Dear Prudence

Help! My Friend Admitted to Sexual Assault.

Dear Prudence answers more of your questions—only for Slate Plus members.

A woman covering her mouth in shock.
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Every week, Dear Prudence answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members. R. Eric Thomas is filling in as Prudie for Jenée Desmond-Harris while she’s on parental leave. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)

Q. Bad friend? I had a shocking conversation with a longtime friend, and now I don’t know what to do.

When I was in university, around 10 years ago now, I went home with a friend who then did not listen to me when I said no. This was obviously traumatic, but it has been many years and I have largely processed it now.

I was speaking to another friend, “Alex,” and he asked me whatever happened with the first guy. Alex asked several questions after I alluded to it being a bad experience, and I finally explained. He said “Oh, I only did that once; never again.” When I said “Pardon?” he clarified that indeed… he meant that he was hooking up with a woman who then said no and he kept going.

I am, obviously, horrified. While he said he made amends with her and even was with her a few times after that, and has never done it again, I still am shocked. He was very upset by my reaction and also implied that I am overreacting due to my experience. Which is likely, but… it’s still pretty bad! He is also upset by the idea that this might end our friendship and seemed more upset by that than his initial action. I said that yes, it would take me time to process, and he asked me to keep him posted. It seems almost as though by telling me, someone who has experienced that, I would absolve him.

Prudie, I honestly don’t know if I can keep up the friendship. I don’t believe that this one action defines him or that he should be punished forever, and he does seem to feel bad and never did it again. But does that mean I personally have to be friends with him? If I end the friendship, will it make him more bitter toward women? Am I a terrible person if I don’t practice forgiveness? I can barely even look at him.

A: You are not overreacting and Alex should never have told you that you were. I’m sorry that he had the reaction he did and that it’s continuing to affect you negatively. Alex is putting a lot of responsibility for his feelings on you, which is wrong and suggests that he really hasn’t internalized what was wrong about his past behavior. You are right to sever this friendship and you can do it in whatever way feels safest for you.

Alex’s feelings are his responsibility, full stop. He can change and grow and feel bad and still none of that entitles him to your friendship. He’s not in a place right now to be a good friend to you and that’s what I’m most concerned about. Moreover, you aren’t responsible for keeping Alex from getting embittered toward women and nothing you do can “make” him take a swan dive into misogyny. He has work to do on himself; you don’t have to be present for it.

Classic Prudie

Two and a half years ago, my partner of seven years sexually assaulted me. In the last six months, this incident has begun to haunt me. I think about it at least once a day, and it’s gotten worse since the current stories of sexual assault began appearing in the news every day. Talking to him isn’t an option—it will destroy us. He isn’t that man anymore, and has never ever done anything like that again. I fear reminding him will make him regress back to the state he was in at the time of the incident.