What is Rape Culture?

By Aleks Trkulja

What is Rape Culture?

Rape culture describes a culture where the prevalent attitudes, norms and media not only condone, tolerate and excuse, but normalise violence against women.  It includes:  victim shaming, sexual objectification, trivializing rape, denial of widespread rape, refusing to acknowledge the harm of some forms of sexual violence, or some combination of these.

It is the use of media to gloss over of sexual assault by using language that makes the victim look as though they were deserving of their abuse.  It's when we hear about a violent sexual assault or murder and authorities and public figures response to the tragedy is to say things like “If you don’t want to be raped, don’t dress like a slut” or, “If you don’t want your naked photos on the internet, don’t take them in the first place" and "Don't walk in the park alone at night, you may be murdered".

This way of thinking encompasses an attitude that creates a vicious cycle of negative perception. When we use examples like, “if you don’t want to get sexually assaulted on a night out, don’t drink too much”, we create a frame of mind, that according to feminist activist and writer, Laurie Penny, states that women should take responsibility for ‘protecting’ themselves against sexual assault. As Penny cleverly points out, we don't see authorities warning young men not to drink too much and assault someone though. As a society, we place the responsibility of sexual assault on the victim.

Double standards in our media and messages to women prevail. For example, Facebook fails to protect the privacy of women who are harassed and threatened online, but will quickly censor and remove photos of breastfeeding mothers. It conveys a message that nipples are unacceptable, but a threat to rape or murder is less offensive!  

Rape culture is an expression of society's underlying double standards between the sexual behaviour of men and women.  It persists despite all of our efforts to reach equality. It assumes that boys will be boys, and sexist behaviour is harmless fun. It also explicitly assumes that women are just ‘being sensitive’ and they should just get over it.

When you trivialise a person's experience by saying ‘Oh you’re just being sensitive!’ you undermine respect for that person and their experience. Clementine Ford suggests that once you’ve dehumanised someone in your mind, it’s easy to ignore their opinions and subsequently consent, and assault them. 

So the next time you come across a degrading joke about an outspoken feminist or sexually violent comment about rape, take it seriously. Rape culture and the implications of assault that underlie it, are not funny. As we become more aware of rape culture, what it is, and how it breeds, we can work together to elminate the double standards and remove the excuse that somehow violence towards women is OK.