The Evolution of Rape: Change and continuity in Rape Culture overtime

By: Leigh Cook

Since the beginning of time, Rape Culture has existed to endorse rape as a normality and a part of society, often with disregard to the emotional and physiological effects that rape instills.  In the ancient and biblical eras, blame was primarily placed on victims of rape, who were accused of adultery.  This accusation is still prevalent today, especially in many extremist cultures.  Although rape has always been rampant in warfare, it is arguable that the act was not explicitly viewed as a crime until World War I, when rape was publicized as a means of propaganda and manipulation.

In 1975 Susan Brownmiller published Against Our Will, a book that changed many attitudes and perspectives regarding rape. Brownmiller endorsed and provided evidence for the concept that rape is not the fault of the victim.  Her book was a milestone among the artifacts of the 20th century that challenged and defined Rape Culture.

Is the definition of rape still the same?

Rape Culture is so ingrained in society that even the laws that define rape promote it.  In the advent of Against Our Will, rape was defined in the United States as “forcible perpetration of an act of sexual intercourse on the body of a woman not one’s wife.”  The former definition does not extend far enough to even protect women in marital affairs involving instances of rape or sexual abuse. Furthermore, this definition specifies gender roles within rape scenarios, leading to inaccurate assumptions.

Since then, the definition of rape has been revised many times and has varied among states.  Rape is currently defined as “the commission of unlawful sexual intercourse or unlawful sexual intrusion.”  The definition no longer specifies the gender of the victim or the perpetrator and eliminates the premonition that people are entitled to having intercourse with their spouses without their consent.

Rape is always a threat, victims are always defenseless

In most cases, the perpetrator is bigger than, stronger than and physically overpowering of the rape victim.  These criteria often lead to the assumption that males are conventionally the perpetrators and victims are typically females.  Most statistics show that this is usually the case, but the abundance of cases in which the roles are reversed stands as proof that any person can take advantage of someone else and anyone may also be taken advantage of.

Regardless of gender, the perpetrator always overpowers the victim in a rape situation.  If a victim makes every attempt to prevent the assailant from molesting him or her, they may still be taken complete advantage of.  Furthermore, to say that rape is the fault of the victim is never accurate.  Exceptions to such cases may occur if there is a misunderstanding between the perpetrator and the victim, but in nearly every case the fault is attributed to the assailant alone.

The term “slut shaming” has been used to describe females–or males, in some cases–that behave or dress in a revealing way, deeming them “sluts,” among other things.  The idea is that when girls dress provocatively they become potential victims and more obvious targets for rape or sexual abuse.  The term has received major backlash from women’s rights activists, feminists and the average woman and person.  In 2011, a transnational movement coined the “SlutWalk” was founded in Toronto to fight Rape Culture and the concept that dressing a certain way increases the probability of rape and therefore puts victims at fault.

Dressing a certain way should certainly not make a victim guilty of rape.  However, women who are consciously dressed in a provocative way should be aware of the increased likelihood of being raped or sexually abused.  It is unfortunate that women in particular should be more cautious at night and in secluded areas, but the reality is that rape is more likely when people dress a certain way or are in certain places at certain times.  It is therefore unadvisable to run at night or walk in areas that are less populated or deemed dangerous.  To a certain extent, the same concept applies to women in the military.  Rape in the military is a common occurrence and a constant threat to enlisted females.  While there should be a more effective and fair way to deal with cases of sexual abuse, the reality of the situation is that women are more susceptible to being raped in the military and should be aware of it when they are drafted.

According to Brownmiller, subjugating women for the way they dress and behave implies that:

1. A woman alone probably won’t be able to defend herself.  Another women who might possibly come to her aid will be of no use whatsoever.

2. Despite the fact that it is men who are the rapists, a woman’s ultimate security lies in being accompanied by men at all times.

3. A woman who claims to value her sexual integrity cannot expect the same amount of freedom and independence that men routinely enjoy…

4. In the exercise of rational caution, a woman should engage in an amazing amount of pretense…

What Brownmiller would like to believe, in this context, is that none of these things should be true or expected of women. However, the harsh reality of Rape Culture forces women to take such precautions and live a certain way.  It is true that women and other rape victims are unable to defend themselves in many situations, just as it is true that women should “engage in an amazing amount of pretense” if they do value their sexual integrity.  Rape Culture has forced women to behave a certain way and take these precautions, and it would therefore be unwise for them to disregard such practices.


We must ask ourselves whether Rape Culture has really seen a significant change overtime, and then determine how we can eliminate the disparities and demeaning practices that Rape Culture afflicts upon society.  Ultimately, the goal must be to discourage Rape Culture in its entirety and enhance the perceptions of men and women alike.

Overtime there have been many achievements regarding the prevention of rape and sexual abuse, including the revision of the definition of rape, the establishment of Rape Crisis Centers and Hotlines and the overall encouragement to seek help.  It is important to make rape a speakable crime, not only by encouraging the victims to speak out but also by creating an environment that is nurturing, compassionate and anything but accusatory.

The two most influential factors that can assist in the demise of Rape Culture are education and legislation.  Rape stems from a natural urge, sometimes with other underlying objectives, but is most often carried through with instant gratification in mind. Preventing and quelling these urges is a measure of character and moral standards.  Potential perpetrators must be able to empathize with their victims in order to overcome their urges.  Character education is important when it comes to teaching people not to rape.  Implementing character education as a whole is an entirely different matter, but including education regarding rape and sexual abuse is a vital strategy for the prevention of these crimes.

One of the harder solutions to prevention is the implementation of effective legislation.  There exist multitudes of politicians who have made insensitive comments and expressed one-sided views about rape, attributing the fault to women and victims or making false claims about victims’ ability to defend themselves.  However, legislatures and politicians possess the authority to change laws and affect the way the judicial system deals with perpetrators and victims.  As civilians, we must be active in manipulating legislation to change the way rape is dealt with.  It is important for women to be able to serve in the military without feeling oppressed or having to deal with sexual abuse and molestation, which also calls for education and legislation.  As individuals, every person can spread awareness and educate others about Rape Culture and how it warps the standpoints and perspectives of everyone.

To get in contact with Leigh email her at

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