Understanding “Rape Culture”

This term is used more and more these days.  I definitely see how it could be a bit confusing to some.  I originally thought of doing a whole post on this, but when I woke up today, saw a great article from the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault that does an excellent job of framing this issue and giving it some context.  

The idea that the United States is fostering a nationwide culture that normalizes rape and sexual assault (or what is rape culture) is devastating. Truly problematic – how can we eliminate such a horrible and common problem when we, as a country, seem so comfortable with its presence in our society.   One of my personal goals and a huge growing focus in advocacy is on bystander intervention.  I have a few things to share soon that really inspired me, but for now, let’s understand the foundation on which we are standing:


1) Yes, individual offenders should be held accountable for their crimes, AND they remain largely undetected and invisible in our society (never held accountable by the criminal justice system) because of RAPE CULTURE.

2) Most victims DO NOT report their sexual assault because they fear they will not be believed, taken seriously or supported (and are often correct) and this is a product of a victim blaming RAPE CULTURE.

3) We all see and are part of RAPE CULTURE.  It is not about the poor “average guy” being vilified, it is about the fact that WE ALL have to be part of naming this crime, holding offenders accountable, and promoting healthy sexuality and behaviors.  We are part of the juries letting countless offenders off the hook.

4) We are currently in a RAPE CULTURE where offenders are safer and more comfortable than victims.  We laugh at sexist/racist/homophobic/transphobic jokes. We make rape jokes (how often have you heard a “don’t drop the soap” prison rape joke?). We vilify the woman who reports rape by a football star. We say “she shouldn’t have drank that much” instead of “he shouldn’t have raped her.”

5) We are in a RAPE CULTURE that would, by and large, agree that rape is terrible, BUT we are not all thinking of the same thing when we hear the word rape.  Society use adjectives like “legitimate,” “forced,” and “violent” to talk about rape. We parse it out and qualify it, as if all rape isn’t legitimate, forced and violent. We don’t agree on what rape is, and we hold victims responsible through the “risk reduction” messages of “do this/don’t do that.”

6) The song “Blurred Lines” doesn’t cause people to rape, but it creates a culture where sexual violence is normalized and trivialized (i.e. a top song that has lyrics similar to what rapists say to coerce victim and avoid responsibility).

7) And yes, we have really strong rape laws, but they don’t get used.¹

8) And false reporting is NOT a problem, actually only 2-8%, which is why theAustin Police Department has a whole campaign wanting survivors to know that they will be believed.

9) The claim that “rapists are despised” ignores the fact that it is the inaccurate and stereotypical image of rapists that is despised. Yes, in our cultural mind’s eye, rapists are monsters. The problem is that most offenders don’t look like monsters — instead, they often seem trustworthy, charming, caring, and respectable. These individuals are the opposite of “despised,” they are too often lauded as “nice guys” and community leaders who could never commit this horrific crime. That is RAPE CULTURE.

10) The claim that youth get 18 years of prevention messages seems to be wishful thinking.  In Colorado, for example, there is NO mandate for students to get sexual violence prevention education (or “messages”), and we know we are not alone.

11) While we take the “out of control lobby” reference as a compliment, if that were true then over 1/3 of rape crisis centers nationally wouldn’t have awaiting list for services.

12) And worst of all, we’ve never worked with a survivor who DIDN’T blame them self; that is RAPE CULTURE and that is the culture where offenders thrive and victims remain silenced.

¹Department of Justice, Felony Defendants in Large Urban Counties: average of 2002-2006

Thanks for reading,
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Kicking Off the Conversation: Tough Topics

The best and most honest way to promote change is to talk about the issues in an open and honest way.  This will make people uncomfortable and confused, but that’s typically how you know you’re getting somewhere.  Women’s rights issues, especially sexual violence, are not typically dinner time topics of conversation – but it’s time to make them! As advocates, let’s not be afraid to bring up things that make others nervous, as long as we do it in a respectful way.

The most recently aired episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit (SVU) (on 2/26/14) touched upon some incredibly timely and important issues in the sexual assault and rape conversation.  The episode involved a stand-up comedian making rape jokes while performing for a college aged crowd.  His content is what matters to me (I’m not here to discuss freedom of speech, jokes v. threats, etc.), but the conversation about rape and alcohol. Questions raised throughout the episode include:

When is it rape if both parties were drunk?

Can one person be “more drunk” then the other?

Who is responsible for consenting when both parties are drunk?

Can there be a clear line when it comes to consent and alcohol/drug impairment?

We all know NO MEANS NO.  This episode pushes beyond that by looking at how alcohol factors in and how alcohol is often “blamed” for sexual violence.  Another short interaction on the show opened up a whole new slew of questions.  One female student stood up in protest of the comedian’s content and another female student stood up and mocked her.  Women, we need to stick together! Rape is never a joke and only when we start taking rape and sexual assault seriously can we begin to shift the conversation towards prevention and intervention measures best aimed at reducing this all too common, yet devastating, problem!

The episode managed to bring up lots of common issues – slut shaming, consent, power dynamics (celebrity interested in average college girl), difficulties with prosecuting rape, challenges affecting victims who come forward and testify, victim’s past coming into play, role of alcohol in sexual assault and rape, campus/college and sexual violence …

My takeaway: The most important thing seems to be the willingness to ask the questions – without fear of shame or stupidity. Never be afraid to ask and demand that someone to answer –  your campus police and administration, local community, government, the media, etc… SVU puts the tough questions out there and it’s up to activists to ensure the questions are heard so that they can be answered!

How have you talked about these issues?  How have these issues been addressed in your community? Feel free to leave me an answer/idea/more questions…


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Welcome to our blog – She Matters!

Stemming from our mutual passion for social justice and women’s rights and outrage at some of the stuff happening out there – in law, politics, and policy – we decided to create a space to discuss these things. (See About Us for more!)

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