Until he finally realized it was true
Are you kidding? In the United States, we certainly do NOT have a rape culture. Let me repeat that for those in the back of the room: we do NOT have a rape culture.
That’s what he started out by saying. Several exchanges later, he concluded with this:
I think you might be correct. Perhaps we do have a rape culture in the US. I won’t argue with women again when they say the US has a rape culture.
This is not a story meant to lord it over someone that I got them to change their point of view. It’s a story that is meant to demonstrate how the myths around rape and how our society interfaces with it are still so prevalent that they often obscure the truth, which continues to harm and disempower survivors.
When someone says, “We’re suffering here,” and someone else says, “No you aren’t. You’re completely overreacting,” it impacts the ability of the suffering to be addressed. That’s what I want to impact.
There are still so many misconceptions about rape and sexual assault that it would be difficult to address each one in-depth in the course of a short piece on the topic, but here are a few of the major ones that contribute to an entirely faulty understanding of what a rape culture actually is.
Myth: Sexual assault and rape are vastly different crimes that shouldn’t be linked together under one umbrella. Rape is much more traumatic and much more devastating, where something like groping might simply be annoying.
Truth: Sexual violence of any kind is an attack on the body autonomy of the victim. Violations of respect for body autonomy are dehumanizing. It’s not so much the unwanted touching itself, but what it communicates to the person being touched about their right to control their own personal space and what happens to their body. The purpose of rape, sexual assault, and unwanted touch of any kind is to convey to someone else (even if it’s subconscious) that they are a thing and that their body does not belong to them. It’s an act of exerting domination. This is why rape is such a common weapon of war, both historically and in the present day. Rape is not about sexual desire; it’s using sex as a weapon to demonstrate power.
Different people suffer different kinds of after-effects when they have been subjected to this type of dehumanization, but PTSD, sleep disorders, depression, eating disorders, and panic attacks may affect any survivor of sexual violence (including harassment that is strictly verbal), not only those who have been raped. Mental health professionals group sexual assault and rape together because they are all part of the same dynamic.
Myth: Most women who are raped are attacked by strangers who often use overt violence or weapons to subdue their victim.
Truth: Less than 20% of rapes are perpetrated by strangers. 39% are perpetrated by an acquaintance, and 33% are perpetrated by a current or former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend. 48% of rapes take place in the home, and although violence or weapons may be involved, coercion and simply refusing to take “no” for an answer are more common.
“According to the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), date rapes are among the most common forms of rape cases. Date rape most commonly takes place among college students when alcohol is involved or date rape drugs are taken. One of the most targeted groups are women between the ages of 16 to 24.”
Myth: Men are rarely raped, and it’s not possible for a woman to rape a man.
Truth: Most rapes are perpetrated by men, and about 10% of rape victims are male, but women do sometimes rape or sexually assault men, as well as other women.
Rape doesn’t need to be legal, it doesn’t need to be seen as a normal thing or a good thing in order for it to be such a common element of the culture that it qualifies as a rape culture. You can’t equate it with other crimes that also take place frequently because the way those crimes are viewed and prosecuted is entirely different.
A culture where victims are stigmatized and attacked, as well as routinely asked what they were wearing or what they did to bring this upon themselves is also part of a rape culture.
A culture where every 37 seconds an American is sexually assaulted, where 1 in 16 women say their first sexual experience was forced, where out of every 1000 rapes, only 6 results in incarceration — that’s a rape culture. No one shames mugging victims, or accuses them of making it up. There is no pervasive cultural narrative that says that most mugging victims are vindictive liars out to harm some innocent guy with false accusations but there is such a pervasive narrative about rape (despite the fact that false accusation rates are somewhere between 2–10%) and are nearly always perpetrated by someone who fits a particular profile for doing so.
Myth: A significant percentage of rapes involve a scenario where a woman rescinds consent sometime in the middle of the sexual encounter or there is some misunderstanding about whether consent has been given.
Truth: Rape is an act of asserting domination. It is not a misunderstanding or a change of consent. A Harvard medical school study of forced sexual initiation determined that 1 in 16 women had their first sexual experience against their will. Some 50% of women surveyed said the perpetrator was larger or older. More than 46% of the women were held down. In 56% of the instances, men used verbal pressure. Men used physical threats more than 26% of the time and caused physical harm in more than 25% of the instances. Some 22% of the women were drugged.”(emphasis mine) CNN Health
“We feel it is accurate to describe these events as rape,” said Dr. Laura Hawks, a primary care physician and research fellow at Harvard Medical School who co-authored the study.
Myth: So few rapes are prosecuted or result in convictions because it’s often one person’s word against the other and it’s just too difficult to determine what actually happened.
Truth: Although it’s true that oftentimes rape victims do not behave how we might expect them to, most of that is well understood by neuroscience and by trauma experts (although not the general public).
“The victims, most of them women, often had trouble recalling an attack or couldn’t give a chronological account of it. Some expressed no emotion. Others smiled or laughed as they described being assaulted. “Unlike any other crime I responded to in my career, there was always this thought that a rape report was a false report,” says Tremblay, who was an investigator in Burlington’s sex crimes unit.”
Nearly everything that is commonly believed about how people “should” behave in these situations is completely wrong. Beyond fight and flight, common human responses to trauma are also freeze or fawn (trying to appease the attacker).
Because of this, as well as other societal preconceptions, rape victims are often treated with anything from disbelief to outright antagonism. When anyone alleges any other kind of crime, we always start off by believing them, up until such time that further investigation reveals that we should do otherwise. This is very often not true in the case of rape, one of the indications that we do indeed have a rape culture.
When Amber Wyatt was raped 12 years ago, she immediately went and told fellow party-goers and the police. Her physical exam showed trauma consistent to rape and she had the semen of one of her attackers in her body. But despite all of that, her community, from law enforcement to fellow students and parents, actually turned on her, rather than bringing her attackers to justice.
When interviewed for the Amber Wyatt story, former Fort Worth Police Department sergeant, Cheryl Johnson, said it was common practice to not pursue cases or for grand juries not to indict, despite strong evidence of a crime.
“We had cases where there were photographs and confessions from the suspects that were no-billed,” Johnson told me in 2015 in the tidy living room of her Fort Worth home. One case in particular stuck with her: A man admitted to giving a woman drugs that would render her unconscious — and then raping her after she had passed out and photographing the act. The victim was sent the photographs of her own rape, which she turned over to police. Still, the grand jury decided not to indict.
Myth: Our society takes rape as a crime so seriously that perpetrators are frequently brought to justice and serve long sentences.
Truth: There is no other crime where judges are so often reluctant to give the appropriate sentence because they don’t want to “ruin the life” of a promising young man, even though he’s already ruined the life of a promising young woman. There is no other crime where if the perpetrator took pictures of himself committing the crime and sent them to the victim, that the grand jury would still decline to indict.
The newspaper headlines are all too often full of stories of men who pleaded guilty to rape who got little to no jail time. Brock Turner was only one of these. There are dozens of others from the past few years alone. Most of these are white men. Black men tend to have the book thrown at them. When white men do this, particularly upwardly mobile young white men, it tends to be looked upon as boys will be boys rather than as the criminal behavior that it so clearly is.
Rape culture is determined by the number/percentage of people in the society who are raped as well as the attitudes and responses to that (which are unfavorable to the victim, and indulgent of the perpetrator — as distinctly different from any other crime). Although I’d said that more than once, with supporting statistics and other data to back it up, what finally got this particular man’s attention was a story from Amnesty International about rape culture in Nordic countries.
“Despite being among the top-ranking countries in the world in terms of gender equality, four Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden) have disturbingly high levels of rape and survivors of sexual violence are being failed by their justice systems, Amnesty International said in a report published today. Time for change: Justice for rape survivors in the Nordic countries reveals that flawed legislation and widespread harmful myths and gender stereotypes have resulted in endemic impunity for rapists across the region.”
“Social stigma and a lack of trust in the justice system often mean that women and girls fail to report attacks, and those that do, are frequently failed by callous and prejudiced justice systems or outdated laws. One survivor told us she would never have reported her rape if she had known how she would have been treated, and her story is typical in justice systems which are stacked against rape survivors.”
This is what the term “rape culture” refers to, and it’s apparently a problem in many places other than just here in the US. We can’t solve problems that we can’t see, and this one is particularly tricky because a lot of people don’t want to acknowledge how badly we are still failing victims and how many myths we still buy into as a society. But, at least one guy will no longer go around jumping on women who are trying to speak about this issue, and although that’s just a drop in the bucket, it’s something.
© Copyright, Elle Beau 2020
Elle Beau writes on Medium about sex, life, relationships, society, anthropology, spirituality, and love. If this story appears anywhere but Medium.com it has been stolen.
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