I’ve been wanting to write this piece for quite some time, but haven’t found the appropriate time to do so until now. Over the weekend, Zerlina Maxwell, a badass feminist who has spent a lot of time discussing rape prevention, took to Twitter and started the hashtag RapeCultureIsWhen. The purpose was to rebut a Time’s opinion piece titled, It’s Time to End the Rape Culture Hysteria. Ignoring for a moment the gendered implications of such a title, the main piece of evidence it used came from RAINN, the leading sexual assault prevention organization in the country. In a report to President Obama aimed to help create a system for combating rape on college campuses, RAINN reported:
In the last few years, there has been an unfortunate trend towards blaming “rape culture” for the extensive problem of sexual violence on campus. While it is helpful to point out the systemic barriers to addressing the problem, it is important not to lose sight of a simple fact: Rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime.
I’m disappointed in RAINN, I’m disappointed in the Times, and honestly, I’m pretty pissed off. So I’m going to break it down for y’all.
WHAT IS RAPE CULTURE
To put it simply, rape culture is how we as a society think about rape. What are the common themes and tropes that come up in our media about rape? What is the general rape mythos? As a literary scholar and a feminist, here are some general tropes that I have seen come up over and over again:
WHY IS THIS A PROBLEM
The problems start to arise when the cultural ideas about rape don’t match the realities of rape. All those things I listed don’t add up:
So what tends to happen is when people who strongly believe in the rape myths are confronted by survivors of rape who don’t meet the stereotypes, they don’t believe them. They may literally re-write a rape survivor’s story, just to meet their own expectations:
And when rape victims are not believed they frankly feel like shit. Rape victims have high rates of depression and suicide partially because of not being believed, or worse, being blamed for their own assault. This is called re-victimization, it’s not a surprise that when rape victims are told they were lying or that they were just being a slut, they often report feeling like they were violated all over again. This also contributes to the lack of reporting for rape victims, many who fear they will not be believed by law enforcement.
Rape culture is just one big clusterfuck of a cycle, the way society views rape does not align with the realities of sexual violence, which leads to victims feeling like crap, which leads to less reporting, which means people aren’t confronted with their misconceptions about rape. Which when you think about it, kinda ends up in this reaction:
SO WHAT CAN I DO?
At the end of the day it comes down to a few simple things that we can do in order to help eliminate this horrific cycle.
To learn more, here are some good resources on sexual assault prevention and rape culture: