What is Rape Culture?
Artwork by Linh Than
Rape culture is a term which has begun to be more commonly used in the last couple of years but finds its roots in the 1970s. There are often debates over its usage as many continue to believe that it is used to demonize everyone and point fingers, when in reality, it is a term which is used to explain the prevalence of rape due to societal beliefs towards gender, sexuality, and violence.
The term rape culture isn’t used to label everyone as rapists, but rather, it is used to explain how rapists often get away with their actions due to the normalization of sexual violence, when we as a society, accept rape jokes, street harassment, and lack of consent as a part of “just how life is”.
It’s the idea that rape only comes in the form of strangers cornering you in the middle of the night or jumping you in the dark. Rape culture perpetuates the idea that rape statistics are myths and that acquaintance rape, date rape, or marital rape does not exist. It also perpetuates the idea that a majority of rape victims are liars when in reality, false rape allegations only make up 2% of allegations. Due to this, rape is the only crime where people question the victim’s integrity before the assaulter’s character and actions. Rapes are difficult crimes to prove due to their nature, and the systems in place to do so are often flawed because of the normalization of sexual assault. However, this does not mean that rape does not occur.
Accepting certain statements such as “all women have a rape fantasy”, “she was asking for it”, “but she’s a tease”, “she sleeps with everyone anyway”, or “women like to be dominated” further perpetuates rape culture. This reduces women as lesser than men and as wanting to be raped- something horrifying no one should ever have to go through- because they are viewed as sexual objects. Part of rape culture, is also when statements like “male rape doesn’t happen” or “but how did you get it up if you didn’t want it?” are made. This diminishes the trauma that men experience when being sexually assaulted, because our maintenance of traditional gender roles wants us to believe that men are strong and have to assert their physical dominance and that if they don’t, it makes them “less of a man”. With that, statements such as “I’ve hung out with them both sober and intoxicated and I’ve never had any issues” contribute to rape culture as this perpetuates the idea that rapists will rape everyone, that they can’t hide in plain sight and lead seemingly normal lives.
Rape culture is also the idea that only men can be rapists and that they will only rape women. Men can rape men, women can rape men, women can rape women, and non-binary people are also capable of rape. Sexual assault is not mutually exclusive to sexuality and physical force as rape is not always “physically stronger and physically violent vs. physically powerless.” The idea that this is the only way rape can happen undermines emotional and psychological manipulations in sexual assaults, a very real way that rapists also carry out their actions.
When talking about rape culture, there is a belief that it is a feminist term used as propaganda when in reality, it is a phenomenon that causes harm to all. It impacts women on a daily basis far more than men, and this is why women are the main focus of the discussion, but this does not mean that the normalization of sexual violence does not affect everyone. And that’s important to remember.