What is “Rape Culture”?

One major concept feminists talk about is Rape Culture. This concept examines how our society treats the victims and criminals of rape, as well as evaluates how our judicial system holds rapists accountable, and even looks for the possible psychological motivations of the guilty parties. There are examples of Rape Culture all around us, some of which I point out in the following essay…I hope this is helpful and will post all of my sources so you can check it for yourself!

7 April 2014

Rape Culture: Fact or Fiction?

Everyone makes mistakes. Person A makes the mistake to drink too much, and blacks out for a night. Person B and Person C make the mistake of raping someone and giving consent for photos and video of the rape to be taken. When comparing the three, who would you say made the greater mistake? Though this choice seems easy, the consequences that followed this very real scenario were not at all as black-and-white. In the summer of 2012, a young, sixteen year-old girl was video taped and photographed while she was raped one night in Steubenville, Ohio, only finding out about her assault from her peers and social media. In addition to her horror and humiliation, the victim received harassment and death threats because she reported the young men to the police. When this case reached community and national attention for its horrifying crime, her aggressors received sympathy and support from the community, with many citizens mourning their lost sports careers instead of mourning with the victim and her family. As their sentence was given, a reporter from CNN even went as far as describing it “extremely hard to watch as they [the guilty rapists] believed their lives fell apart.” (Edwards). This reaction from the Steubenville community after the infamous case went to trial has astounded many, leaving numerous questions in its 119wake. Why would teenagers spread evidence of rape around and encourage it, rather than seek justice for it? Why do the attackers have the attention and sympathizes of the media and community? Where did this shocking behavior come from? This persecution of victims and pity for aggressors suggests that we live in a “rape culture”, where violence toward women is tolerated, if not encouraged.

One important aspect of our culture that endorses tolerance for sexual violence is the failure of our judicial system to convict sex offenders. Recent statistics show that only three percent of rapists spend a day in jail (RAINN). With this kind of so-called justice, the chances of victims coming forward with their assault diminish. Other reasons for such hesitance can also be attributed to

deliberate underreporting by law enforcement, universities, and other institutions like religious entities to protect their reputation or to avoid the extra work and time required to deal with cases; the classifying of sexual assault is sometimes done inaccurately because a belief in rape myths dismisses the assault as a crime. (Smith 200).

Even when brought to court, the accused often face “soft” penalties. Last year a Montana high school teacher spent only one month in prison for raping a fourteen year-old student who later committed suicide (Smith). At college campuses, the penalties are even lighter; “campus justice has numerous drawbacks. The most serious punishment for assailants is expulsion; and many who have been found guilty receive lighter sentences, such as community service or probation.” (Smith 33). To fix this so-called resolution to rape, some argue that defining the problem as a product of the feminist term “rape culture” is doing reform advocates zero favors. Such arguments discredit rape culture, claiming, “rape law reform shows that the emphasis on engaging community partners—especially law enforcement—is a primary reason why advocates distance themselves from feminism.” (Corrigan 254). This statement, suggesting that feminist ideas like rape culture actually hurts rape law reform, was from a staff member at a Rape Crisis Center funded by the state government. Beliefs like these only prove how our justice system is more interested in protecting itself from “threating” social groups like feminists than the welfare of the victims. The usual feelings of fear, shame rape-culture-4and embarrassment that accompany rape are no match for the feelings both victims and unaffected citizens possess when our system of justice is failing them. In a culture that resolves rape with a “slap on the wrist” mentality, it is no wonder that sexual violence continues to happen in horrifying numbers.

Another contributor to the United States’ tolerance of violence lies within our society’s media: whether it is music, movies, social media, or advertisement, these messages are laced with the objectification of women and glorification of sexually violent men. From the time they can crawl, children are exposed to TV and the visual representations of what we consider normal in our culture. They grow up with these images that transform into ideals about what is acceptable in society. Using the old adage that sex sells, “capitalism is allowed to replicate the rape culture by selling it maniacally as sex…and the reality of rape [is] pushed far into the subconscious of youthful viewers.” (Pearson). When the idea that a person can be treated as an object for pleasure becomes familiar for youth, they grow up with insensitivity to consent and what the boundaries are between a crime and society’s twisted version of passion. This preserves common misconceptions and myths about rape, like the common “it’s every woman’s fantasy” and “no means yes”: “Rape myths are learned and perpetuated by the general culture, but especially the media: in advertisements, television shows, films, and music videos” (Smith 174). This cycle will continue unless the media is corrected. A popular argument against this idea of media promoting a rape culture attacks the generalization of men, saying, “If patriarchy were the cause of intimate partner violence, then all men would commit violence against women.” (Tully 10). When considering the over all cultural implications of sexual objectification, though, it is reasonable to say that most acts of violence begin with seeing the victim and their body as an object, rather than a subject with intellectual capabilities and emotions. If we could stop the confusion between media sexual possession and violent sexual possession, instances of consensual misunderstandings would lessen across the country. In the end, the way we tolerate objectification in our media becomes a gateway for tolerance of other injustices of women, including violence.

The final key ingredient that condones our society’s tolerance of rape and sexual assault is rape prevention programs. Often these programs focus on the victim or potential victim instead of the actual attacker. Even when stories of rape are covered, the public asks what the victim was doing, wearing, and why “they were out at that time of night”, disregarding reasons why the aggressor attacked them. In her article “Rape Culture on Campus”, Kristen Bain describes these prevention programs by saying, “it puts the responsibility on the victim and doesn’t actually address the root of the problem at the heart of rape culture: why men rape. The issues we want to examine are those of power and control.” Even after the crime happens, the focus continues to be on the defensive skills of the victim, not the intent or goal of the attacker. “ ‘Why didn’t you fight?’ said Beth Smaw, coordinator of the YWCA Rape Crisis Center of Cobb County, Ga. …  ‘We don’t ask these same questions of people who are held up at gunpoint.’” (“‘Rape Culture’ Puts A Burden On Women, Experts Say”). As our society transfers the role of responsibility from the attacker to the victim, the likelihood of the criminal to get away with it increases and the likelihood of the victim to report the crime decreases, accomplishing nothing in terms of preventing rape. However, some argue that to put more responsibility on the male attackers, does nothing to prevent rape either. “Sexual coercion by men reflects a sex-specific, species-typical psychological adaptation to rape: Men have certain psychological traits that evolved by natural selection specifically in the context of coercive sex and made rape adaptive during human evolution.” (Thornhill 363). This suggests that men have a biological disposition to rape, neglecting all forms of independent thought and free will among the entire gender. If society were to cater to these ideas of an evolutionary excuse for rape, what will limit the706_359452810839793_971492720_n amount of excuses for rape? Beliefs like these go back to the common belief that “boys will be boys”, further increasing the gap between how each gender is treated. The more we excuse the behaviors of violent men the more we will continue to push the responsibility on women not to be raped. Until we reform the way we teach about what constitutes rape and how to prevent it, our current education will continue to be counter-productive and produce encouragement for sexual violence.

By examining these three aspects of our society, it is not a stretch to say that our society is immersed in a rape culture. Through our justice system, media, and education about rape prevention, we create an environment for tolerance. The repercussions of this tolerance are so grave that if a reform does not take place, chaos can ensue. The very feeling of safety for each person will hang in jeopardy, and fear will grip the conscience of every man, woman, and child. If victims of rape continue to be held responsible for the crimes committed against them, our country can turn toward the practices of some Middle Eastern countries where victims are imprisoned. Personal freedoms of women such as whom they interact with, how they dress, and when their curfew is, may be taken away in the name of “protection”. In the end, this rape culture bleeds into the even bigger problem of gender inequality and the patriarchal rule over the United States. What can start as blaming women for being raped can end with blaming women for a plethora of other issues completely out of their control. On the opposite spectrum, men will never be held accountable from their behavior and cease to have any grasp on ethics or self-awareness. Perhaps different genders will thought of the same way that different races were thought of, in that each are a separate species with one the superior and one the subordinate. Without acknowledgment of these negative behaviors in our culture, we will never be capable of a safer, more equal society.

Works Cited

Bain, Kristen. “Rape Culture on Campus.” Off Our Backs Sep 2002: 26-7. ProQuest.    Web. 22 Apr. 2014.

In this book Kristen Bain gives her personal opinions about why rape culture exists at universities, listing a number of examples of why their systems are in need of reform.

Corrigan, Rose. Up Against A Wall : Rape Reform And The Failure Of Success. New         York: NYU Press, 2013. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 22 Apr. 2014.

This book talks about the changes rape laws have gone through in this country, as well as the changes taking place in Rape Crisis Centers. In many interviews with activists and employees of RCCs, Rose Corrigan asks about the relationship between these reforms and the feminism movements for rape law reforms.

Edwards, David. “CNN Grieves That Guilty Verdict Ruined ‘promising’ Lives of           Steubenville Rapists | The Raw Story.” CNN Grieves That Guilty Verdict Ruined ‘promising’ Lives of Steubenville Rapists | The Raw Story. Raw Story Media, 17 Mar. 2013. Web. 23 Apr. 2014. http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/03/17/cnn-grieves-that-guilty-verdict-ruined-promising-lives-of-steubenville-rapists/ 

This article analyzes the CNN coverage of the Steubenville trial and has a video of the coverage available to readers. For this paper, it gives a relevant example of how the media can play a role in rape culture.

Pearson, Alyn. “Rape Culture: Media and Message.” Off Our Backs Aug 2000: 13. ProQuest. Web. 21 Apr. 2014.

In her piece, Alyn Pearson talks about the relationship between the media and rape culture. She particularly looks at how violence in these ads and how the casual portrayal of violence in the media encourages a rape culture in which violence against women is tolerated because their primary role in the media is sexual objects for men to ogle.

RAINN. “Reporting Rates | RAINN | Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.”  Reporting Rates | RAINN | Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. N.p., 2009. Web. 21 Apr. 2014. https://www.rainn.org/statistics 

This statistic used from the Rape, Abuse and Incest Network provides useful information about how many rapists are actually reprimanded in the U.S. for their crime(s).

“`Rape Culture’ Puts Burden on Women, Experts Say.” St. Petersburg Times: 0. Jan 13 1989. ProQuest. Web. 22 Apr. 2014

This article analyzes how society holds women accountable the violence that can sometimes ensue during relationships. Using multiple examples including interviews with psychologists and Rape Crisis Center employees, it discovers how deeply our society is entrenched in a cycle of victim blaming.

Smith, Karen. “Montana Appeals Former Teacher’s One-month Sentence for Rape of  Teen.” CNN. Cable News Network, 30 Nov. 2013. Web. 21 Apr. 2014. http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/30/justice/montana-rape-30-day-sentence/

This article brings up a recent social event related to rape culture that demonstrates how light the punishment can be for a crime as serious as rape, no matter the consequences the crime had to the victim.

Smith, Merril D. Encyclopedia Of Rape. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2004. eBook Community College Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 21 Apr. 2014.

Merril Smith’s book covers a variety of topics related to rape including rape culture, rape crimes, rape laws, etc. Her book offers useful insight to the history of rape in the United States, as well as the many facets of violence.

Thornhill, Randy, and Nancy Wilmsen Thornhill. The Evolutionary Psychology of  Men’s Coercive Sexuality, Behavior, and Brain Sciences 15, p. 363-75. June 1992. Cambridge University Press. 19 May 2011. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.

This book looks at the biological and evolutional argument about men’s behaviors within their sexuality. In its discussion about rape, there is many ideas about why the biological aggression men possess translates into sexual violence, as well as viewpoints that see rape as merely a biological issue, not a social one.

Tully, Kaitlin Elizabeth. “Objectification of Women and Intimate Partner Violence in Homosocial Groups.” Order No. 3517367 Alliant International University, 2012. Ann Arbor: ProQuest. Web. 22 Apr. 2014.

Kaitlin Tully’s dissertation examines intimate partner violence and sexual violence in our society and possible causes for such high rates of these causes. When she dives into sexual education and how violence between the genders is perceived in our culture, she offers many of the popular arguments against the connection between violence and cultural socialization/education.


Other Great Articles/Websites:










I think it is important to look at not only the opinions of those who agree with you, but also the people who do not. So furthermore, this article shows the anti-rape culture perspective:


Feel free to comment if you have any feedback, additional resources, or just general thoughts to share…Rape Culture is real, and the more people who become aware of that, the faster we can put it to an end.

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