This post will contain descriptions/ discussion of sexual assault and rape and so may be upsetting or disturbing to read- please take care.
Rape culture is a culture where rape, sexual assault and harassment are pervasive and normalised because of a society’s general conceptions of gender and sexuality.
Because when Brock Turner raped an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, the Judge who sentenced Turner to only six months in county jail said that prison would have a “severe impact on him,” as if he hadn’t done something deserving severe punishment.
Because when Lee Setford was found guilty of rape in 2014, Judge Michael Mettyear said he did not consider him a “classic rapist,” saying “I do not think you are a general danger to strangers. You are not the type who goes searching for a woman to rape,” as if only rapists who attack strangers are dangerous.
Because when a female soldier committed suicide only days after a sergeant locked her in a room and attempted to rape her, The Sun called the attack a “romp,” as if it’s all just ‘banter’ really.
Because the multiple cases of rape and sexual assault at the Lackland Air Force Base were referred to by the media as a “sex scandal” as if the only problem was that people had found out.
Because people are happy to post things like this on twitter:
…as if hypothetical rape was just fine to talk about, because women only have hypothetical human dignity.
How do we know we’re living in a rape culture? One blogger has this to say:
“How do I know this?
I know it because every year, 85,000 of my sisters will be raped. That’s roughly 11 rapes an hour. In one city, my city, Bristol, there are an estimated 130 rapes every month.
I know it because of those 85,000 rapes, only 15% will be reported. And only 6.5% of those reported rapes will lead to a conviction. Not all of those convictions will lead to a jail sentence.[…]
I know it because the severity of being accused of rape is treated as the equivalent of rape. Even though we know most rapists get away with it. I know it because we talk about rape as a one-off thing that happens on one occasion to a woman, and talk about an accusation of rape as ‘ruining men’s lives’. Even if that accusation is true. Even if that man or those men are found guilty. We don’t talk about the impact of rape on a woman’s life. We don’t talk about her life at all.”
90% of rapists are people known to the victim, but as a society, we still have an image of rapists as strangers hiding down dark alleys or in bushes, which means that far too often victims aren’t believed, or the perpetrators aren’t seen as a serious threat.
Rape culture frames the word ‘rape’ as something worse than the act itself. An anonymous survey of nearly 2,000 US college students found that one in twenty men admitted to rape or attempted rape, when the act was described without using the word ‘rape.’ 63% of rapists were repeat offenders, committing an average of 5.8 rapes each.
Rape culture shapes people’s perceptions of gender and sexuality in a way that normalises and perpetuates sexual assault, harassment and rape of women by men. The idea that women are natural sex objects, while men are naturally sexually aggressive, is pervasive in our media, as we saw in yesterday’s post. This normalises sexual attacks on women by men, while making male rape victims invisible. The idea of men’s natural sexual aggression is used to shift blame to female victims, who are told that their behaviour or clothes were provocative– they were “asking for it.”
A major part of rape culture is the way that society finds ways of transferring blame to the victim in some way. In the US, 90% of victims who report sexual assault or rape experience secondary victimisation in the first reporting process. Dr Rebecca Campbell says: “The psychological impact of that on victims is quite devastating. As a result of their contact with the legal system, most victims say they leave that interaction feeling blamed, depressed, anxious, and 80 percent say that they feel reluctant to seek further help after that interaction.”
One detective Dr Campbell interviewed, who had worked for 15 years in a sex crimes unit, was asked what happens when victims come in to report an assault. He said:
“…no, I don’t always believe them and yeah I let them know that. And then they say ‘Never mind. I don’t want to do this.’ Okay, then. Complainant refused to prosecute; case closed.”
Many victims have described being dismissed, being told law enforcement did not believe their story, being interrogated about their own behaviour, clothing, drinking, etc. All of these things are a form of shifting blame onto the victim. Here is an extract from the letter the Stanford victim read aloud at Brock Turner’s trial:
“The sexual assault had been so clear, but instead, here I was at the trial, answering questions like:
How old are you? How much do you weigh? What did you eat that day? Well what did you have for dinner? Who made dinner? Did you drink with dinner? No, not even water? When did you drink? How much did you drink? What container did you drink out of? Who gave you the drink? How much do you usually drink? Who dropped you off at this party? At what time? But where exactly? What were you wearing? Why were you going to this party? What’ d you do when you got there? Are you sure you did that? But what time did you do that? What does this text mean? Who were you texting? When did you urinate? Where did you urinate? With whom did you urinate outside? Was your phone on silent when your sister called? Do you remember silencing it? Really because on page 53 I’d like to point out that you said it was set to ring. Did you drink in college? You said you were a party animal? How many times did you black out? Did you party at frats? Are you serious with your boyfriend? Are you sexually active with him? When did you start dating? Would you ever cheat? Do you have a history of cheating? What do you mean when you said you wanted to reward him? Do you remember what time you woke up? Were you wearing your cardigan? What color was your cardigan? Do you remember any more from that night? No? Okay, well, we’ll let Brock fill it in.”
When we send girls home so that boys aren’t distracted, when we tell women not to drink when they go out instead of cracking down on men who prey on drunk women, when we impose curfews on women instead of teaching men not to rape, when we ask what a woman was wearing when she was raped instead of defending women’s right to wear whatever they want without being attacked, we do are just moving the problem along:
“The problem is often compounded by a lack of any attempt to discipline boys for harassing behavior, which drives home the message that it is the victim’s responsibility to prevent. We have received thousands of testimonies from girls who have complained about being verbally harassed, touched, groped, chased, followed, licked, and assaulted at school, only to be told: “he just likes you”, or: “boys will be boys”. The hypocrisy is breath taking.”
“Like I have the fucking privilege
of not thinking about it.Like I don’t think about it
when I go for a run after work
and instead of using a timer,
my personal best is just
running faster than anyone who’s following me.
Like I don’t think about it
when I leave the headphones at home
on my way to pick up milk,
because I need to hear if anyone’s coming up behind me
and it’s already hard to make it out
over the soundtrack of my someday interrogation
Don’t you know you live in K-town?
Why would you walk alone after dark?
What did you think was going to happen?
Like I don’t think about it
when I pick an outfit from my closet
and look at it like a piece of evidence,
if I get raped when I’m wearing this tonight,
how guilty would it make me?
Like maybe they should mark it on the tag,
60% cotton, 40% her fault.”
Twitter user @lexi4prez conducted a survey on cat-calling, with more than 19,000 respondents for some questions, and found that in 95% of cases cat-calling produced fear, that 92% did not think cat-calling was a compliment, and 63% of those who had rejected a cat-caller had been insulted, followed, or attacked by them.
The kind of man who harasses women on the street isn’t going to take criticism from women, so this is another place where we need men to step up. Sexual harassment and inappropriate jokes are often excused as “just a joke” or harmless “banter” rather than part of an overarching social structure. It might be easy, and tempting, to write off the odd joke as meaningless and, even if inappropriate, not stemming from or connected to wider misogyny. But this is all connected, and these things may seem small but they all contribute to rape culture. The video below shows the ways in which jokes and harassment are connected to victim-blaming and violence against women (this video may be upsetting- take care):
Guys: if your friend makes a rape joke or sends an unsolicited dick pic, please be the one to shut that down. If your friend gets creepy when he’s drunk, please be the one tell him to stop. If your friend thinks it’s funny to shout at women on the street, please be the one to tell him that’s not okay.
“But how do I approach women in public, then?” If this question is important for you, take a look at what this blogger says:
“When you approach me in public, you are Schrödinger’s Rapist. You may or may not be a man who would commit rape. I won’t know for sure unless you start sexually assaulting me. I can’t see inside your head, and I don’t know your intentions. If you expect me to trust you—to accept you at face value as a nice sort of guy—you are not only failing to respect my reasonable caution, you are being cavalier about my personal safety […]
Pay attention to the environment. Look around. Are you in a dark alley? Then probably you ought not approach a woman and try to strike up a conversation. The same applies if you are alone with a woman in most public places. If the public place is a closed area (a subway car, an elevator, a bus), even a crowded one, you may not realize that the woman’s ability to flee in case of threat is limited. Ask yourself, “If I were dangerous, would this woman be safe in this space with me?” If the answer is no, then it isn’t appropriate to approach her.“
Want to read more?
- Andrea Dworkin – I Want A Twenty-Four-Hour Truce During Which There Is No Rape
- Huffington Post – The Problem With ‘Boys will be boys’
- Feminaust – This is the Culture
- Jackson Katz – The Macho Paradox: Why some men hurt women and how all men can help (Book PDF)
- Allan Johnson – Why Men Rape
- Survivors UK – Break the Silence on Male Rape and Sexual Abuse
- VIDEO: When Your Date Doesn’t Hear The Word ‘No’ (may be upsetting, please take care)