I am embarrassed to admit that there was a time when I would roll my eyes when feminists spoke of living in a “rape culture.”
Of course, I knew it happened, it was horrible, and even once was too often, but I just didn’t consider it rampant and felt that the use of the word “culture” was exaggerated for effect. I thought it was isolated to hardened criminals.
I have been in plenty of locker rooms and heard all the crude and degrading comments made about women. I never heard anyone bragging about assaulting or raping a woman, but I heard them being treated as sexual objects. Of course, for some men, it was banter, and often exaggeration, in trying to keep up or blend in with other teammates. Most could tell the difference, and it wasn’t my view of women and it wasn’t the view of my friends. That kind of talk never appealed to me.
A rape culture is not just about how often it happens, it includes society’s attitude about it. And I would include all forms of sexual misconduct, such as sexual assault, stalking, sexual harassment, and revenge porn or photo sharing. It becomes a “culture” when it is prevalent, accepted, or normalized in society. The acceptance in society is directly related to the consequences of the action — namely how severely it is viewed as a crime and the degree of punishment.
Sexual crimes, in all their varying degrees, are everywhere. They are in the home, where there are many heartbreaking reports of children being raped by family members. We see them in high school, in everyday sharing of sexting photos and in well-publicized cases such as the Steubenville football team and the .
If you are not familiar with the Steubenville case, it resulted in convictions of two players who raped involved a high school girl; bystanders snapped pictures and spread them on social media. Steubenville officials were also charged with obstruction of justice for trying to cover up the crime. It’s disturbing that the Steubenville case divided the town — primarily because the accused were players in a football-crazed town. There was a segment of the town willing to blame the victim and support the coach.
Rape culture is prevalent in college, where recently institutions of higher education, such as Penn State and Baylor, have been forced to deal with very serious allegations of sexual misconduct and cover-ups. At Penn State, coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted for sexually molesting young boys and two other administrators pleaded guilty for mishandling the issue. At Baylor University, Marc Tracy and Dan Barry of the New York Times reported that “the allegations of sexual assault by Baylor football players have multiplied, causing incalculable damage to the university’s reputation and leading to resignations and firings, including those of the president, the football coach, and the athletic director.” After one of the victims reported the rape, she alleged in a lawsuit that “she encountered an indifference on campus — even a callousness — that baffled and wounded her.”
Sexual harassment in the workplace uses power and fear to solicit sexual activity. Recently, hundreds of employees at Sterling Jewelers have sued the company for “fostering rampant sexual harassment and discrimination.”
In politics, sexual misconduct allegations surround President Donald Trump for his admission on a hot microphone of sexual assault. Even though he admitted the inappropriate touching of women, on tape and unprovoked, almost 63 million Americans still voted for him. In entertainment, many were stunned when Bill Cosby was accused of a multitude of drug-related rapes.
And recently, the military has come under investigation for the posting of nude female service members. Marine veteran Thomas Brennan, who runs a nonprofit news organization called The War Horse, wrote that a Facebook group called Marines United had around 30,000 members and shared the nude photos while also encouraging the sexual assault of the women who had been photographed.
The effect of the crimes range from violence to humiliation. The physical and mental scars can last a lifetime, and personal and professional relationships can be permanently destroyed.
The statistics also support the claim of a rape culture. Because of under-reporting and definition discrepancies, actual numbers can be difficult to positively assert. But some claims are as high as one in five women will be raped or face an attempted rape in their lifetime and one in two women will face some sort of sexual crime.
Even if these numbers are significantly lower, they are way too high.
To be fair, there are false accusations, such as the Duke lacrosse team, which equally traumatized the athletes that were accused. And there are some arguments for personal responsibility — especially with the accessibility to social media. Each allegation is different and it is often “he said-she said.”
It appears, based on the reported prevalence of sexual assaults and the dismissive attitudes of not only authoritative figures but oftentimes public opinion, that the undercurrent of a rape culture does seem to exist. For men who would act with fury if their mother, wife, sisters, or daughters were sexually assaulted, it is unacceptable and disturbing how dismissive they can be toward other women.