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Sexual Violence on Campus

Rape Culture


Normalization of Rape Culture

 Let’s break down a "typical" sexual assault story – A group of  young ladies go to a club for a night out; they have a few  drinks, and they are dancing and having a really good time.  As the night goes on, they are joined by a couple of male friends, who they’ve known for a quite a while; not too well though.  They continue to drink and dance, but at some point she has had a little too much to drink.  Her friends decide that it is time to go home, but she insists to stay behind.  So, her friends leave, and she stays behind with her male friends who also wanted her to stay behind because they were having a really good time.  By the end of the night, she is completely inebriated.  She gets up to leave, and her male friend says to her, “don’t go home, come over to my place. I’ll make you coffee, you can sober up.”  And that is exactly what she does.  He takes her home to his place and makes her coffee.  But she is completely wiped out.  She falls asleep.  During the course of that night, he sexually assaults her twice.  In the morning she wakes up to banging on the door; it’s her friends who had left her the night before who had located her, and came to pick her up.  She was humiliated, shamed, and it took years to share her experience.

Some may think that she put herself at risk, she drank too much, and she made a conscious decision to stay behind, although she could have gone home with her friends.  She had also agreed to go back to her male friend’s apartment, even though she could have taken a taxi home.  Therefore, this sexual assault was in fact, the result of a series of decisions on her part.  Others may be thinking, “Well, did she resist? Did she say, ‘no’?”  Because if she didn’t explicitly do so, then obviously her actions and behaviour spoke for themselves and we cannot possibly hold him accountable for misinterpreting them.  Regardless of the diversity in the different understandings and interpretations of the incidents, it is almost without exception, conditioned by a social and cultural reality. By the common beliefs, behaviours, desires, and emotional reactions that society cultivates in us.

  

This "typical" story is an example of the rape culture we live in.  A society where attitudes, norms, and practices; tolerate, normalize, excuse and outright condone sexual violence.  From a sociological perspective the word "culture" refers to customs and social behaviour a society engages in together.  Therefore, it is not surprising that we find it difficult to link the word "rape" in that context.  At its core, our society doesn’t outwardly promote rape however, rape culture is something more implicit than that.  It is about social practices that society engages in as a society.  It’s about how we collectively think about rape.


Mainstream Media

Sexual objectification of women in mainstream media is one important factor that plays a role in rape culture.  In a culture with widespread sexual objectification, women especially tend to view themselves as objects of desire for others.  Sexually objectified women are dehumanized by others, and seen as less competent and less worthy of empathy by both women and men. Everywhere we look, we are assailed by images of women as sexual objects, and vilified if we fail to meet the increasingly extreme beauty standard.  That is not to say that men are not objectified in mainstream media, because they increasingly are and although such objectification is always harmful, it’s never harmful in the same way.  Women and girls live in a world defined by the threat of sexual violence and rape, whereas men simply do not.  Such objectified images do not necessarily cause sexual violence but they do contribute to the normalization of dangerous attitudes towards women and girls.

It is not only in advertising that rape culture is promoted and perpetuated.  It has also infiltrated almost all aspects of popular culture.  Think about songs that glorify sexual assault - that are topping the billboard charts.  Think Robin Thicke’s, “Blurred Lines.”

Blurred lines, indeed...

Or movies that feature rape and sexual assault as their main theme.  They are Oscar award winners.  Think “The Accused”, or more recently, “Twelve Years a Slave.”  Rape and abuse are also used as a useful plot twist in some of the most highly rated shows on television.  Think “Game of Thrones”.  Pornography that has become more mainstream than ever before, a multi-million dollar industry where sex and violence has become one and the same.


What about Language?

Any linguist will argue that language shapes the way we view our world.  There are elements in our every day language that promotes rape culture.  Think about how we refer to women when engaging in verbal warfare.  “Slut”, “whore”, “bitch”, “cunt”.  Or how using sexually threatening language against one’s sister or mother is the norm.  We all use this kind of language everyday, men and women both. We even tolerate rape jokes as acceptable forms of humor.  And when we call people out on it, we are told to “lighten up.”


Asking for it!

Engage by Uplift have created two interesting discussion based videos about rape culture and the concept of "asking for it".  Watch below to learn more.