Rape Culture Is When…

March Issue: Social Justice

Every two minutes, someone is sexually assaulted in the United States, and there are about 237,868 victims of sexual assault each year. What’s more, 97% of the assaulters will never spend a day in jail. The problem America is facing extends beyond the crimes themselves, to the culture that is allowing sexual assault like rape to thrive. Rape culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent, and sexual violence against women is normalized or excused in the media and pop culture. It is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence. It can be argued that rape culture has created a society that disregards women’s rights and safety, forcing women and girls to limit their behavior. Tracey Vitchers of Students Active for Ending Rape says talking about rape culture has been instrumental to her work: “The concept of rape culture provides students with the language to contextualize what is happening, and how they can talk to administrators and peers,” Vitchers says. “Rape culture speaks to the larger systemic problem of why bystanders don’t intervene, why victims don’t feel safe going to campus police, and why you see such levels of PTSD among college[-aged] survivors.”

The term “rape culture” originated when feminists released the film Rape Culture in January, 1975 to raise awareness of the normalization of sexual violence in society. The documentary was the first to establish the relationship between rape and our culture’s sexual fantasies by examining popular culture and media. Women realized that they needed to take a stand against rape culture, and make people aware of its consequences if they were going to make a change. Today’s feminists have taken to hashtags, walks, discussions, and much more in order to make a change.

The #RapeCultureIsWhen hashtag was started on Twitter in the beginning of 2014 with the hope that it would spark dialogue about the issue while shifting the conversation away from the myths that shame survivors into silence. It was also meant to educate those who didn’t know as much about the subject. The following statements are made up of contributions the #RapeCultureIsWhen hashtag along with personal stories of survivors, those with the courage to speak out: “Rape culture is when women who come forward are questioned about what they were wearing.” “Rape culture is when survivors who come forward are asked, ‘Were you drinking?’” “Rape culture is when people say, ‘she was asking for it.’” “Rape culture is when we teach women how to not get raped, instead of teaching men not to rape.” “Rape culture is when the lyrics of Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ mirror the words of actual rapists, and is still the number one song in the country.” “Rape culture is when the mainstream media mourns the end of the convicted Steubenville rapists’ football careers, and does not mention the young girl who was victimized.” “Rape culture is when cyberbullies take pictures of sexual assaults and harass their victims online, which in the cases of Audrie Pott and Rehtaeh Parsons tragically ended in their suicides.” “Rape culture is when, in 31 states, rapists can legally sue for child custody if the rape results in pregnancy.” The hashtag has clearly made its mark on Twitter.

Some argue that today’s culture not only blames sexual assault victims, but also tells potential victims, especially women, that it is their own duty to make sure they are not assaulted. Victim blaming is an act that occurs when the victim(s) of a crime or accident is held responsible for the crimes that have been committed against them.

Women and men can combat victim blaming by avoiding the use of language that objectifies or degrades women, speaking out if hearing someone else making an offensive joke or trivializing rape, taking a friend who said they had been raped seriously and being supportive, letting survivors know that it is not their fault, and holding abusers accountable for their actions. It is important to not let the perpetrators make excuses like blaming the victim for being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or for suggestive behavior.

Five years ago, the first “SlutWalk” ever was held in Toronto after a police officer commented that women should “avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” Women took to the streets dressed in lingerie and what could be considered skimpy clothing to spread the message that women should not be subject to sexual violence, regardless of what they’re wearing. The original walk aimed to take back the typically derogatory term and challenge the notion that women are responsible for violence committed against them. Soon the walks spread across the globe, as women in Colombia, India, and South Korea staged their own protests. In early October, 2015, celebrity Amber Rose announced that she would be headlining a SlutWalk in Pershing Square, LA. “[W]e recognize that shaming, oppression, assault and violence have disproportionately impacted marginalized groups including women of color, transgender people and sex workers, and thus we are actively working to center these groups in this event,” reads a statement on the Amber Rose SlutWalk webpage. “We deeply value the voices of marginalized groups and have a strong desire to find common ground among all of our intersections.” Rose, a former stripper who gained fame during her relationships with Kanye West and Wiz Khalifa, has been speaking out against the concept of “slut shaming,” or slamming a person for their sexual choices. She and friend Blac Chyna walked the MTV Video Music Awards red carpet in August wearing outfits emblazoned with phrases used to denigrate women. Atim Kilama ’18 thinks, “Words like ‘slut’ have been used for so long to control women’s sexuality. Since she was a stripper and experienced name-calling and slutshaming everyday, Amber Rose is the perfect celebrity to really question what the word slut means, and the history behind it.” Rose told the SlutWalk crowd about the first time she was “slut shamed” at 14. She then said she forgave West for saying he needed “30 showers” after being with her, and Khalifa for calling her “nothing but a stripper.”

Today, the event has spread to 250 cities across the globe, highlighting just how universal sexual violence and victim-blaming is. But even though gender inequality and degrading treatment is common all over the world, the walks have elevated these issues; Amber Rose’s participation will bring more visibility to them.

It is not enough to bring individual perpetrators of rape and sexual violence to justice.  Since the problem lies in a culture that is entertained by degrading acts and images of women, a solution may be to look at the individual acts as a symptom of rape culture and solve it holistically.