Rape culture

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Within feminism, rape culture is a concept that links rape and sexual violence to the culture of a society,[1] and in which prevalent attitudes and practices normalize, excuse, tolerate, and even condone rape.[2]

Examples of behaviors commonly associated with rape culture include victim blaming, sexual objectification, and trivializing rape. Rape culture has been used to model behavior within social groups, including prison rape and conflict areas where war rape is used as psychological warfare. Entire countries have also been alleged to be rape cultures.[3][4][5][6][7]

Although the concept of rape culture is used in feminist academia,[8] there is disagreement over what defines a rape culture and to what degree a given society meets the criteria to be considered a rape culture.[3]

Rape culture has been observed to correlate with other social factors and behaviors. Research identifies correlation between rape myths, victim blaming and trivialization of rape with increased incidence of racism, homophobia, ageism, classism, religious intolerance and other forms of discrimination.[9][10]

Origins and usage[edit]

During the early 1970s, feminists began to engage in consciousness-raising efforts to educate the public about the reality of rape. According to Alexandra Rutherford, "Until the 1970s, most Americans assumed that rape, incest, and wife-beating rarely happened."[11] The idea of rape culture was one result of these efforts.

According to the Encyclopedia of Rape:

"The term 'rape culture' originated in the 1970s during the second wave feminist movement and is often used by feminists to describe contemporary American culture as a whole."[12] The concept appeared in multiple forms of media during the mid-1970s.

In 1974, the term was used in Rape: The First Sourcebook for Women[context?], edited by Noreen Connell and Cassandra Wilson for the New York Radical Feminists.[13] It was one of the first books to include first-person accounts of rape, which were one reason for rape entering the public view.[14] In the book, the group stated that "our ultimate goal is to eliminate rape and that goal cannot be achieved without a revolutionary transformation of our society."[15]

Dr. Joyce E. Williams traces the origin and first usage of rape culture,[16] to the 1975 documentary film Rape Culture produced and directed by Margaret Lazarus and Renner Wunderlich for Cambridge Documentary Films. Professor Williams says that the film "takes credit for first defining the concept".[16] The film discussed rape of both men and women in the context of a larger cultural normalization of rape.[17][18] In 2000, Lazarus stated that she believed the movie was the first use of the term.[19] The film featured the work of the DC Rape Crisis Centre in co-operation with Prisoners Against Rape, Inc.[20] It included interviews with rapists and victims as well as prominent anti-rape activists like feminist philosopher and theologian Mary Daly and author and artist Emily Culpepper. The film also explored the mass media, how film-makers, song writers, writers, and magazines perpetuated attitudes towards rape.[18]

In a 1992 paper, in the Journal of Social Issues, entitled "A Feminist Redefinition of Rape and Sexual Assault: Historical Foundations and Change", Patricia Donat and John D'Emilio suggested that the term originated as "rape-supportive culture"[21] in Susan Brownmiller's 1975 book Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape. Brownmiller, a member of the New York Radical Feminists, showed how both academia and the general public ignored the existence of rape.[22] The book is considered a "landmark" work on feminism and sexual violence and one of the pillars of modern rape studies.[23]

Slutwalk[edit]

Slut Walk is a feminist organization that formed in response to a public statement made by a Toronto police officer, in regards to a rape case, on January 24, 2011.[24]

The SlutWalk and Besharmi Morcha movements are credited with popularizing the term via certain mass media reports about the protesters in the English-speaking Western media.[25] The rallies aim to raise awareness of rape culture—which they define as a culture where "sexual violence is both made to be invisible and inevitable"—and to end slut-shaming and victim blaming.[26] [27] One primary goal of this organization is to deconstruct the stigma that often comes with being a victim of rape or sexual-assault. Cities that have hosted SlutWalks include but are not limited to: (In the U.S.) Seattle, Boston, Chicago, Spokane, Austin, and Philadelphia. The original SlutWalk first took place in the city of Toronto, Canada.[24]

Theory and manifestations[edit]

According to Chris O'Sullivan, acts of sexism are commonly employed to validate and rationalize normative misogynistic practices. For instance, sexist jokes may be told to foster disrespect for women and an accompanying disregard for their well-being. An example would be a female rape victim being blamed for her being raped because of how she dressed or acted. In O'Sullivan's article, sexualized violence towards women is regarded as a continuum of a society that regards women's bodies as sexually available by default.[28]

According to some, the root cause of rape culture is the "domination and objectivication [sic] of women".[29] However, academic theory holds that rape culture does not necessarily have a single cause, and causes may be localized based on other social aspects of culture.[30] For example, in South Africa the overriding "war culture" which emphasized masculinity and violence led to a culture in which rape was normalized[27][29] A University of California Davis public document alleged that the enforcement of the following of social rules by women and the conditioning of gender roles were major causes.[31] Others have also advanced the notion that, in a rape culture women are conditioned to assume responsibility for male sexuality, and gender roles are socially constructed and enforced on women through fear.[32] In a study of date rape, gender-based miscommunications were held to be a major factor supporting a campus rape culture.[33] The general unwillingness of police and district attorneys to prosecute rapes where force was not involved or where the victim had some sort of relationship with the aggressor is also cited as a motivation for date rape and campus rape.[30] In addition, there have been reported incidents of colleges questioning accounts of alleged victims, further complicating documentation and policing of student assaults, despite such preventative legislation as the Clery Act.[34][35] Rape culture is also closely related to slut-shaming and victim blaming, where rape victims are considered at fault for being raped, and it is argued that this connection is due to the presence of a culture that shames all female sexuality.[30] That some rapes are not reported to the police due to fear that they would not be believed is often cited as a symptom of a rape culture,[30][36] that they thought the police would not believe them is cited as a reason by 6% of women who did not report rape.[37] Pornography has also been commonly targeted as a contributor to rape culture because it is said to contribute to larger patterns of oppression. Feminists frequently link rape culture to the widespread distribution of pornography, which is seen as an expression of a rape culture that objectifies women, reducing the female body to a commodity.[38] The fusion of several pornographic motifs are seen in the accounts of rapists.[39] Although much of its early use as a theory to explain the occurrence of rape and domestic violence was focused on the rape of women, rape culture has been described as detrimental to men as well as women. Some writers and speakers, such as Jackson Katz, Michael Kimmel, and Don McPherson, have said that it is intrinsically linked to gender roles that limit male self-expression and cause psychological harm to men.[40]

According to Michael Parenti, rape culture manifests through the acceptance of rapes as an everyday occurrence, and even a male prerogative. It can be exacerbated by police apathy in handling rape cases, as well as victim blaming, reluctance by the authorities to go against patriarchial cultural norms, as well as fears of stigmatization from rape victims and their families.[41] Other sociologists posit that rape culture links nonconsensual sex to the cultural fabric of a society, where patriarchial world views, laced with misogyny and gender inequality, are passed from generation to generation, leading to widespread social and institutional acceptance of rape. Feminists and sexual activists conceptualize rape cultures that encourage gender violence, as well as perpetuate "rape myths", ranging from treating rape as merely "rough sex" to blaming the victim for inviting rape. Such "rape myths" are social messages that command women to assume pre-defined gender roles concerning sexual behavior.[42] This idea is reflected in spousal rape. Rape culture perpetuates particular rape myths that are then codified into law. Emergence of the concepts like ′intimate partner rape′[43] or ′marital rape′ is one consequence of these rape myths. In addition, rape culture can manifest when third parties separate the violence from the general reputation and character of the perpetrators.[44] According to political scientist Iris Marion Young, victims in rape cultures live in fear of random acts of oppressive sexual violence that are intended to damage or humiliate the victim.[45] Others link rape culture with modernisation and industrialisation, arguing that pre-industrial societies tend to be "rape free" cultures, since the lower status of women in these societies give them some immunity from sexual violence. In industrial rape cultures, women emerge from their homebound roles and make their presence felt in the workplace and other areas traditionally dominated by men, increasing male insecurities that lead to them using rape as a countering method.[39][46] Others also link rape culture to environmental insecurities, where men objectify women as part of their struggle to control their immediate environment. It is also linked to gender segregation, and the belief that rape proves masculinity.[47] Other manifestations of rape culture include denial of widespread rape,[48] institutional apathy towards the problem of rape,[49] minimization of rape cases by government officials,[48][49][50] and excusing rapists as social anomalies.[48][49]

Rape culture can be perpetuated via language used in everyday conversations. The frequency of rape jokes on the internet has been cited as an example of the belittling of rape that characterizes rape culture.[51] Prison is a common place about which rape jokes are abundant. Linda McFarlane, director of Just Detention International, states "Humor is part of the cultural attitude that (prison) is the one place where rape is okay."[52]

Victim blaming and slut shaming[edit]

Victim blaming is the phenomenon in which a victim of a crime or an accident is partially or entirely attributed or responsible for the transgressions committed against them.[53] An example of this could take place when a victim of a crime, (in this case rape or sexual assault), is asked questions by the police, in an emergency room, or in a court room, that suggests that the victim was doing something, acting a certain way, or wearing clothes that may have provoked the perpetrator, therefore making the transgressions against the victim their own fault.[54][55] This is an example of victim blaming committed by the authorities. However, this could also occur among a victim’s peers.[56][57] Also, while there is not a lot of general discussion of rape facilitated in the home, schools, or government agencies, what information or conversation there is often time perpetuates rape culture due to the focus of the emphasis on techniques of “how not to be raped,” vs “how not to rape.” [58][59] This is problematic due to the stigma created and transgressed against the already victimized individuals rather than stigmatizing the aggressive actions of rape and the rapists.[59] It is also commonly viewed that prisoners in prison deserve to be raped and is a reasonable form of punishment for the crimes they committed.[52]

Sexual assault advocacy and treatment[edit]

Nurses, doctors and hospital staff are often trained to deal with the emotional well-being of rape victims.[60] The individuals that work closely with victims during the aftermath are often the first people the victim sees after the traumatic event and can play an important role in their recovery.[61] Hospital staff that portray understanding and helpful behavior may leave the victim a sense of control and a positive outlook on their future in spite of their experience.[62]

Rape advocates often play a role in the recovery of rape victims. A rape advocate is an individual, employed or volunteer, who works directly with victims of sexual assault, advocating on their behalf during the hospital procedures and informing them of their rights and the local resources available to them. Rape advocates are often trained through local social service agencies and sexual assault recovery programs. Advocates can also answer calls for help from local sexual assault crisis phone lines. Within the social service agency, there are often advocates who specialize in various fields such as counseling, legal assistance, group therapy and activism.[63]

Criticisms[edit]

Christina Hoff Sommers has disputed the existence of rape culture, arguing that the common "one in four women will be raped in her lifetime" is based on a flawed study, but frequently cited because it leads to campus anti-rape groups receiving public funding. Sommers has also examined and criticized many other rape studies for their methodology, and states, "There are many researchers who study rape victimization, but their relatively low figures generate no headlines."[3]

According to Joyce E. Williams, "the major criticism of rape culture and the feminist theory from which it emanates is the monolithic implication that ultimately all women are victimized by all men."[1]

Other writers, such as bell hooks, have criticized the rape culture paradigm on the grounds that it is too focused; in 1984, she wrote that it ignores rape's place in an overarching "culture of violence".[64] In 1993 she contributed a chapter to a book on rape culture, focusing on rape culture in the context of patriarchy in black culture.[65]

Jadaliyya, an academic initiative by the Arab Studies Institute, published another critique of the concept of rape culture, criticizing the appropriation of the term by orientalists to promote racist stereotypes of Arab and Muslim men, as well as stereotypes of South Asians in western media and academia. The critique draws connections between media reports demonizing Middle Eastern and South Asian men as "racially prone to rape" and similar tactics employed by the British as part of a racist Indophobic propaganda campaign during the 1857 rebellion casting resistance fighters as rapists.[66]

The UN conducted its ‘Multi-country Study on Men and Violence in Asia and the Pacific’ in 2008 in six countries across Asia. Its conclusions, published in 2013, seemed to indicate a substantial number of men in Asian countries admit to committing some form of rape. The study’s general conclusion about high levels of rape have been recognized as reliable; however, questions about its accuracy perpetuate the debate about how societies perceive rape and social norms. A closer look at the study’s methodology reveals questions about cultural definitions of rape, the study’s sample size, survey design, and linguistic accuracy, all of which highlights ongoing challenges in trying to quantify the prevalence of rape.[67]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]