Rape culture is defined as “a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse” by the Oxford Dictionary. Rape culture isn’t a society that says rape is fine, rather it’s a society that minimizes rape – with things like victim blaming, denying the prevalence of sexual harassment (#MeToo, anybody?), and objectification. Here are some examples.
Our society likes to pretend that rape isn’t a huge and widespread problem; that it’s just a few bad eggs rather than a systemic disease. #NotAllMen was a perfect example of this – instead of listening to the outpouring of sexual assault stories and saying ‘how can I help?’ many men focused on vindication: ‘it wasn’t me!’ and ‘only some men do that’.
We think rape is so abhorrent that it’s often easier for us to distrust rape victims and put the responsibility of the crime on them (by suggesting, for example, that they shouldn’t have been in x place, that they should have screamed louder, or that they shouldn’t have consumed any alcohol) than admit that lots of members of our society do terrible things – like rape. There’s often more outrage over people falsely accusing others of rape than over people actually committing rape.
We minimize rape and call it ‘nonconsensual intercourse‘ – because ‘rape’ sounds too harsh and horrible. Well, it sounds that way because it is. We don’t need to call it by an easier-to-digest name, we don’t need to suggest that people’s experiences of being sexually assaulted weren’t *actual* assault, and we most certainly don’t need to consider what they were wearing. What we do need to do is listen to and trust victims, place the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrator, and not accept sexual assault as a part of life.
And just because we convict some rapists, doesn’t mean that rape culture doesn’t exist. Just because feminism is now stronger than it has ever been, doesn’t mean that that rape culture doesn’t exist. And, especially, just because the #MeToo movement received so much support, doesn’t mean that rape culture doesn’t exist – in fact the #MeToo movement proves just how normalized and accepted rape and sexual harassment are (if such things are so ubiquitous that hundreds of thousands of people adopted and identified with the hashtag where they had previously kept quiet, that suggests a culture of siding with the perpetrator, no?).
People who don’t believe in rape culture always say things along the lines of “but I don’t condone rape, convicted rapists should be punished to the full extent of the law”. Such a small percentage of rapes are reported, let alone result in a conviction. And victims aren’t not reporting assaults because they can’t be bothered; they aren’t reporting them because they are worried that they might not be believed, that they might be blamed, that they may be dragged through the mud, that a conviction might result in a six month jail term out of a possible 14 years (Brock Turner).
Rape culture is a lot like racism; it’s not about going around shouting “rape is okay and I hate black people”. Our society is not a friendly place for victims of rape. And until we dismantle rape culture and make it one, rape will continue and rapists will get away with it. The #MeToo movement and subsequent downfall of some perpetrators was a good start, let’s continue.