be hurtful. We are taught that if someone is hurt by our actions, that it was their fault.
It is much easier to lay the blame for this patriarchal culture at the feet of other men. Emmanuel Mauleon
I know that I’ve done things I’m not proud of. But I am fearful that the effects of living in a “rape culture” mean that I’ve forgotten most of the things for which I should feel the most ashamed — made to think they were innocent, or never even made to think about them at all. And beyond shame, forgotten the things that, if I were properly able to retain and hold in my mind, would enable me to really begin to heal the harms that I have expressed. And heal, in turn.
Over the past few weeks, as I’ve seen many other men (many my friends, many angry) point an unproductive finger at “Them! Those misogynists,” it struck me that it would be more responsible to turn the lens inward. “Us misogynists.” It is much easier to lay the blame for this patriarchal culture at the feet of other men— loud men, brazenly yelling from a Senate hearing podium, or bullying sexual assault survivors in massive rallies. We forget, I think, when we sit in traffic, angry at all the other drivers around us, that we too make up the traffic.
Misogyny and patriarchy, in various shades and with various consequences for those already differently situated among us ― this makes up the water we swim through. Some swim with the current. Many swim against it. But it is incumbent on men to realize that we all benefit from it, and must turn around and swim against the waves.
A Young Adult
I went to college in the early 2000s at a state university. Drinking culture was huge. I knew at least two or three guys whose plan for the weekend usually consisted of getting girls drunk and hoping to sleep with them. I was a loser and never had the confidence for any of it, so I only saw it happening, but at the time it didn’t seem a big deal. There was an attitude that the guys that “had to use beer or drugs to get girls” were losers too because they couldn’t hook up otherwise. Even looking back with what we understand now, those guys didn’t seem like predators, and I think that if they were 18 now, they would be doing whatever the current equivalent of placing a toe over the consent line would be, even though the line has been moved (only in the general understanding, of course, these behaviors were always wrong).
I think this is one of the biggest challenges to moving into the new understanding of consent: So many relatively young people were alive in the 1990s-2000s before attitudes began to change and can look back and remember similar stories. When the people who behaved badly are still around, it’s not the same as saying, “Ezra Pound was racist” or “Thomas Jefferson owned slaves.” We’ll never meet or know Pound or Jefferson, but the guys we know that relied on alcohol for sex still pop up in our Twitter timelines or leave happy birthday messages on our Facebook walls. In the abstract it’s easy to say, “Nothing bad ever happened to you or them, so cutting them out of your life is a small price to pay,” but in practice it can be hard.
My biggest regret is not taking my female friends seriously enough.
One of the easiest parts of my transition into our new understanding of consent is that the guys I remember running afoul of current standards are people I naturally lost touch with, so it was easy to ignore them. Not sure what my thoughts would be if they were still close friends. I hope I could still cut them out, but I’m not sure.
My biggest regret is not taking my female friends seriously enough. A year or two into college one or two of the girls in my extended friend group started calling a guy in the group a rapist. His MO was to chat up a girl in the communal area at the dorms and invite her to his room for beer or liquor. This seemed to normally lead to him hooking up with the girl. He’d gotten with several of our friends in one manner or another, and everyone just thought of him as a player.
But when that first friend used the word “rapist” and another kind of backed her up and the rest seemed to rally around the accusation a bit, I should have shown my support. I think we all agreed he’d been doing something wrong, but no one thought a word as strong as “rape” should have been used. He was even seemingly hurt by the implication and appeared to take it all to heart. I never defended him, or really took a side, but I should have. I should have listened to them more and believed their experience of the guy.
Evan From New England
Here’s just one example of many from high school in a wealthy New England suburb in the mid-’90s. When I was 17, I was at a pretty rowdy keg party at a guy named Paul’s house. About five or six of us were in a room smoking a joint when we heard yelling in the room above us. A girl we knew was saying, “Knock it off, Paul.” At first it was kind of playful, but over the course of a minute or two she got louder and sounded more scared, and there were sounds like a struggle, then it got quiet. We all looked at each other, but no one stood up to do anything.
I think about it all the time. We sat there and looked at each other, and we all were thinking, “Someone should go up there,” but none of us did. If one person had had the courage to stand up, everyone else would have gone along. But none of us did, we just looked at each other and let it go. I don’t know for sure what happened, but I worry that our inaction left him free to assault her.
This is the first time I’ve told that story. I think we all felt like we should do something, but we were all scared to be the one to say it because of the potential social costs. When we didn’t, no one wanted to say anything about it.
I grew up on the Jersey Shore in the ’80s. Today I am a 50-year-old man, but back when this incident occurred I was around 16 years old. It was late one summer evening, and I was walking on the boardwalk. From the beach (underneath the boardwalk), a male acquaintance came running by. He was slightly disheveled and he said to me, “Dude, she’s passed out down there, go get some” (or something along those lines). I believe he was around my age. I was stunned as I watched him hurriedly cross the street and disappear.
I stood there for about 10 to 15 minutes staring at the ocean, wondering what to do. Not whether to “get some,” as he suggested (not sure what I’d just witnessed, but “rape” wasn’t a word I understood), but instead whether to check on her and make sure she was OK. As I stood there, a very disheveled and obviously inebriated young girl stumbled from beneath the boardwalk. Her dark hair was a mess and her jeans weren’t zipped up (I remember seeing her underwear). I recognized her but wasn’t sure from where. As she stumbled past me she gave me this strange look. It wasn’t fear or even anger. It was almost like resignation ― like she accepted this was what boys and men do. Like it wasn’t the first time?
I worried more about my standing amongst my male friends than I did about her. Michael
I haven’t thought about this in a very long time. I’m surprised how vividly I remember it. I can’t even imagine her memories of that night.
I have some regrets that I didn’t offer help, but ultimately I’m not sure she wanted any help. Not really sure what I could have or should have done differently.
I’ve never told this story to anyone before. I’m not 100 percent sure why not. I guess because I felt it was none of my business. Or maybe I was afraid other guys would think I was a snitch or even a coward for not participating? The guys I knew back then were like that. I’m feeling very disappointed in myself now that I worried more about my standing amongst my male friends than I did about her! I hope she has been able to live a happy and healthy life.
There was a girl I worked with at an internship who I thought was very pretty and seemed to be into cool stuff, so I asked her out. She turned me down but said we could be friends, which I took to mean there was still “a chance.”
While I was never aggressive (from my point of view), I did frequently find excuses to go hang out by her cubicle even though we were in different departments. I’d talk to her while she was working, or invite myself along on her lunch trips with her group. She was always nice, and I allowed myself to think I was making progress.
On the last day of my internship, I asked her out again and she turned me down. I asked if it would really be so bad, and for the first time she dropped the pretense of being friendly and said that yes, it would. I got the sense there that I had crossed the line, but I still didn’t realize how bad I had been. I said goodbye later that day, and things seemed amicable. A year later at my new internship, I messaged her to see how she was doing. We exchanged a few texts, but she didn’t respond to one, so I decided to let it go.
There’s no way for me to know for sure how I made this girl feel, but the very possibility that I was putting her in this situation made me sick. David
Three years later, during graduate school, a colleague of mine was recounting her experience with a guy at work who was really making her uncomfortable. As she described their interactions, some of the men in the room said things like “He seems harmless” and “It doesn’t seem like a big deal.” And though she even admitted it didn’t seem like a dangerous situation, she was insistent that, dangerous or not, it made her very uncomfortable and was affecting her work.
I sat there the whole time with a knot in my stomach. The way she described this guy’s behavior sounded like a carbon-copy of how I had pined after this girl for a summer. And it really hit home when my friend mentioned that the guy probably keeps talking to her because she’s nice to him and acts like they’re friends, but she was worried how he might react to her being more stern or assertive.
There’s no way for me to know for sure how I made this girl feel, but the very possibility that I was putting her in this situation made me sick. Because the thing is, I never felt ill will towards her even after she rejected me. I just really liked her, and I couldn’t imagine how my behavior could’ve been inappropriate. It’s clear to me now how wrong I was.
I don’t regret asking her out the first time, but I probably should have actually tried to get to know her better first, rather than just jumping immediately at the chance to date her. I don’t think there is anything wrong with showing interest or pursuing a relationship as long as you can be mature and respectful, although I will say that asking someone out at work is a slippery slope into workplace harassment, even if you make every effort to play it cool.
What I regret is not taking her original “no” at face value and creating a fantasy for myself of her coming around to dating me. And I definitely regret wasting so much of my own time and hers trying to spend time with her WHILE WE WERE WORKING. And I regret that when she said no a second time I pressed her to the point where she couldn’t hold back her frustration anymore.
Lastly, I regret that I’ve never had the courage to send her a message telling her about my friend’s story and telling her I am sorry. I have actually typed it out in Facebook Messenger, but got cold feet because I assume she has moved on and, if anything, it’s my own ego telling me she still cares about it or thinks about me.
Looking back to high school, I’d consider myself pretty toxic. I didn’t hold women in high regards. With girlfriends, I’d regard them more as friends I was sleeping with. I’d brag about sleeping with girls. Naked pictures that were taken in confidence were shared with friends like the joke of the day, more as material to jerk off to than for slut-shaming. In my horny teenager days, integrity was rare to nonexistent. I equated a “body count” as a way to show off to my friends.
What really shocked me, though, which I only found out recently, is how manipulative I was. How I had to play games to get a girl to sleep with me. How I had to tease, not in a violent or harming way. But I was deceiving them. “You know I’ve always wondered about you” was my most-used line. It lowered their guard, let them know I was interested, and especially that I’d been interested in them and no one else. Of course, some put two and two together and didn’t take my BS. But it was rare, which only supplemented my attitude toward relationships and women.
My actions soon gave me a reputation. Soon I was known as a slut, an asshole, a man whore. I’d say this limited my prospects as far as relationships go. My reputation preceded me. To the best of my knowledge, some people hated me for sleeping with girls they liked. This prevented me from social stratification. I reveled in the fact that people hated me for succeeding where they had failed. I let it go to my ego.
Looking back, I would’ve much rather made a reputation for myself any other way than how I did.
I never thought of myself as a feminist back then, but later I realized I needed to be. As a white male, I hold privilege, and I ought to use my privilege to leverage people with less privilege for equality. For morality. For the sake of humanity.
If my story does get shared, to those who I’ve affected in the past, I’d like to say I’m sorry. I know an anonymous apology doesn’t mean much, but it’s a start. A start to ending a nationwide problem that has infected even our highest levels of government.
About 15 years ago, when I was in my early 20s, my fraternity was throwing a party and I had been drinking in the basement. There were quite a few people there, probably 200 or so.
My turn to work the door was coming up, and one of the girls went upstairs with a fellow fraternity member and into his room where he closed the door. I think there may have been other people in the room.
I had seen her drinking but didn’t really know how drunk she was. The guy who took her into his room was known for pestering or badgering women he was interested in, and was definitely a creep, which I overlooked at the time, as he also was pretty fun, and being creepy toward women wasn’t something that I had strong feelings about.
He also tended to make especially poor decisions when he was drinking heavily, including punching a window and needing stitches after being rejected by another woman.
While I was working the door, one of her friends came out and was looking for her. I didn’t say anything about where she was. Probably 45 minutes after she went into the room, I saw her leave with several of her friends. She was extremely upset and crying. I don’t think I ever saw her or her friends again after they left the party.
After the fact, I learned there was something involving a video that one of the senior members of the fraternity made him erase. Even though details weren’t shared with everyone, I’m pretty sure he got in a lot of trouble and I’m pretty sure he and the other people involved in what happened were told to never talk about it.
I don’t know what lines were crossed, but there were definitely some lines crossed, and I think almost anything COULD have happened behind that door.
I very much regret doing nothing. I probably should have had some suspicions when her friends were looking for her. Instead I said nothing, even though I could easily have told them where I thought she was.
I also regret, in the days after it happened, not doing anything to follow up, take action, or do anything. I wasn’t a great person, and there was a lot of “don’t snitch” types of attitudes that went along with the social pressures of toxic masculinity. I didn’t know enough details to really do anything like go to the police, and if I’d brought it up within our fraternity I can say almost without a doubt that the support would have been for him, not me. Besides, I washed my hands of it as being dealt with by other people.
Today, I regret all of my actions around this ― continuing to associate with him after the fact, and that even today I feel an urge to rationalize my behavior. I’m certain what he did was wrong, what I did was wrong and what everyone who knew of this incident did (or didn’t do) was wrong.
I think this is the first time I’ve talked about this incident beyond a cursory “what happened at the party,” where I essentially got told to shut up and mind my own business.
In the early 1980s, I was 19, and it was the annual office cookout. Everyone was drinking into the evening, and a female engineer was getting pretty drunk. At some point she went back inside our building, and one of the group of five or six friends I was hanging with came back from the bathroom and said she was alone in a daze. We all went in to check on her, but at some point, the checking became flirting, became touching, became group sex. Three of the guys took turns with her. She was conscious, but I didn’t believe it was consensual.
I didn’t participate, but I was there pretty much the whole time with the other guys, and we were joking about it. I knew it wasn’t right from the moment it happened and did nothing.
I saw her sitting in her car before I left the party. I’ll never forget the look she had, just sitting there, car running, her head looking downward.
Some of the guys brought it up the next week, but I walked away. I was ashamed of what happened and really didn’t know what to do.
I spent a tremendous amount of time in my 20s pressuring girlfriends to do sexual things that they didn’t want to do. At the time, I had never heard of “coercive rape.” I remember at the time just being intimidating and shouting, “I don’t understand why you won’t just do it!” I’d push and push until they finally said OK, and that was my justification. Didn’t matter to me how much of an immature ass I had to be to get that yes, so long as I got it. Pouting, yelling, the silent treatment, whatever. As long as they eventually caved and said yes.
It all hit me at once, and I hated myself.
And, every single time, afterward I’d feel insanely guilty. Because somewhere inside, I knew it was wrong.
I remember reading someone’s story a number of years later, about her husband constantly pressuring her for things she didn’t want to do and how he refused to accept that it was rape. And someone said, “What would you call it if a stranger did that exact same thing to her?” It all hit me at once, and I hated myself. I still struggle with it, even after reaching out to some of those women and apologizing. I will never get over knowing I did those things.
The only person I’ve told is my therapist.
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Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.