In 2014 Vanderbilt University student Gregory Bernstein wrote a great post on his blog. Entitled “Destroying a Rape Culture,” it was written when a Dartmouth student was raped after being mentioned by name in a “rape guide” posted online by students at the college. That “guide” was one more addition to college “rape literature,” along with the collection of rape jokes published at Miami University and the rape chants by students at Yale and Saint Mary’s.
Yet many people still deny rape culture is pervasive in our society.
I’ll borrow Bernstein’s spot-on definition of rape culture: “It isn’t a feminist narrative used to make campuses ‘treacherous places for falsely accused men’ (you can thank U.S. News and World Report for that description). Nor is it a term used to ‘aggressively paint men as dangerous and as the root of evil’ as the Wisconsin-Madison’s student newspaper put it. Rape culture is a culture in which we allow responsibility for sexual violence to be shifted from the rapist to the victim. Rape culture is a culture in which our first reaction upon learning about an alleged assault is to doubt victims, to ask what they were wearing, or what they were drinking. Rape culture is a culture in which myths and misconceptions about rape are allowed to be taught as truth.”
In her TED Talk “Your Vagina is Not a Car,” writer and public speaker Clementine Ford adds that rape culture is a society that normalizes or diminishes rape through the bombardment of images, language, laws and social attitudes. Rape is reduced to “an alcohol-fueled situation” or a bad date that the victim is blamed for, which doesn’t constitute an actual assault. When a woman in his audience didn’t enjoy his joke about rape, Australian comedian Daniel Tosh responded and was backed up by his friends: ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if five guys just came down and raped this woman right now? Wouldn’t that be hilarious?”
That’s rape culture. And it’s all over the world. In the West, it happens as illegal punishment behind the curtains. In the East it’s often legal: I remember a petition to stop a gang rape in India that would be imposed on two young girls as punishment for a crime committed by their brother. Unfortunately, it’s not an isolated or uncommon case.
Not only do they suffer physically and emotionally, carrying with them trauma and scars, but women sentenced to rape have their lives ruined because a woman is only valuable for her body and her virginity. So if someone else does something bad, there may be retaliation for you in the form of rape. If a country defeats another in war, you bet there will be rape for humiliating the defeated. Let’s not forget religious institutions, of course—take, for example, Catholic priests and Buddhist involved in scandals of sexual abuse.
It just happened in Brazil, May 2016. I received a petition demanding punishment for 30 men who gang-raped a 16-year old girl. They filmed it and posted it on social media along with horrible comments and jokes. The petition wants them brought to court and charged with attempted murder, and penalties for those who shared the video on social media. According to the petition, 11 women are raped every minute in Brazil—and that’s only in one country.
Not even the virtual world is free of rape, and women naturally are the main targets. Take RapeLay, a game where the user plays a stalker raping a mother and her two daughters—one of them underage. There’s more, though. In a brilliant article, Kat Stoeffel mentions a hacker including a rapist in Great Theft Auto in 2014, in what The Huffington Post described as “a disturbing new trend”: modifying games to rape players. That same year, Kim Correa was virtually raped by two male gamers in DayZ.
“One of them said he wanted ‘to rape my dead body,’ and then he shot me.” Correa received reproachful comments for her blog post about it. Note the victim blaming by a female player: “You were waiting for this to happen, practically seeking it out actively and now you’ve got your article to write. But by God, is it hyperbole and a half.” Another blamed Correa for making women look bad and weak; after all, “It was just a dumb joke.”
Rape culture is a culture that denies its very existence. Where women are taught to be afraid and feel unsafe. Don’t go here, don’t go there, don’t dress like that, don’t drink. Shut up or you’ll be raped.
Don’t take up space.
Rape is a joke
Boys are raised in a society that teaches them they have an entitlement to women’s bodies. That leads to sexual assault episodes such as the cases of Steubenville in Ohio and the Roast Busters in Auckland. “Boys think it’s so much their right to treat a woman’s body as they please,” says Ford, “that not only they will do it in front of all their friends, raping an unconscious woman repeatedly, but they will film it. They will actually document the evidence and put it on the internet for everyone to see what a big man they are.”
I watched the Steubenville video—the guy jokes about the rape. It reminded me of a lecture by sociologist Gail Dines. Boys have their masculinity defined by how many girls they score as opposed to their sexual integrity. They’re losing the ability to connect and feel empathy. Dines shares the account of a student whose boyfriend wanted to try erotic asphyxiation on her as he had seen in porn. She passed out. When she regained consciousness, her boyfriend wasn’t by her side: he was washing in the bathroom—couldn’t care less for her.
Guys like him are the husbands and fathers of tomorrow. Guys like him are the rulers, doctors, policemen, entrepreneurs, educators and judges of tomorrow. There’s where we stand.
I would add that rape culture is one where people are so brainwashed they’re unable to feel for rape victims. Where rape is constantly referred to as “alleged.” Where it is officially condemned but in reality dismissed as a lesser infraction since the victim usually survives. Where statistics show that one in every four women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. Most of them before the age of 24. However, data gathered by a support center in England shows that the age for female victims spans 3 to 90 years old.
So rape is normal, expected and not a big deal.
Now try convincing the rape victims with PTSD of that.
The statistics are uncertain. For one thing, only a small percentage of cases is reported, as the victims are too frightened or ashamed to speak out. There are false rape claims too, but it is safe to say the vast majority of cases are real—at least 90%, possibly up to 98% according to research. What is also a reality is that most aggressors are not strangers but people who the victims knew and trusted, and even considered to be their friends.
Those aggressors are utterly blind to the extent of the harm they cause. For them, if they force themselves upon a woman, all they’re doing is have sex. They use her for their pleasure. They can’t conceive the emotional wreckage they leave behind, scarring the victim for the rest of her life—that is, when the assault doesn’t end in the emergency room. The next day is like any other to the assailant. To the victim, it’s just the beginning of a nightmare populated with panic attacks and depression that, sometimes, can lead to suicide.
Why suicide? Because the system that rules society and institutions is not supportive of rape victims. If it were, victims wouldn’t be overwhelmed with shame. When you’re ignored, doubted and blamed for the assault you’ve suffered, when the law more often than not fails to punish the aggressor, how can you feel appreciated and safe again, how can you heal? The sad thing about rape is that victims are victimized twice, first by their assailants and then by the culture. It’s not rare for them to be bullied and socially isolated after coming forward.
Victim blaming is typical of the rape culture. In the past, when white plantation owners raped female slaves, they couldn’t hide their crime: the victims gave birth to children of mixed color. So what did the rapists do? They blamed black women and accused them of being insatiable and animalistic. It’s exactly the same recurring notion from porn that employs the stereotype of dirty nymphomaniacs to justify the abuse of women.
The 2015 documentary Hot Girls Wanted produced by Rashida Jones follows 18-year old girls seeking fame in amateur porn. Physical intimacy became so banal that young girls, for lack of better opportunities, dream of having sex on camera as a means to a better life. It’s something glamorized in our culture—and overrated. Women’s bodies are mere commodities for sale and for grabs. One of the aspiring actresses says: “Sex means nothing nowadays.”
If sex has become trivial in our culture, why wouldn’t rape?
The sexual attitude on campus
Rape is dismissed. Perpetrators and outsiders make fun of it. I just noticed that, on this single post, the word joke appeared associated with rape in several instances—it wasn’t planned. You know what else is a joke? The Oklahoma state law determining in 2016 that forced oral sex is not rape if the victim is intoxicated and unconscious.
No, we don’t live in a rape culture. God forbid anyone dare say that. It’s perfectly normal for 80 student orientation leaders to welcome 400 incoming students at Saint Mary’s with the chant “Y is for your sister, O is for oh-so-tight, U is for underage, N is for no consent.”
Now, seriously. Does it come as a surprise that we have a rape culture in reality when it’s prevalent in fiction? Don’t they say fiction imitates life? We have films, music videos, lyrics, porn, ads and books depicting rape over and over and over for titillation—and titillate it does, unfortunately, thanks to this relentless bombardment that makes it “normal.” Look at the case of three women who caught a guy drugging his date’s drink in a restaurant while she was in the restroom. She had been working with him for one year and regarded him as a good friend. Do we see a trend here to the sense of entitlement to women’s bodies?
The Glenmiur Reform Trust conducts programs of investigation into young people’s attitudes to sex. Below are quotes from real interviews with male students in both UK and US colleges and universities.
Steve: “All college girls want sex. Every night. It’s our job to provide it.”
Ron: “A girl’s drunk. So what? If she’s in your room, she asked for it.”
Jon: “All girls enjoy the sex in the end, no matter what they say at first.”
Kamran: “I must have had sex with more than 10 girls after they’ve passed out.”
Craig: “Consent? That just makes me laugh. You’re in my room to get laid, not negotiate.”
Stevo: “Drunk sex is always great sex.”
Nick: “I’ll film it all secretly and threaten to post it online if they make a fuss…”
Jonjo: “Rape? That’s a joke.”
Ray-Ray: “Read my lips. All girls want sex, all the time. Those who say otherwise are liars.”
Dashant: ” Don’t talk about consent. If the sex happened, that’s consent…”
We go back yet again to porn as the major reference to sex today that shapes our sexuality—and this is getting really old, but what can I do, it’s frigging everywhere… What do we detect in the above statements? Women objectified and regarded as things that don’t deserve any respect and should submit to men. Women regarded as insatiable nymphs. Women always enjoying unwanted sex in the end. A strong sense of entitlement to women’s bodies. Denial that sexual assault is rape. And, above all, a self-centered attitude and total lack of empathy.
Does it occur to those guys that their own girlfriends, sisters and daughters—and even their brothers and sons—may become rape victims as a result of such mentality? Can they imagine how it feels to have their body violated and hurt, sometimes by multiple assailants? Can they imagine the emotional scars carried by the victims and their families? The system doesn’t teach them that and actually encourages this coward, despicable “macho” attitude—the hypocritical system preaching high values while fuelling chaos in society. Balanced people have the mental clarity to question what’s going on, shop less and refuse wars.
Balanced people are able to love better.
Remember: consent does not spell No, please stop! And even if consent is given, it can be withdrawn at any moment. That’s how it works for everything, so why would it be different for sex? I’ll leave you with a Youtube link suggested by my reader Lily M. It’s a fun, brilliant animation about consent that compares sex to a cup of tea.
My next post focuses on the rape culture on US campuses. While campuses have their own idiosyncrasies, they’re essentially microcosms reflecting the macrocosm in which they’re embedded. The college rape culture didn’t come out of the blue: it’s part of the bigger picture. It’s an epidemic mapped by the Department of Justice—in 2015 more than 100 institutions were under investigation for their negligence in the handling of sexual assault claims.
See you soon, and until then… Love, light, peace.