Rape Culture and Victim Blaming

Rape culture is a big topic, and a sensitive one at that. For anyone unfamiliar with the terminology or topic as a whole, I’ll start with the basics.

What is rape? Rape is having sex with someone who does not give consent. Rape can be committed by an absolute stranger or a dear friend. It can be done with threat of bodily harm or while the victim is passed out. It can be gradually forced upon someone who doesn’t know how to say no or someone who did say no but just needs “convincing”. That leads to the next topic. What is consent?

Consent is saying yes, not a lack of a no. Let me rephrase that: not saying no does not mean yes. Laci Green, blogger and peer educator on sex, gender, and body issues, explains rape and consent:

“Rape refers to any sort of penetration that doesn’t come with an explicit “yes please, I like that.” A common type of rape is that the rapist pushes and pushes and disrespects boundaries and the victim feels like they can’t say no or like a no would not stop them from doing it…Consent to sex does not mean there was no no. Consent to sex means there was a yes.”

Even if you think she/he is “into it,” ask for consent. Consent is sexy. In one of her videos, Green lists ways of asking for consent that don’t “spoil the mood”: “Are you into this? Do you like this? Do you want me to keep going?” There is no excuse not to receive consent. If there is no consent, it is rape.
What is rape culture?

“In a rape culture, people are surrounded with images, language, laws, and other everyday phenomena that validate and perpetuate rape.”

(http://upsettingrapeculture.com/rapeculture.html)

“Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.”

(http://www.marshall.edu/wpmu/wcenter/sexual-assault/rape-culture/)

Rape culture is created and perpetuated by our movies, our music, and our books. It conditions us to believe that rape will happen and we cannot do anything to stop it. It leads us to believe that a man’s natural setting is rapist. It makes us think that women are to blame for taunting these men with their bodies. It causes us blame the victims and turn a blind eye on the offenders. It has infiltrated every level of our culture, from jokes to our media. But it doesn’t have to stay that way.

One of the most horrifying and harmful effects of rape culture is our tendency to blame the victim for the crime:
“She shouldn’t have been that drunk.”
“Did you see what she was wearing?”
“She should have known not to walk alone.”

On a side note, these statements are an affront to men:

“Men should be offended when someone claims that women should prevent rape by not wearing certain things or not going certain places or not acting in a certain way. That line of thinking presumes that you are incapable of control. That you are so base and uncivilized that it takes extraordinary effort for you to walk down the street without raping someone. That you require a certain dress code be maintained, that certain behaviors be employed so that maybe today, just maybe, you won’t rape someone. It presumes that your natural state is rapist.”

(As far as I could trace the quote, it came from Michael Hanscom).

But most importantly, these statements teach a woman to feel guilty for being assaulted. It makes her think that if only she hadn’t worn that skirt, maybe that man wouldn’t have raped her. It is not the victim’s fault. The blame only lies, and always will, with the rapist. He chose to force his will upon her. He chose to disregard her protests or continue without consent. He is the only one responsible for his actions.

These statements also ignore the fact that most rapes are committed by someone that the victim knew- meaning, not a random man that saw her legs at a bar. Movies and television will have you think that most rapes are violent and random, carried out by sick men that prey upon “sluts” at a bar. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. “Approximately 2/3 of assaults are committed by someone known to the victim. 38% of rapists are a friend or acquaintance.” http://www.rainn.org/statistics

These statistics don’t really fit in with the notion that wearing a more modest dress would have prevented a rape. Women are raped wearing short skirts or wearing t-shirts, drinking or sober, by a stranger or a friend. If not her clothing or her inebriation are to blame, then what is? Rape culture.

You may be thinking “but what is rape culture? You keep blaming it, but I don’t see it anywhere.”
I found a lovely list, just for you, of examples of rape culture:

Blaming the victim (“She asked for it!”)
Trivializing sexual assault (“Boys will be boys!”)
Sexually explicit jokes
Tolerance of sexual harassment
Inflating false rape report statistics
Publicly scrutinizing a victim’s dress, mental state, motives, and history
Gratuitous gendered violence in movies and television
Defining “manhood” as dominant and sexually aggressive
Defining “womanhood” as submissive and sexually passive
Pressure on men to “score”
Pressure on women to not appear “cold”
Assuming only promiscuous women get raped
Assuming that men don’t get raped or that only “weak” men get raped
Refusing to take rape accusations seriously
Teaching women to avoid getting raped instead of teaching men not to rape

Some of these may have caught you off guard. How is being careful about rape accusations rape culture? We don’t want to ruin lives over some girl who claims to have been raped. Well try this on for size- over half of the rape cases in the US go unreported to law enforcement. This means that most rape cases are never seen by the police. Only 3% of rapists are sentenced jail time. This means 97% of rapists have faced no punishment for their crimes. Small wonder most women don’t report rape in the first place. If only 3% are successful in bringing their rapist to justice, what happens to the other 97%? Public humiliation and degradation.
“You shouldn’t have been drinking.”
“You shouldn’t have worn that skirt.”
“Everyone knows she’s a slut.”

When a woman brings rape to light, she risks facing comments from friends, family, and strangers about how she could have prevented it, or how she was somehow to blame. She could hear from friends of the rapist, saying that she shouldn’t ruin his life because she made “some drunken mistake.” She could face an authority that belittles her and dismisses her claims, asking her how much she drank and what she was wearing and what she was thinking walking into that fraternity house. Victim blaming is horrific and unacceptable, but it is what most rape victims face if they bring their experience to light.

Let’s look back at Steubenville again. The boys did not have consent (the girl in question was passed out and could in no way have provided consent.) They made jokes, they took pictures, they posted about it on social media. Those around them either didn’t understand that what they saw was rape or where too scared to do anything about it. The football coach tried to cover up the involvement of the boys because they were on the football team. There were countless Tweets and facebook posts about how the girl was a slut and wildly drunk. When the verdict was read, the media sympathized with the rapists, lamenting the lives the poor boys had lost by being sentenced to a year in juvenile detention and registering as sex offenders. The media sympathized with the rapists. What about the poor girl that was violated more than once that night, was mocked by her peers, and was blamed for the actions of those boys that night?
This is rape culture, and it has to stop.