Tell Me About It

My friend has become aggressive towards women

I wonder whether he could ever commit rape and that is a scary thought to have about someone you call a friend

PROBLEM: I am writing about a problem my friend has. We’ve known each other since school and I would consider him one of my best friends but when he drinks he changes into someone I don’t really like.

Over the past few months he has become increasingly aggressive towards women on nights out. He approaches a group of girls and generally attempts to corner the most inebriated of them. Often this leads to confrontations where he is called a “rapist” by women who witness his actions. As his friend, I find myself pushed more and more into defending him. Although I stand up for him in public because of our long friendship, I find myself asking whether he is a good person. I wonder whether he could ever commit rape, and that is a scary thought to have about someone you call your friend.

Some of our mutual friends have broken ties with him, and I’m concerned of sinking along with him through association. If he is no longer the person I once knew, is there any point in still being friends with him? I find myself caught in two minds; I don’t want to abandon one of my oldest friends but I can’t keep condoning his actions.

An added complication is that I am very close to his sister and harbour thoughts of going out with her at some point if she would consider me, so this makes my relationship with her brother even more delicate.

ADVICE: The idea of challenging the behaviour of your closest friend is not to be taken lightly. My guess is that most people would do as other friends have already done and just avoid the situation. However, those we choose to spend a lot of time with have an effect on us, and we are linked by association with them, so we must consider carefully our friendships and our colleagues. There are three main factors in friendship: loyalty, kindness and fairness. It seems that you are very loyal to your childhood friend and are also very kind to continue defending what you see as his potential, but I wonder if it is fair that you continue to be associated with such appalling behaviour.

The test of a relationship is when we hit difficult times. This is one of those tests: are you prepared to challenge your friend and be upfront with him about his unacceptable behaviour? No doubt you have tried to subtly let him know that his behaviour on nights out is unacceptable, but this has had no noticeable effect. Perhaps his other friends have also tried to hint at the need for change. At this stage, if something does not happen your friendship will die, and even worse, you could find yourself a party to prior knowledge of a possible assault.

An intervention is required and this can take a variety of forms. Ideally, you include his family in this and talk honestly to them about your concerns. There is a danger that you will be rejected by your friend’s sister, but if you really care about her (and her brother) you will not be deterred from this course of action. If some close friends and family can get together and create a communication where he has to accept both the truth of what they are saying and the care and concern that goes with that, there is a chance that your friend can take responsibility for his actions and change.

A plan of intervention needs to be set out whereby his drinking and behaviour can be assessed and worked with, ideally involving professionals. Often the person needs someone to accompany them to the first few sessions; you could offer this support. Rutlandcentre.ie offers assessments and treatment and is covered by health insurance. Citizensinformation.ie has information on all of the State alcohol treatment services in Ireland. If you try all this and your friend chooses to ignore all the help on offer, then you have little choice but to stop accompanying him on nights out.

However, you do not have to cut him off completely. You could tell him that you will be there if he ever decides to opt for change and treatment. Your possible relationship with his sister will inevitably have to take account of your friendship – or otherwise – with her brother, and you will have to accept her decision on this. If she blocks you because of your stance, you will have to look elsewhere for both your romantic and friendship connections. This will be no easy task, but taking action now is still the brave thing to do.