The Temptation and the Danger of the “Monster Myth”


Whether we realize it or not, the stories we hear in the news profoundly influence the way we view perpetrators of domestic violence.   Over the past few months, we heard Jared Remy plead guilty to the first degree murder of his lategirlfriend, Jennifer Martel. Soon after, we heard the disturbing and terrible news of a stranger rape in Arlington at the hands of a convicted sex offender. The coverage of these stories shows us men who have hurt many people, committed multiple crimes throughout their lives, and who have shown little remorse for their victims. In other words, they fit the image many of us have in our minds of who commits heinous acts of violence. We can sleep easier knowing these two men are behind bars, and by telling ourselves that no one WE know could be an abuser or a rapist, because no one WE know is so blatantly evil. It allows us to believe that these examples are the norm, instead of the exception. In a powerful piece about his wife’s killer, the husband of a murder victim in Australia recently wrote about this monster myth. He talks about how surprised he was to hear his wife’s killer speak coherently in court, because in the author’s mind, the killer was not even human.

“The monster myth allows us to see public infractions on women’s sovereignty as minor, because the man committing the infraction is not a monster… We see instances of this occur in bars when men become furious and verbally abusive to, or about, women who decline their attention. We see it on the street as groups of men shout comments, grab, grope and intimidate women with friends either ignoring or getting involved in the activity. We see it in male peer groups where rape-jokes and disrespectful attitudes towards women go uncontested. The monster myth creates the illusion that this is simply banter, and sexist horseplay…The monster myth perpetuates a comforting lack of self-awareness.” 

I highly recommend the entire piece which can be found here. I know firsthand the temptation of buying into this monster myth. Someone I loved and trusted with my whole heart sexually assaulted me several years ago. This single act turned my universe upside down, left me traumatized and questioning myself and everyone around me. At the time, I found myself rewriting the story; to me, the person I had loved and cared for had passed away. The monster that had attacked me was just that: a monster. It was easier for me to grieve the loss of someone I had loved, than to face into the reality that someone I had loved and trusted was capable of hurting me so terribly. This monster myth enabled me to silence my intuition, the voice in my head that told me something was wrong minutes before my assault because this was someone I knew and therefore I must just be overreacting. When domestic and sexual violence enters our own lives, it becomes much more complicated than the myths would lead us to believe. We may notice a behavior in a friend that makes us concerned that they are abusing their partner, but shrug it off because they don’t seem like those monsters we see on TV. It feels challenging and scary to recognize that many abusers do not fit this monster image. But to not do so puts all of us at risk. The monster myth seems to reduce our responsibility in the issue (‘since none of my friends/family are monsters, there’s nothing I can or have to do about this problem’). But domestic and sexual violence are too common for any of us to remain unaffected- we all know survivors, whether we know they are survivors or not. The monster myth can also feel isolating to survivors and make it difficult to reach out and ask for help. As one survivor who worked with REACH said, “When I was still married, I’d have friends or acquaintances come over and people would look around and tell me how lucky I was. How nice it must be to live in such a beautiful home, with two beautiful children, married to a dashing Englishman. I’d smile. What could I say? Would they even believe me?” The truth is, sexual and domestic violence hurts all of us. It makes it harder for us to trust one another, to move freely through the world, to fall in love. So while it is difficult to realize the truth- that people we love and care about can be abusers and can be victims- isn’t it better to realize that now and learn the warning signs, the things that we can all do in our personal lives to speak up? By doing so, we can chip away at myths that protect abusers, minimize abusive behaviors, and isolate victims.