Assault, abuse, sexual assault

Time and time again I talk to people who deny that there is a rape culture in The West. This is because their expectation of what it looks like versus the reality of what it actually is are two incongruent things. Many people falsely believe that rape culture is akin to the encouragement or support of rape. This is not the case.

Emilie Buchwald, the author of Transforming a Rape Culture, explains that when society normalizes sexualized violence, it accepts and creates rape culture. In her book, she defines rape culture as:

”In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself.” 

Furthermore, Wikipedia explains, “[b]ehaviors commonly associated with rape culture include victim-blaming, slut-shaming, sexual objectification, trivializing rape, denial of widespread rape, refusing to acknowledge the harm caused by sexual violence or some combination of these.”

Men & rape culture

Personally I firmly believe that men are the key to dismantling the rape culture. The reason I feel that way is because men often don’t correct other men who perpetuate ideologies that support rape culture.

Yes, men also experience rape. Over 10% of men in a study reported being raped. Male rape victims face the same stigma as female rape victims. In fact, when Kevin Spacey was exposed for being a rapist, one of his accusers was blamed for ‘ruining’ House of Cards.

Who was he blamed by? Other men. Time and time again the majority of people denying rape allegations are men. Likewise, they’re the same group remaining unsupportive of rape survivors, regardless of sex. The bottom line, all rape survivors are facing a lack of male support.

Most women understand we have a rape culture because they are at the receiving end of it. Most men do not understand that we have a rape culture because they are often exempt from it. This is the exact same concept that leads us to white privilege

By and large WP do not understand racism because they are never subjected to it. Just like it is up to WP to eradicate systemic racism because they are in the position of power, it is up to men to eradicate rape culture because they too are in the position of power.

By no means am I discounting male rape victims or all the ways in which a rape culture does impact men. They too would benefit from men championing the eradication of rape culture. 

We still have a long way to go when it comes to equality for everyone. The best way to make people understand your experiences is by sharing them. Rape culture is something that impacts every single girl, woman, trans woman, a lot of male prison inmates, and at least 3% of boys and men in the general population. It’s an epidemic most of us are living with every day. 

How the other half lives

Something that I’ve found has been eye opening for a lot of cis men (because they’re a demographic who seem largely oblivious to rape culture) has been telling them things I do on a regular, often daily, basis because I am a woman and we live in a rape culture. 

There are so many things we do and it’s important to inform the men in your life of these things so they can become more aware. How can anyone help solve a problem if they aren’t aware of how troublesome the issue is?

Tell your dad why you park under street lights after dark. Explain why you don’t walk alone with headphones on. Talk to your uncle about why you always have your keys ready when you’re walking through a parking lot. 

Articulate why you never take the same route home too many times in a row. Talk to your male cousin about why you give serious consideration to what you’re going to wear depending on what the function is and who will be in attendance. 

Let your brother know why you don’t go outside alone after dark. Inform him why you’re afraid to reject a male stranger. Educate your male friends why you blame yourself when a man crosses your intimacy boundaries. Explain to them why you feel safer traveling in a group of other women rather than alone. 

Enlighten your male coworkers on how you always tell at least one person where you are when you’re out. Familiarize them with the apps you have that track your location in case you’re abducted or murdered.

Male allyship

Most cis men don’t think about any of these things. Tell them until they listen. If they hear and understand the gravity of the issue, they can advocate, they can vote to support women’s rights. 

They can educate and correct other men with a better chance of being heard. This is the only way to turn the tide and make rape culture a thing of the past. 

That’s not to say that everyone else shouldn’t be doing their part, and correcting their friends about things that they see that support a rape culture as opposed to deconstruct it. However, given that globally, one in four women will experience sexual assault at least once in their lifetime, this issue feels very different for women compared to men. 

Our environment shapes our reality. It’s impossible to say that media does not influence our world view to come degree. What we watch and consume is, to an extent, what we believe about the world. Especially when we have no personal experience to contradict what we consume.

We have many examples of toxic relationship dynamics in media. It’s hard not to internalize these warped values and accept treatment that is substandard as a result. How many times have you seen people emulating toxic dynamics they’ve internalized from film?

This is specifically why the portrayal of rape in film disturbs me. Rape is a traumatic experience for anyone to live through. Repeated exposure to a trauma makes it difficult to recover from it. It also makes us desensitized to that form of abuse.

Media & rape culture

In understanding the influence film and television has over all of us in mainstream society, it would be difficult to absolve them of responsibility for our rape culture. While I do not wholly attribute our rape culture to the entertainment industry, it absolutely normalized that particular type of violence.

I can appreciate that there are some storylines in which a rape advances the plot, or shows insight into a character’s psyche. Rape is a real-life event that occurs and to ignore it entirely would not be logical or realistic.

My issue is with showing the act. It merely serves to normalize rape and further prop up our rape culture. We experience a multitude of unpleasant events in life that are much less grave or traumatizing than rape, and yet these events rarely, or never make it into movie or tv plots.

Why don’t we ever see diarrhea? Shocked to read that? Why are we more shocked to read that line than we are to see a rape on screen? This is exactly the problem. 

Why do we rarely see childbirth? The camera simply pans away when it comes time to deliver. Both of these are normal, human experiences. Rape is not.

Why are they not given the same airtime as rape? Better yet, why are we paying to see this type of violence? The film industry is like any other; it’s driven by profits. If we spoke out with our wallets, we would see a change in what is normalized on screen. 

The result

So here we are, in a culture that normalizes rape by showing it repeatedly and unnecessarily in graphic detail onscreen. We could make the case that the purpose of showing the act is to advance the plot or show insight into a character’s psyche. And yet, we almost never see the rape survivor healing from that trauma.

Wouldn’t that both advance the plot and reveal psyche at the most effective and deepest possible level? Wouldn’t that also do at least something to combat the rape culture that normalizing rape on screen creates? 

Doesn’t that indicate that the rape was almost entirely filmed for nothing more than shock value and to perpetuate the normalization of violence against women? The same can be said about nearly all forms of violence perpetuated against women on screen. 

While this diminishes women, it also gives men a distorted understanding of what our experiences within a rape culture are. I’ve lost count of the number of men who have told me rape culture doesn’t exist because “no one thinks rape is a good thing,” as if one has anything to do with the other and rape culture is really that simple. 

If the entertainment industry is going to show violence against women, they should at least show the whole story. Show them rebuilding themselves better and stronger than they were before. Show them surviving and then thriving. Give us the whole picture, not just the part that makes us look small and weak and defeated. 

The Next Step

It’s simple. Believe survivors. We believe survivors of any other violent crime. Why is rape different? The rate of false accusations is not statistically higher for rape than other violent crimes.

Believing survivors does not mean we disregard facts. It simply means that we support people coming forward with accusations of rape. And that we trust the legal process, like we do for all other crimes.

We have to believe survivors and stop perpetuating behaviours common of a rape culture. Until we do, women, and men, will not be safe. And rapists will continue to go unpunished in 99% of rape cases.

I’d love to know…

How do the men in your life respond when you share your experiences with them?

What was a triumphant moment for you when overcoming trauma and abuse?

How would you personally benefit from mainstream consent culture?