“Rape culture” is one of those phrases that make anti-feminists like Peter Boghossian, Christina Hoff Sommers, and Godless Mom shit their pants in anger. A few years ago, for example, Caroline Kichens wrote an op-ed for Time magazine saying it’s time to “end rape culture hysteria.” She wrote:
Rape is a horrific crime, and rapists are despised. We have strict laws that Americans want to see enforced. Though rape is certainly a serious problem, there’s no evidence that it’s considered a cultural norm. Twenty-first century America does not have a rape culture; what we have is an out-of-control lobby leading the public and our educational and political leaders down the wrong path. Rape-culture theory is doing little to help victims, but its power to poison the minds of young women and lead to hostile environments for innocent males is immense.
To which Zerlina Maxwell responded in Time magazine a few days later:
Is 1 in 5 American women surviving rape or attempted rape considered a cultural norm? Is 1 in 6 men being abused before the age of 18 a cultural norm? These statistics are not just shocking, they represent real people. Yet, these millions of survivors and allies don’t raise their collective voices to educate America about our culture of rape because of fear. Rape culture is a real and serious, and we need to talk about it. Simply put, feminists want equality for everyone and that begins with physical safety.
Perhaps criticisms of the concept of rape culture are hung up on the “culture” part. Like Kitchens, they think of rape is an individual action rather than an idea that’s embedded into our collection consciousness. Maybe I’ve giving critics too much benefit of the doubt, but hopefully this brief introduction can clear some things up.
First, Marshal University’s Women’s Center defines rape culture as “an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture.” Examples include blaming the victim, making excuses for rape, claiming that “real men” don’t get raped, and tolerating rape jokes. In a nutshell, rape culture is what happens when you say “Rape is bad” on the surface, but then either don’t take rape accusations seriously or say women dressing a certain way are “asking for it.”
For example, in 2011 attorney Tamara Holder and Christian singer (and abstinence only advocate) Rebecca St. James appeared on Sean Hannity’s show to talk about Slut Walks. Hannity began the discussion by clarifying that no one deserves to be raped, to which both women agreed. However, half way through the discussion, St. James said:
I think there has to be responsibility though for what a woman is wearing. When a woman is dressing in an immodest way, in a proactive way, she’s got to think about what is she saying by her dress? They’re asking for sex. They’re asking for sex if they’re dressed immodestly.
In other words, “I’m not saying she deserved it, but she deserved it.”
Another more recent example is Bingham County, Idaho, Sherrif Craig Rowland saying back in March that his state had no need for rape kits because “the majority of our rapes that are called in, are actually consensual sex.” I don’t know about Rowland’s district, but according to Violence Against Women (VAW), 2% – 10% of reported sexual assault accusations are proven false. And by “proven false,” VAW means there has been “physical evidence and/or statements from credible witnesses that contradict key aspects of a victim’s account.” The study also includes FBI guidelines on factors that do not count as a false accusation, which include:
• A case in which the victim decides not to cooperate with investigators. Victims make such decisions for many reasons (Jordan, 2004; Lea et al., 2003 ).
• A case in which investigators decide that there is insufficient evidence to proceed toward a prosecution. Rape cases, particularly nonstranger cases, are very difficult to investigate and prosecute, and many investigations are aborted because of these difficulties and because of the perception that successful prosecution is unlikely (Clark & Lewis, 1977; Frazier & Haney, 1996; Frohmann, 1991; Spohn, Beichner, & Davis-Frenzel, 2001).
• A case in which the victim appears to make inconsistent statements, or even lies about certain aspects of the incident. Traumatized individuals tend to recall events in a fragmented fashion, which makes apparent inconsistencies likely (Halligan, Michael, Clark, & Ehlers, 2003); victims may well try to hide certain facts, for example, use of an illegal drug or a particularly humiliating act they suffered—out of fear that they will be treated with suspicion or simply because of the intense shame they experience (Jordan, 2004).
• A case in which a victim makes a delayed report of the incident or in which a victim was extremely intoxicated. Delayed reporting is extremely common in rape cases (National Victim Center and the Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center, 1992), and there is evidence that intoxicated individuals are at increased risk of being targeted by sexual predators (Abbey, Zawackia, Buck, Clinton, & McAuslan, 2004; Macy, Nurius, & Norris, 2007; Ullman, 2003).
It’s this last factor that brings up the sexual assault allegations against Michael Shermer in 2014. Now I want to state for the record that I don’t know either Shermer or the alleged victims, so I’m not saying he did it. All I know is what I read online. However, I do think it’s worth pointing out how Richard Dawkins dismissed one of the accusers’ story because she was drunk during the alleged assault. I’m not a law student, so I don’t know if saying you were intoxicated during an alleged assault holds any water in court, but even if she was drunk, it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. In fact, to automatically dismiss someone’s story because they were drunk at the time is part of rape culture.
So what can we do to stop this? Here are some tips from the Women’s Center of Marshall University:
Avoid using language that objectifies or degrades women
Speak out if you hear someone else making an offensive joke or trivializing rape
If a friend says she has been raped, take her seriously and be supportive
Think critically about the media’s messages about women, men, relationships, and violence
Be respectful of others’ physical space even in casual situations
Always communicate with sexual partners and do not assume consent
Define your own manhood or womanhood. Do not let stereotypes shape your actions.
Get involved! Join a student or community group working to end violence against women.
As I said earlier, this is just a brief introduction to rape culture. There are a lot of statistics and data that I didn’t go over, so if you have any more data, feel free to leave it in the comment section below. But hopefully this blog post helps clear some stuff up.