Rape culture, what is it? In the minds of most people, it is typically associated with feminism and social media movements. However, by definition, it is a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse. Rape culture in our society is so socially normal that we do not know what it really is, we just associate it with normal things that we can just ignore or “brush off our shoulders” making it seemingly unimportant.
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Also, we do not bother questioning how victims of sexual assault are affected by it. Victim blaming, tolerance of sexual harassment and making sexually explicit jokes are all examples of rape culture that can affect all victims of sexual assault. By allowing rape culture to be the social norm, it scares victims into being silent, not reporting their cases or telling their stories, in fear that they will be blamed. Not only does rape culture affect victims but it also affects the abusers, making them believe that their actions are acceptable and that it is not their fault. Although it can lead to powerful movements and make women feel stronger by banding together to stop the things that are holding them back, giving the victims a voice that will be heard by society. While Some believe that rape culture does not exist and that what they are doing is normal, rape culture is a social norm that harrases and scares victims of sexual assault into keeping quiet about their stories and cases because victims learn to blame themselves and decide that it is not worth reporting. Rape culture also influences the abusers by encouraging them, making it seem as though it is the victim’s fault, not theirs, by blaming the victims and influencing the abusers we push victims into a state of silence.
In society, rape culture is all around us and normal, so normal that in fact, it puts fear into the hearts of victims of sexual assault. Victims are silenced and scared that if they tell their story or report the abuse they will be shamed for the torment they went through. We are so conditioned to think that rape is only one thing, a terrifying act that leaves the victims to question whether or not what just happened to them was rape. But in fact, we are ignorant of the fact that rape is complicated and not black and white. There are two sides to the spectrum, we respond in different ways to the stories of the victims. We respond with support and acceptance or respond by blaming them possibly even claiming that They were asking for it. We question the stories that are not clear where the resistance is not distinct or are not apparent to us. In the cases where the resistance is seemingly unapparent, we have the mindset that she consented and question how we are calling that rape. This is victim blaming and is more consistent in the more confusing cases which are actually more common than not. With the social norm of victim blaming, victims are afraid to report their cases in fear that they will not be taken seriously or even blamed for what happened to them. Also, they are afraid of what is stated above, that what happened to them will be seen as rape or not. Any form of struggling is resistance to the act, even if questionable if the victim says or shows that they did not want the sexual act it is rape or sexual abuse. In those cases, more if not all, women try to resist in any way possible that can keep them from getting hurt, they try to not give any signals that they want it, they say no, but sometimes their efforts are futile. In the eyes of the law, some forms of resistance are accepted, in some countries, victims have to prove their innocence seemingly like the victims are actually the criminals. What people don’t know is that these women who seemingly “consent” to the assault are doing it for their own safety if the attacker does not get the signals that the victim is giving.
What women are doing in these situations is a negotiation, trading sex for their life and safety. Victims don’t talk about themselves while telling their stories “as if they have been reduced to a thing, totally subjected to the will of the other” (Hercovich). Other victims try not to talk specifically about themselves when telling their stores, a disassociation to make sure they are not blamed for their actions. Overall, fear of being blamed prevents victims from sharing their stories and getting justice.
So what is rape culture? Besides victim blaming, there are many other examples. “Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture”(Southernct). Some examples of normal instances of rape culture are, trivializing sexual assault, defining “manhood’ and “womanhood” and more. As a society, we over-sexualize women and along with that, we push men to act on their sexual impulses. We groom women to be an object of sexuality while we groom men to want women as the objects we mold them to be. A supposed reason for victim blaming is to “…distance themselves from an unpleasant occurrence and thereby confirm their own invulnerability to the risk”(Southernct). The distance people create is a way to distance themselves from the victim and what they do. We analyze the victim’s behavior before, during, and after the attack and find a way to blame their actions for why they were attacked, all in our efforts to find a natural and logical way to formulate how and why this could happen. Creating this distance makes it harder on the victims of these assaults. Not only does victim blaming create a distance between the victim and bystanders in society, but it also reinforces the abuser. By blaming the victim we do not only put it in the victim’s mind that it is their fault, but we also put it in the abuser’s mind that
it is the victim’s fault, not theirs. In the mind of the abuser, holding the victim responsible makes their actions seemingly justifiable, not at fault, and not responsible for these actions. Seeing that their actions are not taken seriously and victims of those actions are blamed normally in society, why then should they be concerned? Why should they feel guilty or responsible? Putting victims down and justifying the actions of the abuser, in their own mind, are contradictory to what is morally right in society.
The way we blame victims contradicts or natural ideals, we put blaming the victim up as a defense mechanism to “[one’s] personal worldview unraveling,” says Laura Niemi”(Szalavitz, 2018). When we blame victims, we are challenging our individual views. Our natural ideals, people’s sense of the world is optimistic, believing that the world is naturally fair. Even children grow up knowing what is fair and what is not. “So why do we seem to feel such a strong need to see the world as fair, given that it so obviously often isn’t?”(Szalavitz, 2018). Part of seeing the world as fair is the idea of what we all get back is what we gave, like karma. Some may believe what happens to the victims of these acts is karma- that something bad happened to them so they had to have done something bad to someone else. In a way, this is nature’s way of paying them back.
We analyze the victim’s behavior before, during, and after the attack to find any a way to blame their actions for why they were attacked to find a plausible and reasonable way to figure out how and why this could happen. Bystanders are constantly trying to create a distance between them and the victims of sexual assault. Possibly hoping that if they create this distance they would not go through what the victims went through. “Instead of focusing on victims’ behavior, we need to ask more questions about why perpetrators continue to commit acts of violence…” (Szalavitz, 2018). Instead of blaming victims, we need to focus more on the ones who commit these acts; they should be punished. Also, how we blame the victims for their actions should be reversed onto the abusers. We can’t continue to let perpetrators of these acts feel not liable since we blame the victims for their actions. We also have to eliminate the barrier we create between us and victims, see that these assaults can happen to anyone, and it is not the victim’s fault.
Rape culture may create victim silence but it also can empower women to come forward. A movement started in late 2017 early 2018, an endeavor to stop victim silence. Sexual misconduct occurring towards Olympic gymnasts, how a former doctor of American gymnastics and Michigan State University has been sentenced to a lifetime in prison for molesting girls. How the prosecution of this man brought forth a start to a movement, not to silence victims anymore and stop hiding what has happened to them out of fear, fear of being blamed for what has happened to them. The #MeToo movement grew from a few gymnasts who no longer wanted to be silenced by their fear of being blamed, to a large-scale movement with women around the world tired of being afraid. With speaking up they were not alone in what they were feeling, they are strong together and can tell their stories. The movement, of course, started with their silence, a “culture of abuse” was brought on by the gymnast’s superiors. “In the courtroom in Michigan, the assistant attorney general, Angela Povilaitis, said: “We teach our girls and daughters to be too nice. To just ignore and put up with uncomfortable situations, to stay silent when they should be allowed to be heard”’ (Correa, 2018). These values put the idea of silence into the victim’s minds, that they should be quiet in uncomfortable situations, and that the victims should endure the abuse that they were experiencing.
Tired of their abuse, the victims eventually came forward to report their abuse and were surprisingly met with support. The first cases reported were brought to trial and with that more victims came forward to tell their stories and report the abuse they endured More than 150 women testified against Lawrence G. Nassar for sexual misconduct and he was sentenced to life in prison for his actions on these girls from six years old and on (Correa, 2018). The trial process and the bravery of these girls have led to a movement that would change women’s perspective on their silence. Women do not have to sit and smile while they are being abused; they can get justice. Their actions should not be analyzed throughout their attack, and that the abuse is not their fault. Women may have to wait for societal ideas to change from being more patriarchal to something that is full of multiples, more than one story, and they may have to wait for their time of justice, they will no longer wait in silence. Through their voices, victims will be heard and respected.
Although some may say that rape culture is a myth, that it is impractical that rape culture could exist or if it does exist it causes more damage than help. Some believe that the idea of rape culture is causing women to fall into the idea of being a victim, that it makes all men out to be the enemy to all women, and that the thought of rape culture is actually causing problems. An article in The Irish Times titled “Flawed notion of ‘rape culture’ is lacking in logic” written by Fionola Meredith states “I think “rape culture” is a myth, lacking in logic, which seriously disempowers women and teaches them to be victims.” the author believes that rape culture is just fiction, something that was created but is not real. That in reality what seemingly can empower women disempowers them, makes them learn to be victims and makes them fear men. (Meredith, 2017) The #MeToo movement is a long-awaited fight against men mistreating and abusing women. However, people believe that it is making actions seem more criminal than they need be. People also can get the term confused and are unsure of what lies in the boundaries of rape culture because it is too broad of a term. The author also states “And this is where the flawed notion of “rape culture” lets us down: it fails to discriminate between the relatively trivial and the most severe. By that logic, a mildly bawdy text message from a colleague, or an unwanted wolf-whistle in the street, is part of the same spectrum that ends in forced sex.” (Meredith, 2017) Rape culture makes it harder to distinguish between something we can simply forget about or something drastic like stated above, that it is more troublesome for others to distinguish what is actually dangerous and what is not. Since rape culture makes everything equal, it is so that all acts of seemingly sexual nature are viewed as criminal and vicious. That “cat-calling” or “wolf-whistling” is not something that could lead to sexual assault, abuse or even rape. This thought process makes women more susceptible to the idea that they are always victims, and always approach situations with caution. This possibly can make women miss out on opportunities and maybe even make them see themselves as weak and not strong in any way.
Rape culture is a social norm and is in many ways seen as okay in society and has been accepted into our daily lives. We as a society have accepted and watched silently as victims of abuse, and rape has been blamed and analyzed to see what they did wrong. However, doing this we contradict our natural ideals. That what you give is what you receive, by doing this we over analyze the victim’s behavior before, during, and after the assault. This in a way makes the victim to blame for what happened to them and makes them believe that it is indeed their fault. Yet we should see that it is the abuser’s fault that it was their actions, that they are responsible for their actions and they should be taken seriously. Because of how much we analyze the victims we make them fearful, too afraid to come forward to report the abuse or even tell their stories. Instead of encouraging this distance we create between the victim and bystanders we should make the distance smaller. Make sure victims are seen and heard, not silenced by people, media or even people following the ideas of rape culture. The idea of rape culture in ways can be harmful to people, and experiences of people. And yes, it can make women naturally feel like victims and blur the lines between actions that are detrimental and ones that aren’t harmful. Nonetheless, it can make movements that are powerful and uplifting the victims that feel like they are silenced. Rape culture can take away the voices of victims and make them fearful but it can also make them feel stronger and push them to look for the voice that was seemingly taken away.
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