****TRIGGER WARNING: Rape and Sexual Assault Mentioned****
Every day women experience the crippling effects of patriarchy, in ways we have been taught to see as normal. We are taught that we can prevent ourselves from being raped. We are taught that we exist solely for the purpose of male pleasure. And we are taught that short skirts, flirting, and drinking can be a fatal combination. All of these teachings exist because of the presence of rape culture in our society. Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in media and popular culture.
Rape culture is present in advertising, movies, music videos and social media; it’s the images, words, concepts telling women that their body is not their own. The toxicity of this culture shames women for embracing their sexuality. Not only does the media enforce it, but so does our upbringing and surroundings. Parents teach their girls not to get raped, instead of teaching their boys not to rape; and if a girl is raped, the question is always posed about what she was wearing, if she was asking for it. This a toxic part of the culture we live in that needs to be challenged.
A widespread phenomenon in rape culture is victim blaming – telling a victim of rape that it is their fault they were assaulted. Women are told that a short dress and a smile basically equals consent to rape. There are people who genuinely believe that if a woman engages in certain activities like drinking, going out at night, or wearing revealing clothing, that she is deserving of rape. A major Brazilian research institute published a report on attitudes towards sexual harassment and rape. They asked 3,800 people across the country if “women who wear clothes that show off their body deserve to be attacked”. Some 65% said they agreed to some degree. More than half also agreed that “if women knew how to behave, there would be fewer rapes.” Unfortunately, these beliefs about victims of rape are present in many countries around the world, not just Brazil.
The problem with victim blaming is that it absolves the rapist of any consequence. Rapists rape people; the only person at fault for rape is the person who chose to rape. Blaming victims protects rapists and perpetuates the cycle of violence. It also makes it harder for justice to be served because these victim-blaming beliefs are held by people with institutional power in the justice system. Victim blaming also forces women to live their lives in fear and with caution in order to avoid having their body’s violated. From the time we are little girls, we are taught to fear men and adjust our behavior accordingly.
Rape culture and victim blaming also negatively affects men. When rape is depicted as some casual thing predicated off of basic sexual desire, men are vilified; the difference between a man and a rapist is blurred. Saying things like “men can’t help themselves” and that “women are asking for it” makes it seem as though men are mindless beasts enslaved by their own sex drives, which isn’t true. Most men have the decency not to rape, and those who do, make that choice…it isn’t something innate that they can’t control. Rape culture also diminishes the severity of male rape and erases male rape victims. Rape isn’t exclusive to women; anyone can be raped. But often times male rape survivors aren’t taken seriously. Their claims are often brushed off and disregarded, so justice for them usually isn’t achieved.
The key to ending rape culture is first recognizing its existence. After that, we can begin to teach society the intrinsic worth of women and promote that men are in fact capable of treating all people with respect. Also, we as a society need to understand that men can also be victims, and their supposed “sexual dominance” doesn’t absolve them of victimhood. Men and children are raped too; were they dressed provocatively? Women should be able to live their lives without having to adjust their behavior or apparel. We as a society must recognize that these stigmas against rape victims are unfounded, and begin taking rape seriously, instead of blaming rape victims and ignoring rape culture.