RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, wrote a letter to a new White House task force charged with creating a plan to reduce rape on college campuses. The letter includes what seems to me to be a strikingly bad piece of advice.
In 16 pages of recommendations, RAINN urged the task focus to remain focused on the true cause of the problem. “In the last few years, there has been an unfortunate trend towards blaming “rape culture” for the extensive problem of sexual violence on campuses. While it is helpful to point out the systemic barriers to addressing the problem, it is important to not 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,” said the letter to the task force from RAINN’s president, Scott Berkowitz, and vice president for public policy, Rebecca O’Connor.
Nobody blames rape culture in the sense of thinking rape culture does the raping. Nobody needs to be told it’s individual people who do the raping. But what motivates them to do that, besides just wanting to fuck someone? What motivates them to do it and encourages them to think it’s ok and that they’ll get away with it? What fails to demotivate them? What is it that fails to cause them to prefer not to do that to their fellow students, their fellow humans? What is it that blocks what should be a fairly normal inhibition on assaulting people?
This phrase for instance doesn’t even make sense – “Rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions” – how can conscious decisions not be caused by (among other things) cultural factors? They can’t. People aren’t raised by wolves. Everything we do is caused by cultural factors (along with other factors), because we are in culture, and we can’t get out of it. We’re in culture the way fish are in water. Conscious decisions are shaped by the culture we make them in.
And if RAINN really thinks that culture has no bearing on ideas about women and men, gender and equality, power and hierarchy, who gets to take and who gets to get taken, and the conscious decisions that are influenced by all that – well then RAINN is in the wrong line of work.