Life

What to Do If Your Friend Is Accused of Sexual Assault

We spoke to people who have confronted their friends about sexual misconduct.
February 3, 2021, 2:00pm
Illustration of a crying person tearing up a piece of paper showing a friendship
Illustration: Nanna de Jong

This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.

Generally, we’re more comfortable viewing a victim as “someone’s daughter” than perpetrators as “someone’s friend”. It’s difficult to discover someone you trust is capable of violence, and often people avoid the subject to preserve the relationship. 

But sometimes, having an uncomfortable conversation or cutting someone out of your life can make a difference to their future behaviour. I talked to four people who decided to face up to a friend they knew had crossed a line about what that process was like.

Esther, 27

I’ve been in a very tight-knit circle of friends for the past ten years, and I’m one of the only two women in the group. When we used to go out together, I’d often notice our [male] friends would try to touch women they didn’t know, or stand very close to them. Judging by their physical responses, I could tell the girls didn’t like it. One guy in particular would do this all the time. I often saw him drive women into a corner. He’s big and tall, so he can be quite intimidating. 

I confronted him about this a few times on nights out. He didn’t know what I was talking about. He was drunk, but he also seemed incapable of reflecting on his own behaviour. I stopped hanging out with him for a while – I didn’t like feeling like I had to keep an eye on him.

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This guy often sleeps over at friends’ places after going out. Two years ago, it turned out that sometimes, if he didn’t meet anyone to take home, he’d secretly open the door of other rooms and watch friends have sex while jerking off. Once, a girl saw him do it and lost her shit. I knew her through friends of friends. When it came up in the group chat, he admitted he’d done this repeatedly. The other guys had no idea and they said they spoke to him about it.

I also had a chat with him. I said I thought it was disgusting, that he had crossed every boundary and that he didn’t have any idea of how deeply this can impact someone. He was very quiet and tried to understand where I was coming from. But I could tell that, deep down, he didn’t really get why what he did was wrong. Ultimately, he said he’d stop. After we talked, he stopped drinking as much, and I haven’t seen him do anything bad since. We’re still good friends.

Jeroen, 33

I’ve known my best friend since we were in kindergarten, and we hang out with the same people. I was in my early twenties when I first found out he was harassing and assaulting women. Once, a female friend said he blocked her way at a party and told her she couldn’t leave without giving him a blowjob. Another friend said she slept next to him after a party and, when she woke up, he was fingering her. He also forcibly kissed another friend many times.

When I heard about it, I never wanted to see him again. I didn’t feel the need to confront him – he didn’t deserve it. He would have probably apologised, but it wouldn’t have mattered. 

In the end, I never saw him again. I didn’t pick up his calls and told him over text many times I didn’t like being around him. He pretended he didn’t know why, which pissed me off even more. Seven years later, he reached out to one of my friends and said he was sorry he “used to be weird”. I was disappointed by how little self-reflection he’d done in all those years. 

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Sometimes, I still see him on Instagram. It’s a bit sad I lost someone I shared so many memories with. But I don’t want to be friends with someone who abuses his power with people like that, especially with people I love.

Dorien, 26

I work in a big tech company where everyone knows each other. We’re a young team and we used to go out a lot before COVID-19. On one of those nights, a male coworker assaulted a female coworker. I was close friends with both of them.

The morning after it happened, she showed up at my place, crying. She’d spent the night at his apartment after missing the last train home, and he assaulted her. My first response – which I didn’t share with her at the time – was disbelief. I knew this guy and I respected him. Everybody loved him. But I quickly realised it wouldn’t make sense for her to lie about this. 

She and I talked a lot about what to do next. She wasn’t sure if she should go to the police or share what happened with the company. Reporting an incident in this kind of corporate environment where people are friends is not easy. 

I had to hold myself back from calling him – she asked me not to. I decided to contact our company’s counsellor, because I was worried about her. Being able to ask the counsellor questions was very helpful. I asked what I could do if my friend decided not to file a report. I was advised to encourage her to do so, and she did. There was an investigation and he was fired two weeks later. My company handled it quickly and took her claim very seriously.

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I’m not saying he’s inherently a bad person, but he did this to himself. It was a challenging situation, because they were both friends of mine. Apparently, I didn’t know him as well as I thought.

Larissa, 20

My boyfriend’s best friend assaulted me at a party in November of 2018. I didn’t tell my boyfriend about it because I was afraid it would ruin their friendship.

A year after it happened, I confided in my boyfriend’s sister. She told me this guy had done something similar to her and to her best friend. That made me furious. The others didn’t feel as bad about the assault as I did, but a boundary had been crossed. One of the girls told me it was just “the way he is”. That’s when I decided to speak up. My boyfriend’s sister and her friend were younger than me. I felt protective towards them.

I sent him a message saying what he did was wrong and that I knew about the other girls. He said he regretted hearing I experienced it like that, but that as far as he was concerned, nothing had happened. Then he called me and asked me to stop by for a chat. That was the last thing I wanted – I knew he wasn’t remorseful. On the phone, he said he’d had too much to drink that night and that things didn’t happen the way I remember them.

After that, he blocked me. My boyfriend was really mad – he’s no longer in touch with him. Even though this guy didn’t acknowledge anything, I still feel good about standing up for myself and the girls.