In the midst of discussions on the prevalence of sexual assault, you have likely encountered the term “rape culture.” This idea has existed for decades, coined in the 1970s by second-wave feminists in an attempt to educate the public on the pervasiveness of rape. In the past, many people simply didn’t believe that sexual assault happened as often as survivors claimed it did. Additionally, the accounts of violence and sexism that facilitated the proliferation of rape were normalized by society, giving way to a culture desensitized to the suffering of survivors.
When a society ignores or justifies the causes of rape, continually places the blame on victims instead of perpetrators, and encourages toxic, predatory behaviors, then this society is plagued by rape culture.
What is It?
Especially regarding the sexual assault epidemic in America, rape culture has been a constant topic of contention. It is a deep-seated problem that will take education and time to dismantle, but accepting the existence of the problem in the first place is both necessary and potentially unpleasant. Acknowledging all the ways many of us, our friends, and our families have contributed to the harmful culture around sexual assault and violence is understandably uncomfortable, but all necessary changes are.
The activist group FORCE explains rape culture as:
In a rape culture, people are surrounded with images, language, laws, and other everyday phenomena that validate and perpetuate, rape. Rape culture includes jokes, TV, music, advertising, legal jargon, laws, words and imagery, that make sexual violence and coercion seem so normal that people believe that rape is inevitable. Rather than viewing the culture of rape as a problem to change, people in a rape culture think about the persistence of rape as “just the way things are.”
Countless moving parts create a culture, including the attitudes we raise children with, how we teach them to treat others and react to how they are treated, and much more. Rape culture is entrenched in every aspect of media and life, and it would take a focused, widespread effort to actively combat it. A few small groups of activists cannot realistically change the way every citizen thinks. All of us need to work to break down the ways we have learned to discredit the stories and pain of survivors.
How Do We Fight It?
Something so deeply entrenched in our society takes constant effort to make a meaningful chance. Rape culture is implicit. It’s all the little things we say and do that allow for perpetrators of sexual assault to hold power over their victims and all the ways we take power from survivors. It ranges from the ways women and men are depicted in media, to the ways we react to allegations of rape, to the percentage of rapists who actually go to jail for their crimes. The list goes on and on. Everyday Feminism outlined 25 examples of rape culture that we encounter every day, proving how pervasive this issue has become.
The more our society persists in believing that rape culture doesn’t exist, the stronger it becomes. Sexual violence should never be the status quo. And any culture that believes it is has failed the people that comprise it.
One major pillar of rape culture is victim blaming, though this is mostly concerned with the aftermath of assaults. The other major contributor to rape culture is the way perpetrators, most often young men, are being raised to view themselves as powerful and entitled to the bodies of others. The Nation posed this point: “Here’s a tip: the right question is not, ‘What was she doing/wearing/saying when she was raped?’ The right question is, ‘What made him think this is acceptable?’” We as a society must examine the ways we normalize misogyny, ignore the intricacies of consent and autonomy, and delegitimize survivors’ stories.
Rape culture is not simple or clear cut. It impacts people of all genders, races, ages, and backgrounds, and in different ways. All of us have a hand in the prevalence of rape culture, and so all of us have a responsibility to eradicate it.
Join us in our fight to change the conversation and culture in America, to create an environment where survivors are believed, and to hold perpetrators of sexual assault accountable.
Please follow us on Twitter @SurvivorsJC.
You can contribute to our cause here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/survivors-justice-center-a-nonprofit-law-firm#/