Rape is not a foreign or unknown problem in American society, but has it reached such a point that is has proliferated into the everyday cultural norms of our culture? Are Twitter, hip-hop, Facebook, blogs, and other media outlets making rape into a societal problem instead of an individualized decision? Does this imply that the individual and our ‘rape culture’ are both responsible? Does living in a rape culture mean that the factors that perpetuate privilege are in part to blame for the fact 25% of women have either been raped or suffered attempted rape during their college years? Or influencing the fact that 63% of accusers in sexual assault cases are freshmen at a university? Well, of course.
To ignore the cultural messages that tell people that sex is a right creates a society where rape is dismissed and overshadowed by disbelief. People are not told to respect sex but, instead, are pushed to achieve it, as if it were a prize to be won. Sex is an important and necessary aspect of life, but it is not a competition. When sex becomes something to obtain, we objectify the act and the parties involved. This notion inherently creates a power structure, and it is within this structure that the majority of rape lives. It lives in entitlement. Our culture is saying that we are entitled to sex, not that we should practice it under consent, trust, and compassion for one another.
Rape culture still exists because of this sense of privilege. When talking with victims, there is usually a common theme: I meant nothing to them, I was just there. The victim knew that there was a level of entitlement, that the person had the ‘right’ to have sex with them. We should not remain a culture that responds instead of prevents. We need to move from just blaming the individual to taking preventative measures to create a more open culture. Defining consent should be a normalized subject matter that all freshmen are required to consider before they leave freshmen orientation. If we want to protect a boy or girl from being raped when they walk through the doors of a university, then as a society, we must start talking about sex.
Providing a focus on ending rape culture does not take away from the changes that individuals who have made the decision to rape must make in their own lives. It does not mean that every person is a rapist or that everyone will be harmed. In order to reduce rape in our culture, we must start to have open and honest conversations about what it means to be a survivor, what it means to be in a sexually abusive relationship, and what is means to have a normal, healthy and functional sex life as a teenager, college student, and adult. Without this dialogue, we will always be a reactive culture, responding to victims with “I am sorry” instead of “what can I do?”
Furthermore, our current society is still responding to a survivor with disbelief instead of support. This is a cultural problem that re-victimizes a survivor time and time again. When a police officer says “Why did you go to that party and drink?” instead of “I believe you, it will be ok“ the message that they are sending to the survivor is clear: you deserved it. For as long as our culture leans more towards “you deserved it” and less towards “I believe you,” we will continue to see epidemic rates of sexual assault for both men and women.
Often this complacency causes us to ignore the act and aftermath of rape rather than taking a stand for survivors. By overlooking the magnitude of what survivors went through, we stifle their voices. We let silence fill the void and leave survivors unheard, prolonging their distress. The impact that our rape culture has on the ability for a survivor to heal cannot be understated; we currently ignore the reality of what it means to be a victim. There is nothing more silencing than a society telling a victim that what happened was their fault or did not happen at all. This is rape culture. It is what keeps survivors from being able to share their story without regret or fear of consequence. But if we focus on both the offender and the culture of rape, we can begin to evolve into a healed culture.
If the goal is to end future incidences of rape from happening, we need to create a shift in our society and have open and honest conversations about sex and rape. Once we have opened this door, we can look at sexual assault through the lens of support and understanding. The removal of entitlement that currently revolves around sex will help bring healing for those who have faced this life-altering event. It is rarely stated, and often forgotten, that survivors of sexual assault do not suffer the assault just once in their lifetimes—they must repeatedly confront it throughout their lives. The first step to creating a culture where more people are healed than harmed is admitting that rape is a part of our current culture. From there, we can finally build a system that favors the person who survived and overcame, showering them with support, resources, and understanding.