How do we begin to talk about rape culture? We can start by addressing that it’s a major elephant in the room within the United States:
1 in 5 women will report rape or attempted rape at some point in their lives.
The LGBTQIA+ community reportedly experiences a greater risk of sexual assault than their heterosexual counterparts.
Most people (female/male/non-binary/trans) first experience complete or attempted rape victimization before the age of 25.
How is that everybody seems to know a victim of sexual assault, and yet nobody knows a rapist?
Seriously. That just doesn’t add up.
What is rape culture?
Rape culture is defined as “a sociological concept for a setting in which rape is pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality.” This is heavily evident in our societal structures and the behavior of public figures throughout the United States.
Until 2013, rape’s definition was “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” That’s outdated, to say the least, describing the only instance possible of rape as sexual intercourse between a man and a woman. Upon revision by the FBI, rape is now defined as:
“Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”
It took 86 years for that definition to change. Yet, it still seems that not a lot of people are aware that there are multiple ways rape can happen beyond intercourse.
Rape dynamics between men and women victims are also experienced differently. While 1 in 5 women will report an incident in their lifetimes, 1 out of every 10 rape victims is male. There’s a sexualization female rape victims experience that’s less present among male victims. Male victims tend to experience rape as a way for their rapists to exert power over them. Still, rape is a violation through sexual acts that are supposed to demonstrate intimacy, trust, and love.
Where do we start?
The perpetuation of rape culture starts in our school systems. Sex education does not have a consistent track in school districts throughout the country. The three main sex-ed curriculums in the U.S. are Abstinence-Only, Abstinence-Plus, and Comprehensive.
- Abstinence-Only promotes abstinence until marriage as the only acceptable way of engaging in sexual activity.
- Abstinence-Plus includes some information regarding contraception, but still promotes abstinence until marriage for the same reason as Abstinence-Only programs.
- Comprehensive sex education also promotes abstinence, but presents it as the best way to avoid STIs and teen pregnancy.
Contraception options are discussed along with broader topics like sexuality, sexual expression, and healthy relationships. However, the existence of a comprehensive curriculum does not ensure that these types of programs actually show up in classrooms.
As of 2018, only 24 states within the U.S. mandate sex-ed classes — that’s just less than half the country. Only 8 of these states require mention of consent and/or sexual assault in their teachings. This lack of sexual health resources is detrimental to any young person’s upbringing, causing a lack of understanding and confusion. It makes sex taboo rather than a natural part of life.
Sex is not a shameful secret. Especially considering it’s kind of the reason the majority of the population exists in the first place.
A lack of sex education teaches that sex should not be publicly discussed in any setting. And if we’re not talking about sex, then we’re definitely not talking about rape or rape culture.
Porn and rape culture
So, where do kids go when they’re denied information about anything?
Great resources exist online, but there’s no way to ensure what a kid finds. A lot of young people’s first experience with sex is through free internet porn which creates unrealistic expectations and, often, promotes sexual violence.
The very creation of porn itself can often promote sexual violence and injustice.
Rescue:Freedom, a nonprofit advocacy organization that protects people from trafficking, reports that 49% of sexual trafficking victims have been forced into making porn.
And for those voluntarily making porn, it’s not always that simple either. Social media personality Mia Khalifa was manipulated into the porn industry only to further be robbed of her commercial cuts. Khalifa openly regrets her time in the porn industry, feeling taken advantage of, and goes to therapy for it to this day. Her TikToks are still fire though.
Watching free internet porn very well means you may have willingly, unknowingly watched rape.
The U.S. and rape culture
Angry? Upset? Ashamed? What did you expect? The United States does not take sexual assault seriously. Earlier just this year Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos made changes to Title IX regulations that will make the already traumatic process even harder for survivors to come forward and receive justice.
Need another example of the country’s failure to take sexual assault seriously?
Just look at our Presidential nominees. Donald Trump has a long history of sexual assault accusations. Who can forget his infamous words, “Grab ‘em by the pussy”? Yet he still won the 2016 election, demonstrating that those at the top are immune to accountability.
Democratic candidate Joe Biden also has a history of sexual assault accusations. While Biden did publicly address accusations and commit to change, he also failed to admit any wrongdoings, apologize, and express true remorse. What does it say about the way our country views assault when our leaders are a contributing part of the problem?
It says that we are taught to not to believe survivors. We are taught to victim-blame, to claim that victims are overreacting after their bodies have been violated and that they are responsible for what happened — not rapists. These practices belittle the importance of consent and entirely dismiss acts of rape and sexual assault.
Rape culture undoubtedly exists within the United States. And while I see plenty of, generally, young people not shy from speaking out about it on social media…is that enough? What do you think? Does the United States care about its rape culture?
Does the United States care about its rape culture?