#RapeCultureIsWhen

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:

  • Woman raped by a complete stranger
  • Woman raped by a man
  • Woman regrets having sex with someone, or committed adultery, and then reports it as rape
  • Raped woman dressed slutty or was drunk
  • He dropped the soap is almost always used as a punchline
  • White woman raped by someone of a different race, typically a black man

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:

  • 2/3rds of rape victims know their rapist
  • Not all rapes are men raping women, 1 out of every 8 victims of rape is male.
  • While false reports of rape happen, they are very rare.  A 2011 UK study found less than 1% of rape reports to be false.
  • Most convicted rapists don’t remember what their victim was wearing.  In fact, a Federal Commission on Crime of Violence Study found that only 4.4% of all reported rapes involved provocative behavior on the part of the victim – in murder cases 22% involved such behavior (which could be as simple as a glance).
  • Prison rape is a real problem, 14% of inmates report being sexually targeted, and this contributes to the spread of dangerous STIs in prison.
  • The most liberal estimate of black on white rape is only 7.6%

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.

  1. Be supportive.  If a friend tells you they have been sexually assaulted or raped, BELIEVE THEM.  They are coming to you because they trust you, not because they want to get grilled on what happened.  This is a tough time for them, and if you react negatively that will haunt them.  Direct them here so that they can find a local rape crisis center.  Offer to go with them to the hospital, because they may have sustained injuries that need medical attention or need Plan B.  Help them find resources for their mental health as well, most college campuses have counseling services of some sort, and you can always recommend a good therapist.
  2. Don’t be a bystander.  If you see someone being sexually aggressive or just feel like a situation isn’t quite right, step up and say something.  You could literally be saving that person’s life.
  3. Fight back against rape myths.  If someone says that “only women get raped” or my least favorite phrase, “she was asking for it” call them out!  They may simply be repeating phrases they have heard, and have no idea that they are incorrect or that they are being hurtful.
  4. Get involved.  Almost every town has rape/domestic violence crisis centers and they always need volunteers.  Becoming a victim advocate is a very rewarding position, and they make a huge difference in people’s lives.

To learn more, here are some good resources on sexual assault prevention and rape culture:

National Sexual Violence Resource Center

Center for Disease Control and Prevention

FORCE:  Upsetting Rape Culture

Natalina graduated from the University of North Dakota with a BA in English and minor in Gender and Women's Studies. She is currently pursuing her medical degree in Iowa. She is a sexual assault and domestic violence victim advocate as well as a LGBT activist. She is very interested in feminism and pop culture. When she is not in school or online she is spending time with her husband, playing video games, or playing with her 2 cats.
  • RocketsMom

    I am very glad to see read this post. People are often uncomfortable and uneasy when one corrects them (mostly men) about the myths of rape culture but the fact is it is only fair to do. I have also noticed that rape in pop culture has become a huge problem, suddenly it is funny to spike a woman’s drink with drugs from qualudes to mollies and then take advantage of her, or at least imply that taking advantage of a passed out, uninhibited, drugged woman is the next step. Just last week I had a friend who is sketch comedian on a major network tell me about a sketch he wrote that involved a man implying he put some drug in a woman’s coffee. I had to explain to him why this was not ok. I had to open up to him and tell him that I have seen my mother raped and almost killed by a man who broke into our home when I was just a little girl, and also that I, too, was a victim of sexual assault as a minor. As I educated this man, telling him, most importantly, that rape is never funny; but also that while he thinks he is helping a woman laugh through a tragedy, he could actually be triggering a horrific memory for her. I am happy to say I was able to change his mind about the way he viewed rape and that he decided not to proceed with the sketch! I would also like to thank you for writing the piece on rape on college campuses. I felt it was a must read for my baby sister who is a senior in high school this year and is currently deciding which university she will be attending next year.

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