Posted by: CeCe | June 20, 2013

A culture of rape?

So ever since I found out what rape culture was (which was very recently, like in the last six months), I’ve been asked several times by different people what rape culture is, and I’ve found myself at a loss for words (I know, hard to believe, right?).  I can give examples, but it’s a lot more effective when I can show a person rape culture.  That makes it clearer, I think, and makes the horror of it tangible.  The truth is, rape culture is so insidious that many of us don’t even recognize that we’re living in one, even though it’s all around us.  And it really is all around us.

So what is rape culture?

Wikipedia defines rape culture as:
a concept which links rape and sexual violence to the culture of a society, and in which prevalent attitudes and practices normalize, excuse, tolerate, or even condone rape.

Examples of behaviors commonly associated with rape culture include victim blaming, sexual objectification, and trivializing rape. Rape culture has been used to model behavior within social groups, including prison systems and conflict areas where war rape is used as psychological warfare.

So let’s consider this step by step.  How is rape normalized in society?  It’s often depicted (mostly inaccurately) in movies, TV shows, and books.  Comedians often joke about it.  There are memes about rape all over the internet, treating it as a joke.  Many women, when assault is brought up, will admit that there have been instances where they were assaulted, or almost assaulted.  Statistics indicate that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 5 men will be sexually assaulted at some point in their life.  I would say, however, that the numbers are probably much higher than that, because many men and women won’t report an assault, and sometimes may feel that an assault actually wasn’t, because rape is usually depicted in movies and TV shows as someone jumping out of the bushes and holding someone at gunpoint.  That isn’t what usually happens.  Most of the time (about 80%) when a person is assaulted, it’s by someone they know, not a creep hiding in the bushes.  In less than one-third of cases, a weapon is used.  Most times, it’s just a matter of physical force.  In some cases, the victim doesn’t even say “no”, they just freeze and don’t say yes.  What many fail to understand is that consent is not the absence of “no”, it’s the presence of “yes”.

Victim-blaming, the trivialization of rape, and the excusing and tolerance of rape all go together, and the same examples apply to all of them.  For an example, a writer for a men’s rights blog (I won’t say who or link it here) says that rape is “no big deal”.  Jail sentences for rape, if it even goes to trial which in many cases it doesn’t, are ridiculously short unless there’s something else involved, like physical violence or if the victim is very young, very old, or disabled.  Many discussions about sexual assault have a plethora of people saying things like, “I’m not blaming the victim but he/she shouldn’t have been drinking/flirting/wearing that/alone with that person/out at that time of night/in that place/etc.”  When a person says something like that, they are blaming the victim.  Period.  It’s like saying, “I’m not racist, but Mexicans are lazy/Jews are greedy/Asians can’t drive/the Irish drink too much/Arabs are violent/the British are stuffy/Americans are stupid/black people are lazy and/or criminals/etc.”  It is racist.  Claiming that you’re not doing something, and then following it by “but” almost always means that you are doing exactly what you’re claiming that you are not doing.  Period.

And let me be super clear about this:  When you say that you are not blaming the victim, and you go on to call attention to some aspect of their behavior that may or may not have contributed to them being assaulted, not only are you blaming the victim, but you’re also excusing what the rapist did.  What you’re saying is, they just couldn’t help themselves.  They saw a girl in a short skirt, or who had had too much to drink, and couldn’t resist raping her.  But they can be blamed.  And they should be.  It wasn’t the short skirt or the alcohol that caused the rape; it was the rapist.  Period.  As far as the risky behavior, while it’s true that a person can lessen their risk of being assaulted, they can’t eliminate it entirely, unless they are never around rapists.

And let’s be honest, there is no way to know whether or not that smiling guy friend or female friend is a rapist, unless or until they rape.  When we tell people that they need to protect themselves from being raped, we are placing the responsibility on them to not get raped, to the point where if they are raped, they think that they must have done something wrong, and that’s why they were assaulted.  It puts the blame on the victim.  That is what rape culture is, and that’s what it does.  For an example of this, on a thread on Yahoo, regarding Serena Williams’ remarks about the Steubenville rape case, I stated that I had been assaulted at one point.  I gave no details regarding my assault at all, and this was one of the responses:
I guess [removed]’s parents didnt teach her better and thats why she got assaulted. Sad how people want to keep the vicious circle going. Its like children of alcoholics and wife beaters. They just continue on and on. Maybe some day someone in her family line will have enough sense to teach their daughters how to be safe.

Now when I mentioned being assaulted, I could have been referring to the sick person who assaulted me on a regular basis starting when I was about five or six, or I could have been referring to when I was assaulted by someone else whom I should have been safe with when I was 21.  Neither of those were my fault, in any way shape or form.  And neither of them can possibly be blamed on what my parents did or did not teach me.  The sad part is, this comment very well may have been made by a troll, but it still got nine thumbs-up (and eleven down, at least).  But let’s view this as a statistic, and equate the thumbs-up/down to how many people agree with this statement.  That would mean that about 45% of people would agree, while 55% would disagree.  This is a small sampling, too small to really make a case one way or another, but if it is indicative of society, how scary is that?  Further, I have a theory that people will show their true colors when they’re able to hide their identity, so I think that what we see out of people on the internet is 9 out of 10 times exactly who they are.

Yet another example of normalizing rape is in the fact that it’s widely accepted that criminals are raped in prison.  Most prisons do nothing to address this or prevent it, and society as a whole accepts this victimization as an acceptable retribution for crime.  It is not.  No one ever, ever deserves to be raped.  I don’t care what they’ve done or who they are, they still don’t deserve it.  Even if they are a rapist themselves, they still don’t deserve to be raped.  Rape should never, ever be seen as a punishment for any crime.

In a rape culture, rape is treated as a compliment.  For example, on the aforementioned comment thread on Yahoo, someone said:
“With her looks williams does not have to worry about being raped. Unless they use a bag !”
I’d like to think this person was just a troll, but how can one be sure?  I know I’m just stating the obvious here, or at least what should be patently obvious, but people aren’t raped because they’re “attractive” to the rapist.  They are raped because they’re in a position that makes the rapist think they can get away with it.  Vulnerability and accessibility make them attractive, not their physical appearance.  That is why elderly women and babies can be raped.  While some elderly women are certainly attractive (hello Helen Mirren and Jane Fonda!), it has nothing to do with whether or not they’ll be raped.  Babies are almost always cute, only a sick individual would say that they’re sexually attractive.  So sexual attractiveness has nothing to do with whether or not a person will be assaulted.

I can talk about this from an objective point of view, but rape culture is never clearer than when there are specific examples of it.  Someone on the discussion on the MRA blog that I mentioned in my last post (link here) stated that rape culture is just a feminist construct.  I don’t understand how anyone can say this, when evidence of it is all around us.  I’ve gotten to the point where I see so many examples of it daily, that I have to intentionally ignore them, lest my anger and depression consume me.  I don’t even have the energy to get angry over it anymore.  Now it just makes me sad.

It’s sad that people blamed Jane Doe from the Steubenville rape case for her own assault.  It’s sad that prison rape is a punchline.  It’s sad that memes about rape are spread on social media.  It’s sad that Jane Doe and many other sexual assault survivors face death threats for daring to report their assaults.  It’s unbelievably sad when both men and women accept this as just being a normal part of society, rather than becoming angry and speaking out against it.  It’s sad that the people who witnessed Jane Doe being assaulted didn’t even realize that it was assault, because the boys weren’t strangers jumping out from behind a bush and they weren’t using physical violence or any weapons.  It’s sad that both men and women, but especially women, have to fear being assaulted and attempt to take precautions to avoid being assaulted, in order to not be blamed for it when/if it happens.  It’s horrible when I talk to my female friends, and almost every single one of them has faced assault, sexual harassment, and/or abuse of some kind.

And that is rape culture.  So do we live in one?  I would say that the evidence is incontrovertible that we most certainly do.

There is so much more I can say on this.  I’ve barely even scratched the surface of it, even in nearly 2000 words.

But I’ll end with this:  There are many people already calling attention to this issue, but we need more than that.  It’s not enough.  Until it’s completely eradicated and any person can feel safe from assault in any set of circumstances at any time of day, it will never be enough.  Sometimes I feel like it’s a losing battle, but I can’t allow myself to believe that.  I can’t believe for a second that we aren’t better than this.  We are.  We can be.  We owe it to ourselves to recognize the culture in which we’re living, and protest it.  We have to do this, not only for our own sake, but for the sake of our children, and the sexual assault survivors we’ve already wronged, and the ones that we will wrong in the future unless something changes.  We need to do this for all the Jane Does in the world, including the ones who committed suicide because they just couldn’t take the pain of being blamed and shamed by their peers.  We can’t remain silent and complacent in our denial.  We can’t remain comfortable with it.  If we do, then we share the blame.


  1. […] know I’ve probably written about rape culture too much (example here), and people out there in WordPressland and Facebookland are sick and tired of hearing about it, […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: