“Rape culture” refers to the aspects of society that normalize rape as something that “just happens” rather than something that we can all do something about. Rape culture manifests through images, language, jokes, laws, social expectations, TV, music, advertising, film—basically in any platform in which ideas are expressed, rape culture can be found.
Some of you may be wondering why you should care if this phenomenon is so rampant; just because we are exposed to certain attitudes and behaviors does not mean that we will adopt them for ourselves. The thing is, ideas about social norms are swapped between consumed culture and the persons living within a society.
Consider how many times we hear that a woman should just “expect” sexual violence for acting or dressing a certain way, drinking or taking a particular route home.
Consider the recent ruling by a Washington, D.C., Superior Court judge, Julia McKenna, that allowed a man arrested for “up skirting,” (taking photos of undergarments and private parts from beneath skirts, often without the woman noticing) to get away without being found guilty of anything. According to McKenna, women should not dress in a way that may leave them vulnerable to voyeurism and women cannot reasonably expect privacy in public. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals released essentially the same ruling last month.
It is a waste of energy at the expense of the humanity of an already-traumatized person to interrogate, bully or belittle victims over what they did that could have possibly contributed to their sexual assault.
Questions ought to be aimed at the perpetrator, the person actually responsible for attacking another human being. Coincidentally, the attitude of rape culture also allows for persons who do not fit common stereotypes about attackers to get away because more focus is on the victim than on them.
A lot of people, at least in America, like to pretend that we live in a world where gender equality has been reached. Oddly enough, none of my guy friends plan their running routines around creepy neighbors, sketchy vehicles, when the sun goes down or the amount of available lighting in attempts to avoid sexual assault. Furthermore, all of this is pretty much expected of me. Women should be able to move as freely as men without having to meet extra criteria in order to not be raped. We should not pay some extra price simply for being biologically female.
Now, men are often victims of sexual assault as well, but the patriarchy often has an especially gross set of questions regarding these victims’ sexualities, sometimes demonizing their orientation or representation of orientation. And while it is important to represent the minority, men, in this culture, it is also important to point out that one in five women in America has experienced sexual assault or attempted sexual assault.
We cannot ignore something that affects such a large portion of the population. We cannot, in sound logic, blame the person who has been attacked in these situations. To do so states that the bodies of victims are inherently deserving of violence unless they abide by a particular set of guidelines. This takes away a degree of bodily autonomy, the ownership of a person’s body.
To say that society can tell a person what to do with her body, “or else,” is to say that society, particularly rapists, have a say in what should be done with the bodies of others.
Could you imagine an offender actually saying that in court, that what could be expected of them—she was just so drunk and alone and attractive? If victim blaming is logical, so is that line of defense, and yet hearing the victim blaming is so commonplace.
Amber Richards is a graduate student in post-secondary and adult education.