Rape Culture

Please note, the following information might be triggering.

According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network), 54% of sexual assaults are not reported to police while 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail. More than half (54%) of all rapes of females happen before age 18, and the perpetrator is twice as likely to be an adult (National Institute of Justice, US Department of Justice). Why do victims of sexual assault resist reporting the crime? It may be because of rape culture.

Infographic by UltraViolet


Rape culture can be defined as “a culture in which dominant cultural ideologies, media images, social practices, and societal institutions support and condone sexual abuse by normalizing, trivializing and eroticizing male violence against women and blaming victims for their own abuse” (Huffington Post). Some examples of rape culture include lyrics to songs, TV shows, and jokes that either promote raping someone or make it seem like rape is an everyday occurrence that cannot be avoided (FORCE). For instance, a popular rapper named Rick Ross recently came under fire for lyrics in a song of his that seemed to imply rape. The particular lyrics in question are as follows: “Put molly all in her champagne/She ain’t even know it/I took her home and I enjoyed that/She ain’t even know it.” As one can see from reading the lyrics above, this particular song by Rick Ross may be considered to be a part of rape culture because it seems to condone rape.

Another example of rape culture, which may contribute to the low numbers of reported sexual assaults to police, is a concept called victim blaming. Victim blaming can be defined as “putting blame for the occurrence of a traumatizing event on the survivor instead of blaming the perpetrator” (Humboldt State University: Stop Rape). Instances of victim blaming include condemning a victim for what she was wearing at the time of her attack, questioning whether a victim drank too much at a party where she was raped, or brushing off the rape of a teenage girl by her teacher by claiming that she seemed mature for her age. Because fault is being placed on the victim instead of the rapist in all three examples above, each example may be considered to be a part of rape culture because each one shows how society can make excuses for rape.

There are a number of ideas on why rape culture exists, but there are four that should be mentioned. The sexual objectification of females is the first factor that plays a role in rape culture (Sexual Face of Violence: Rapists on Rape via National Criminal Justice Reference Service).  When females are treated merely as objects for sexual pleasure instead of as human beings with personalities, feelings, and opinions they are transformed into any other type of object that can be used without thought. Therefore, people who see women as just objects to have sex with will normalize, excuse, tolerate, and condone rape because in their minds nothing is wrong with it. Misogyny, which is the dislike or hatred of women and girls, is the second contributing factor to rape culture (Huffington Post). This is because people who are misogynist’s will either not care about harm being done to women or will purposely cause harm to women because they dislike them and may choose to use rape as a way to hurt them.

The belief that women and girls should be pure and innocent, meaning they are either virgins or have only one sexual partner, is the third way of explaining the occurrence of rape culture (The Rape Culture by Dianne F. Herman). The belief that females should be pure and innocent implies that only men can be sexual and that women must wait until they get married to have sex. This means that men are in control of women’s sexuality because in most cultures it is still taboo for a woman to ask a man to marry her. For those that disapprove of women who have sex outside of marriage or who have more than one sexual partner, rape is sometimes seen as a worthy punishment for being too promiscuous. The fear of becoming a victim of rape is the final way of accounting for the existence of rape culture. If one fears that he or she may become a victim of rape, he or she may separate him or herself from someone who has actually been raped by making excuses for what happened or by claiming that this person did something to cause their own attack. That way he or she can comfort him or herself by saying that he or she would not act the same way as this person did, and therefore would not get raped (Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness).

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  •  Hollaback!, an organization that works to end street harassment, has local chapters in 64 cities and 22 countries. Find out if there is a chapter in your area and join. If there isn’t one, start one! They have tips for how to deal with street harassment, and you can also share your story online or via their smartphone app.

  • Start noticing your own behavior. Have you ever said something or done something that may contribute to rape culture? Now that you have a better understanding of what rape culture is will you change your behavior? The next time you hear a joke about rape, for instance, instead of laughing along, ask “Why is that funny? I don’t get it.”

  • FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture  This organization, located in the Washington D.C. area, offers volunteer and internship opportunities, workshops, talks, and art projects having to do with ending rape culture.

  • SlutWalk D.C. is an annual rally and protest through Washington, D.C. aiming to stop victim blaming by confronting attitudes that victims have “asked for it” by their actions or clothing. There are also similar rallies through other major cities.

  • Ten Things to End Rape Culture
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