[Trigger warning: I have tried to minimise references to sexual assault here but there may still be phrases which are upsetting.]
Yesterday I listened to a podcast co-hosted by celebrity graffiti artist David Choe and porn actress Asa Akira. Choe, who became a multimillionaire when he cashed in his Facebook stock, regaled Akira and the rest of the podcast crew with lurid stories from his love life. In the course of their two-hour conversation, Choe tells the story of a time he attended a session with a masseuse and – according to his account – sexually assaulted her. A fuller, harrowing description of these events can be read in Melissa Stetten’s article for XO Jane.
The responses of those in the studio veered between amused, and confused, and quietly horrified. Despite Akira’s chumminess as she drew out Choe’s full story, her shock seemed evident at various points. The other contributors to the podcast, all male, were less taken aback than her, but only marginally so. At several points, they confronted Choe with the reality that, in all likelihood, he had raped his masseuse. At first, Choe was more relaxed in relating that day’s events, recalling that what he did “[was] definitely crossing the line”. He even referred to himself as “a successful rapist” and remarked on his excitement being heightened by “the thrill of possibly going to jail”.
However, there was a moment when his mood began to turn, and he became more defensive, perhaps sensing that his mildly disturbed friends – or, at least, his colleagues – might not be so ready to chalk this one up as just another frat boy misdemeanour. “You raped her”, said Akira, before adding swiftly, “allegedly”. At that moment, he began to backtrack a little, whilst still remaining strangely light-hearted and defiant. “I just want to make it clear that I admit that that’s rapey behavior, but I am not a rapist”, he said later. Choe has more recently denied that these events took place. “I never thought I’d wake up late one afternoon and hear myself called a rapist”, he wrote in a subsequent statement. “It sucks. Especially because I am not one. I am not a rapist. I hate rapists, I think rapists should be raped and murdered. (My italics.) The more sceptical listeners will raise their eyebrows at his retraction, given that he fluently related his story over the course of forty minutes in the most graphic detail. Whether or not Choe’s tale is true – and the suspicion will linger that he is now disavowing it to evade prosecution – he has again affirmed the existence of “the non-rapist rapist”.
The “non-rapist rapist” is the person that a self-styled Nice Guy could never possibly see in the mirror. That’s because a rapist is someone living far beyond the boundaries of society, someone of no worth (usually financial) to his fellow citizens, and whose sole purpose is the assault of women. A ruthless, malevolent loner driven solely by desire. The “non-rapist rapist”, on the other hand, takes solace in the fact that he could never be so monstrous as the attacker in the above paragraph. No – he is a decent person, fundamentally a good man, and he is therefore incapable of subjecting a woman to such a horrific ordeal. He’s just a regular guy, y’know?
Choe is so visceral in his contempt for rapists that, both ironically and bizarrely, he would like to see them raped in revenge, then murdered. But it’s probably easier to wish for these people to be butchered than to accept that, well, you just might be one of them. Earlier this week, the Guardian published an outstanding article by Tom Meagher, whose wife was assaulted and murdered in Australia two years ago. Meagher wrote movingly of the same denial that runs right through Choe’s podcast and his following statement:
“By insulating myself with the intellectually evasive dismissal of violent men as psychotic or sociopathic aberrations, I self-comforted by avoiding a more terrifying concept: that violent men are socialised by the ingrained sexism and entrenched masculinity that permeates everything, from our daily interactions all the way up to our highest institutions.”
Rapists, as Meagher notes, aren’t just masked predators who suddenly emerge from the dark. Most, often, they are everyday men who feel an sense of entitlement to a woman’s body and any sexual gratification that they can derive from it, regardless of her consent.
The question is what happens now: whether media outlets such as VICE, with whom he currently works, stand by him or cut him loose, and whether the authorities take a very close look at this recording. In the meantime, what is almost as disturbing as anything else was the comfort with which he told his tale, almost as if he expected to be congratulated for his alleged exploits. The nature of the conversation, so casual that it was surreal, said everything about how sexual assault is trivialised every day, and was the very essence of rape culture: a culture of which, now that this video has gone viral, Choe is yet another poster child.