As a warning, this blog post is not for the faint of heart. Trigger warnings in advance for discussion of sexual assault. Still reading? Good, because this is important.
I have a number of issues and causes about which I feel passionate. And on those topics, I make a point to stay educated. I’m ashamed to admit that the topic of sexual assault and “rape culture” has not been one of those topics. It is not that I was apathetic – sexual assault is a horrific crime – but it was never a topic that seemed to need my urgent attention.
Over the past few years, that perspective has changed. I’ve never been the victim of sexual assault. I’d like to say that no one in my close circle of friends and family has been the victim of sexual assault, but the numbers make that hard to believe. I have to say that I don’t know of anyone in my close circle that has been the victim of sexual assault.
A study by the US Center of Disease Control found that 1 in 5 female college students had been raped or the victim of attempted rape at some point in their lives. A similar study found the same number – 20% – of girls in high school had experienced “forced sex” or sexual assualt. One in five. Over half of the victims never told anyone. Please note the language. Over half never told anyone. A much higher percentage was never reported to law enforcement.
One in Five. 20%. The numbers are staggering.
(There are also studies regarding the sexual assault of men, finding 1 in 71 men are the victim of sexual assault during their lifetime. That is also not a small number.)
What is Rape Culture?
If you’re not familiar with the term “Rape Culture”, this article on BuzzFeed is actually a really great overview of the term and the various areas that it covers. I’ll sum it up for those that don’t have time to dig into the details – Rape Culture is an cultural atmosphere that makes sexual assault a societal norm. Rape Culture provides an environment that is forgiving to – or understanding of – rapists, while judging victims for the circumstances of their assault.
And if you don’t think that we live in a Rape Culture, you haven’t been paying attention.
I’m certainly paying attention now.
For a long time, I wasn’t paying attention. My awareness peaked with the now infamous Steubenville rape case in which high school football stars raped an unconscious girl after a night of heavy drinking. There were so many things about that case in particular that represent the very worst of our society – the crime itself, the social media posts of the crime, and the cover ups after the crime occurred; but the treatment that the victim and the rapists received by many media outlets is the prime example of rape culture. The rapists were portrayed as promising young men who were now facing convictions and a life ruined by being labelled as sex offenders. Statements floated around to indicate that the tragic mistakes that they made will haunt them forever. The victim was drunk and passed out at a party. Why did she let that happen? That is rape culture and if it doesn’t infuriate you, I question your humanity.
This past week, I read another article about a popular artist, David Choe, who admitted to “rapey behavior” on his podcast. The podcast is still available – but I would suggest that you don’t listen to it. The article I read was posted on xoxojane.com (written by Melissa Stetten), and the details shared there are plenty graphic and abhorrent. Sharing as few graphic details as I can, the bottom line is that Mr. Choe talks about forcing a masseuse to perform oral sex. She said no, but – according to him – she really wanted it. He admits that it was “rapey behavior”, but he’s “not a rapist”. The comments posted on his podcast have many questioning the validity of his story, because it sounds like an adolescent fantasy that few believe is really true. And THAT is rape culture. When a man admits to rape – and “rapey behavior” is forcing a women to perform a sexual act that she has not consented to – his audience is not appalled by the admission. They simply don’t believe it is true.
These are two tiny examples of an epidemic. And it IS an epidemic, despite a recent opinion piece in Time Magazine calling for the end of the “rape culture hysteria”.
What do we do about it?
The frustrating part is that the solution seems so obvious and so simple. Actually, that’s a reductive conclusion. The solution isn’t simple and changing cultural norms is a battle – but there are some obvious steps that we can take.
– Stop laughing at rape jokes and stop listening to songs, podcasts and media that glorify non-consensual sexual activity.
– Never use the phrase “boys will be boys” when referring to sexual behavior.
– Prosecute rapists. Actually process the rape kits sitting in evidence. Don’t accept that a rapist didn’t know what he was doing was wrong because he’s young or because “that’s just the way men behave.
– TEACH CONSENT IN HIGH SCHOOL SEX-ED – and teach it to BOYS as well as girls. And it goes way beyond “no means no”. Anything less than an enthusiastic “yes” means “no”. If your partner isn’t coherent enough to consent, it’s rape. If your partner isn’t sure, it’s rape. If you classify something as “rapey behavior”, you are a rapist.
I didn’t think I had to write that one down for you.
I read a quote somewhere – and I’m sorry for whomever I’m stealing this from – that expressed frustration at the people who say, “Think about your daughter, your sister, your mother…” Because do you have to actually think about your own daughter, sister or mother to understand that rape isn’t okay? Do you have to have a woman in your life to understand that one in five women being the victim of sexual assault is horrifying? Think like a human being.
I’m going to leave this on a light-hearted note, which might be inappropriate. (I’ve debated whether to include this.) This is a song by comedian Bo Burnham from “God’s Perspective”. This may be the only rape joke ever written that seems okay to laugh at. And only because it makes you want to cry a little.