Suppose you have a nice leather jacket. Armani, high-end. One night, somebody beats you up and steals the jacket. You go to the police and report the theft, but instead of following through with the investigation, they question you: Why were you out at night? Were there any witnesses? Are you sure this happened? Have you let other people borrow your jacket before? Do you have a history of lending your jackets to people? Did you say “no”? Did you say “no” explicitly? Why didn’t you fight harder? You feel uncomfortable and decide not to press charges. You used to lend your jacket to others all the time. Now, the thought makes you queasy and upset. You grow paranoid, depressed. People make jokes, like can I borrow your jacket too? You do not laugh. Others tell you that it’s your fault for showing off your jacket like that. And still others call you an attention seeking liar.

“Theft Prevention Tips!” says: “Avoid walking home at night, wear layered clothing, attack the solar plexus, scream ‘fire’ not theft, watch how much you drink…” Every day you strap on pepper spray like a soldier going to war. You wonder why the responsibility falls on your shoulders. You wonder why you didn’t fight harder. You wonder if maybe it is your fault.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is rape culture. Rape culture teaches young girls to not dress “provocatively,” tells them that “boys will be boys, they can’t help themselves,” and establishes sexual violence as the norm. Rape culture normalizes hypermasculinity and promotes victim blaming. Rape culture is incredibly dangerous and very, very common.

You perpetuate rape culture every time you excuse the actions of a “boy with his life ahead of him.” Every time you express disbelief at accusations against a high-profile celebrity like Bill Cosby or Johnny Depp. Every time you write off male propagated sexual aggression as something natural, or worse, attractive (looking at you, Christian Grey).

Recently, former Stanford swimmer Brock Allen Turner was found unanimously guilty of three felony sexual assault charges. He was caught raping an unconscious 23-year-old woman behind a dumpster at a frat party while drunk. Instead of the maximum 14 years of state prison Judge Aaron Persky could have doled out, he sentenced Turner to 6 months of county jail and community service. Persky said that Turner had “less moral culpability” due to his intoxication, and that the “prison sentence would have a severe impact on him.” [1] Turner’s father wrote that “Brock’s life has been deeply altered forever by the events… a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.”

Let’s get one thing straight. Rape is not an accident or an isolated event; it is the intentional objectification and sexual domination of another person’s body. It is about power, control, and submission. It is not a trivial event, not just “bad sex,” not “worse for a virgin than a sexually active person,” and absolutely not just “20 minutes of action.” It is inherently humiliating and damaging. Whether the victim is unconscious or not, they will face intense psychological trauma for the rest of their lives. Rape culture excuses the actions of violent star athletes by essentially saying, “boys will be boys.” It places the fault on girls for drinking too much and drawing the boys in like some coy vixen.

The desire for power and control stems from our culture of hypermasculinity, where boys are taught to not show weakness and instead strike a façade of manly strength. This is harmful to all genders. Traditionally feminine activities like cooking and embroidery are ridiculed while traditionally masculine activities are heralded. Toxic phrases like “real men don’t cry” are tossed around, creating an environment where boys bottle up their feelings and release them in explosive displays of male aggression expressed towards women. This culture especially affects males who get raped. Often, their claims are not taken seriously, or are dismissed as sex they must have actually enjoyed. These men tend  to carry their trauma secretly and alone, and are even less likely to report sexual assault than female victims.

Rape is not always a man jumping out from the shadows and dragging you off to an alleyway at knifepoint. Sometimes the victim does not look like a stereotypical victim. Smoked a lot, drank a lot, dressed provocatively, wasn’t she asking for it? Doesn’t that make her less credible? With our justice system, the standard for whether rape occurred is placed upon the victim entirely. Their thoughts, sexual history, and actions are opened up for scrutiny, criticism, sometimes outright disbelief. It is no wonder that around 66% of sexual assault cases go unreported and less than 2% of rapists are ever actually incarcerated [2]. (These are generous estimates; the reality is probably much worse.) When they are reported, people think they’re lying. Disregarding the fact that reporting rape is a very traumatizing process, statistically only 2-8% of rape reports are false reports [3]. We must dispel the idea that rape victims are lying, because the overwhelming majority of the time, they are not. This kind of mentality creates a toxic environment that prevents the victims from speaking out.

Rape happens because as a society, we have failed. Rape kits go untested for years on end. Rapists get off with little more than a slap on the wrist. Sexual objectification begins at increasingly younger ages. Hollywood normalizes violence by featuring women who get brutalized in creative ways, thereby desensitizing us to violence, and enforcing the idea that sexual abuse is common and natural. Movies like Fifty Shades of Gray paint male aggression as romantic and promote abusive relationships. Music such as “Blurred Lines” and “What Do You Mean?” convey the idea that undesired sexual advances are the fault of women for not being clear enough in their refusal.

We can stop contributing to rape culture by acknowledging the real problems: violent masculinity and victim blaming. Start teaching boys from young ages about consent and to respect women. Stop extolling them for getting laid and deriding females for doing the same. Stop enforcing archaic gender roles and stereotypes.

Rape is a big deal. It’s time we start treating it like one.

Illustration: Jeffrey Liu

Illustration: Jeffrey Liu



[3] Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture – and What We Can Do About It by Kate Harding

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