I’ve been VERY conflicted about whether “rape culture” exists.
Recently I came across an article from Everyday Feminism which argues that it does, and gives 25 different examples of it. I was disgusted by the examples, because they really are horrible things that are happening in the world. But one thing that the writer states stuck with me:
When we talk about rape culture, we’re discussing something more implicit than that. We’re talking about cultural practices (that, yes, we commonly engage in together as a society) that excuse or otherwise tolerate sexual violence.
On the other hand, Caroline Kitchens’ article from Time makes the argument that rape culture doesn’t exist. She says that society doesn’t condone rape. She cites the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) in support of her argument: “Rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime.” Kitchens argues that there are laws against rape, and it’s known to be an awful act. It’s not our culture.
But it’s not [just] about whether our society encourages or promotes rape – it’s about how we treat the whole idea of rape, and sexual assault in general.
[Author’s Note: I realized after a few people’s reactions on social media that what I meant isn’t clear from this last sentence. Yes, rape culture is about whether or not our society encourages or promotes rape. I meant that it’s not only about that, but also how we treat the concept of rape as a whole, because that tells us even more about our culture. I hope that clears things up.]
Here’s an example: it seems pretty reasonable for women to protect their drinks, maybe take a martial arts class. I mean, that way they can at least reduce the chance of it happening to them, right?
Because the moment it does happen to a woman, society still tells her it’s her fault.
Why didn’t she watch how much she drank, or protect her drink better? Didn’t she know she shouldn’t walk home at night by herself? Why didn’t she just keep her knees closed?
And, if we are still saying that women should not dress in a way that “asks for it,” then how does rape culture not exist?
And what about the fact that men aren’t taken seriously when they make an accusation of rape, either? According to RAINN, while 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape, 1 out of 33 men have as well. 9% of rape and sexual assault survivors were male from 1995-2010.
Where are the media stories about them?
Rape culture isn’t just about the female survivors. Male survivors of rape are also part of this.
Maybe it’s true that our culture doesn’t teach to rape, but our culture doesn’t exactly protect anyone who is raped.
And I understand that if we just take the word of anyone, we’ll have problems of people making up stories.
But according to Stats Canada, 91% (!!!) of sexual assaults in Canada are not even reported.
Maybe, instead, the issue isn’t discussing whether rape culture exists, but discussing the issue of consent in the first place. The same Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network that says that rape culture doesn’t exist suggests that education about consent would be beneficial to clear up and educate “where the ‘consent line’ is.”
But the fact that when a person is accused of rape, they can consider the possible “belief” of consent is a bit of a problem — if there is “sufficient evidence” that the accused believed they received consent, and the jury buys it, then they may not be convicted. (From my understanding of s 153 (3) of the Criminal Code of Canada.)
But how can there be “sufficient” evidence? There are different ways that people react to sexual assault in the moment. In this article, Vera Gray, the Operations Coordinator of Rape Crisis South London, is cited explaining the five responses: friend, fight, flight, freeze and flop.
Is it “reasonable” to assume that when someone isn’t responding much during sex (flop) they are giving consent? When someone gives a condition like wearing a condom to appease their attacker, are they giving consent or is that the friend response? When someone doesn’t know what to do out of fear, and simply gives in with no response, that’s freeze — but does that mean their attacker shouldn’t be held responsible? It seems so clear when the response is fight or flight and society accepts those — but what about flop, freeze and friend?
The law with regard to rape and sexual assault is just really shady because of the nature of the issue.
So maybe our culture’s issue isn’t that it condones rape, but it doesn’t teach how not to rape well enough.
It seems like it should be common sense, but clearly it isn’t.
And I’m not sure that I agree that people simply aren’t being told not to rape. It seems like it’s everywhere: in the media, in schools, in universities.
The question here is HOW.
How can we teach people to gain consent?
How do we teach them to understand consent?
I’m glad to see improvement in the sex ed system about consent and about the reality of sexual assault. At least where I am, in Alberta, Canada, kids are learning that rape most often happens between people who know each other. They’re learning that consent goes both ways, and that there are different kinds of consent.
But it’s not just about consent in the bedroom.
So much sexual assault happens in public places — at bars, clubs, on the street, in a restaurant; anywhere, really. You can see it happening virtually anywhere.
And unfortunately, not a lot of people do anything about it.
What do you do when you see someone being groped on the bus, or anywhere else? If you say something, thank you.
Bystanders need to do something, too.
Because otherwise, telling ourselves it’s not our place to get involved, we accept that kind of behaviour. And by doing that, we really are not helping. We’re saying, “Oh, well, that’s a warning sign, but I’m not going to do anything about it.”
We are saying that when someone is sexually assaulted, we will not protect them.
You might say we are encouraging that behaviour by not saying anything, because we won’t admit that it’s a problem.
We’re practically blind to it, because it happens so much.
So “rape culture” is also about what bystanders do, too — not just an attacker and victim.
And I know that there is fear involved for bystanders a lot of the time — fair enough.
But that’s only because it’s not usually more than one person who stands up. What would happen if those who sexually assaulted people knew that if they dared to touch that person inappropriately, EVERYONE around them would step up?
Yes, education of consent needs to be more consistent and just generally better. But we need to stop accepting sexual assault in our day-to-day lives as well.
Because right now, I’m not sure if rape culture exists. Sometimes… it really seems like it does.
Does rape culture exist? You tell me.
You may also like:
• It Wasn’t Really Rape: How I Realized I Was Sexually Assaulted
• Consent: You Didn’t Get It From Me
• “Happy Thanksgiving! Pass the sexual harassment, please.”
• A Guy’s Guide to Feminism: 8 Things Women Are Thinking When You Approach Them in the Club