What Exactly Is Rape Culture, Anyway?
As you can imagine, being physically and sexually violated is one of the most terrible things that could happen to a person. There is an unspeakable kind of pain and trauma that comes after being raped—and considering the millions of victims around the world throughout history, it's often women who fall prey to the crime. But this notion of stripping a person’s dignity doesn't begin and end with the sexual act itself—because society as a whole is still responsible for fostering a culture that still objectifies and degrades other persons.
You don't have to be a sex offender to be a part of rape culture.
You could be thinking, "Well, I'm not a rapist—I don't contribute to rape culture." But rape culture exists in a pyramid, beginning with supposedly harmless "jokes," verbal jabs against another person's appearance or sexuality, and the personal mindset that rape is, either partially or fully, the victim's fault.
But they're just "jokes," right? And it's not like jokes are the direct cause of rape, right? Yes and no. Creating a laughing matter out of something that many women and men are afraid to speak up about creates a visible and pervasive culture of ignorance and insensitivity.
The more we normalize and desensitize the idea of rape with the use of jokes and problematic language, the more we take for granted its urgency to be prevented and stopped.
You never know who will hear your comments about rape. A victim could hear them and feel that their struggles have been devalued. Somebody younger than you could hear them and think, whether consciously or unconsciously, that hey, making light of this very bad situation is somehow "okay." A person who already contributes to rape culture could hear them and take delight in the fact that somebody agrees with them. As evidenced by social media, our words ripple out into society and have a greater effect than we could ever imagine, and this is why we need to think before we speak, especially when it comes to rape.
Victim-blaming will never be okay.
You may not have been a victim of rape, but at some point in your life you're likely to have encountered rape culture at its first level: street harassment. When a woman walks down the street alone at night, she is vulnerable to unsolicited comments from men about her physical appearance. They may not do any physical harm, but they make her feel unsafe, and they also suggest that a woman's worth comes from what she looks like on the outside—and that for that, she doesn't deserve basic respect.
But what has history told us? Very young children and infants have been raped. According to the PNP Women and Children Protection Center, 75.5% of total reported rape cases involve the rape of children, and the remaining 24.5% involve women. Nuns and missionaries have been raped. Women in traditionally "conservative" clothing have been raped. And yes, women in traditionally "skimpy" clothing have been raped.
Bottomline? It doesn't come down to what a woman is wearing, because the act of rape has never been about sexual pleasure, but about having power over another person. And if a person can be so vile as to have sexual desires for a young child, then clearly there is a problem with that person, not the victim.
Bottomline? It doesn't come down to what a woman is wearing, because the act of rape has never been about sexual pleasure, but about having power over another person.
"Clothes are, as far as logic goes, inanimate and can't perform any actions. Only the perpetrator does this. Nobody [bats] an eyelash when men walk shirtless on the street, so why shouldn't it be the same for women who choose to wear tank tops and shorts?" one of my friends says.
When we place blame on a woman's clothing as the reason for rape, we are in effect implying that some men must be so horrible that they absolutely cannot control themselves at the sight of a provocatively-dressed woman. This is an insult to the male gender. Yes, rape culture victimizes men, too.
We can't completely end rape culture, but we can keep it from spreading.
While 7,409 rape cases were filed by women in 2014, this only accounts for incidents that have been reported to the police. Many rape victims choose to stay silent for fear of being judged, not taken seriously, or even blamed in some way. Whether we like it or not, rape culture contributes greatly to this fear. It takes plenty of courage to speak up in world filled with many deaf ears, which is why it's our job as a member of society to foster a culture that allows victims to feel safe enough to seek justice.
So what can we do to help?
Let's unite in the mindset that all people, regardless of gender, age, or physical appearance, deserve respect. Let's not refrain from objectifying women simply because they could be somebody's daughter, sister, girlfriend, or friend. Let's respect them not because of what they are by extension to someone else, but because they are, in themselves, human.
Let's engage in healthy conversation in real life and social media when the topic of rape comes up. When we encounter opinions different from ours, the solution is not to fire back with insults, but to listen, and then give constructive responses. Rape culture cannot be solved with heated arguments.
Let's be a shoulder to people in our lives who have been sexually assaulted. Allow them to open up to you about their feelings, and help them to come to a point where they can speak up to proper authorities about the incident.
We can't do it alone—because only a new culture can take over an old one. Even though your opinion seems insignificant in a sea of so many others, stay true to your beliefs. The more people openly take a stand, the more this new culture can take root in our society and finally, eventually, become the new normal.