Rape Culture: It’s how survivors have to follow “I was raped again” with “Did you know if it happens to you once, it’s more likely to happen again?” and “Trauma has an impact on the brain that can contribute to these situations occurring again” even to friends who already know that from experience. It’s how perpetrators say that “it’s just the tip” and that you put yourself in that situation anyways and asked for it. It’s how we ask how someone could “put themselves in that situation” but not how men can assault women and feel that it’s okay. It’s how perpetrators don’t see it as rape if the survivor “liked it”, despite the fact that what the body does is not always what the mind thinks -- similar to tickling, the person being tickled may appear to enjoy the experience because they’re laughing, but tickling is indeed an unpleasant experience in which laughing is uncontrollable. ’ Lastly, rape culture is how everyone else’s opinion is more important than that of the survivor’s, despite the fact these stories belong to them.
Rape culture is the stigmas that lead survivors into curling themselves into a ball, afraid to tell anyone out of fear of judgement or blame. It’s the words they remember when they finally manage to fall asleep at night. It’s the cold chills electrifying their bodies when they walk on sidewalks and their phone rings with messages; it’s when they suddenly become claustrophobic in rooms that are nearly empty and their own. It’s the words some of us will speak, that our friends will speak, and that we will hear.
Before I go further into this article, I want to clarify: not all males are rapists, not all rapists are male. But, most rapists are male. While survivors are not solely women, they are more often than not women. Regardless, respect is required by everyone in every situation. Respect doesn’t require power, it doesn’t coerce, and it doesn’t place guilt.
Yet many women don’t feel the respect and safety they deserve. We constantly tell our friends, our daughters, and our sisters to “be safe” and “don’t go into his room” and “he only wants one thing”. We give them all kinds of instruments -- whistles, pepper spray -- claiming that sometimes, danger is inevitable. Nothing we can do can stop it. Yet when these sexual assaults do occur because the survivor was indeed physically and emotionally unable to stop it -- of no fault of their own -- or couldn’t have done anything else to protect themselves, we blame them. We revictimize the victim, which correlates with higher risk for PTSD. We say “Well, even though your skirt was ‘long enough’, and you didn’t drink, and you had your pepper spray, you shouldn’t have gone out anyways. Don’t you know that boys at parties are unsafe and drunk and only want one thing?”
So we warn the girls and then blame them anyways. But where do the guys come in? The ones who more often than not are the perpetrators of such a violent crime? often than not, perpetrators, of such a violent crime? They’re being applauded by their friends on how many girls they’ve slept with and groped and made out with. Society deems their acts of violence as permissible and acceptable because “boys will be boys”, after all, right? No, not at all. Gender stereotypical and gender essentialist statements such as these encourage and allow violence. Furthermore, guys can safely go on dates without their parents having to meet their date first. Guys can drink freely and safely because most likely, they truly are as safe as they can be, almost regardless of what they do. In summary, we’re encouraging the boys to do whatever they want to whomever they want, then telling the girls to overprotect themselves while we blame them if one mere piece of clothing or statement was “wrong” or “dumb” or “asking for it”. Through every comment, slap on the back, and blaming word, we’re promoting rape culture. In a world in which this is so common, such everyday language, what can we do to stop it?
Rape culture cultivates effects and chains of events that impact survivors more intensely than we realize. For example, by blaming them, yelling at them, getting mad, or refusing to validate their experience, many survivors feel unable to ask for help, or that if they deserved what happened to them, they don’t deserve help. As a result, they may not get rape kits that can save them from getting STDs or getting pregnant. They may not go to therapy. They invalidate their situation yet feel cognitive dissonance once they identify feelings of grief and betrayal. Clearly, these problems epitomize the last thing survivors need after going through such a deep trauma. Additionally, they may develop Eating Disorders, Depression, Anxiety, Borderline Personality Disorder, and PTSD, among others. Classified as severe enough to cause an impact on daily living, and sometimes even being fatal, mental disorders are no joke. Nearly every day, survivors may feel scared, paranoid, worthless, and even suicidal. Often times, those of us not dealing with these issues take our mental health for granted, not realizing how much we have compared to those with mental health problems, who miss work and pay, struggle with class assignments, suffer a loss of sleep, et cetera. When one engages with a survivor in the rape culture world, they may lose the relationship they had. These effects differ in every survivor -- in timing, in severity, in which specific effects -- but all are worth validation nonetheless.
As friends of victims, we must be supportive, be empathetic, be compassionate, be reassuring. We can’t blame, judge, or take away their feelings of autonomy. As friends of females and of males, It never hurts to continue to take precautions, watch each other’s backs, encourage our friends to respect others’ wishes, and simply treat people as we want to be treated. As friends of males, or any perpetrators in general, we can talk about consent and not pat them on the back after they “have sex” with a girl or play games that involve hooking up with as many girls as possible. As groups and as individuals, we can bring awareness: post statistics and definitions on Facebook, share our stories, support other’s stories, and educate ourselves. We can attend events and be involved in Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April. We can respectfully correct other people and organizations when they promote rape culture through their wording. We can believe survivors and love them always.
In her presentation at UNC-Chapel Hill for SAAM, Youtuber and Activist Laci Green did a great job crushing rape culture. As a group, we discussed how the respectable, powerful, and admirable men we know don’t engage in violence but treat women well, are caring and compassionate, and work to simply be decent people. We need to remind perpetrators of this. We also need to clarify the consequences that instigating violence has on both the survivor -- mental disorders, distress, loss of relationships, feelings of danger -- and the perpetrator -- potential jail time, suspension from school, thousands of dollars spent on lawyers, and an intimidating process of interviewing with police. We need to teach others what both sexual assault and consent mean.
In a study done at the University of North Dakota, researchers discovered that a majority of male participants said they “had never raped a woman” but then answered questions about their sexual acts that were, indeed, non consensual. Disturbingly, almost “a third of the men (31.7 percent) said that in a consequence-free situation, they’d force a woman to have sexual intercourse, while 13.6 percent said they would rape a woman.” Ultimately, by analyzing these situations, I propose we crush rape culture through implementing three components: education, empathetic support, and awareness.