Silence is Violence

Dismantling Rape Culture

In discussions of sexual assault and harassment, occasionally you will hear the term “Rape Culture” brought up. Many hear it and scoff, saying “Our culture doesn’t promote sexual assault, you’re just a dramatic feminist victimizing yourself!” Well, I regret to inform you that sentiments like that are, in fact, Rape Culture. So what is Rape Culture?

Oxford Languages gives the definition as follows: “A society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse.” But what are the implications of this in the real world? How does this actually play out in society?

I find it easier to think of Rape Culture in the pyramid model. The foundation is made up of the less noticeable forms of aggression, which builds the basis and reinforces the more overt forms of violence at the top. 

The bottom of the pyramid encompasses ideas like the example I portrayed earlier; it is rhetoric that downplays the actual damage that sexual assault and harassment causes, belittles victims and advocates, and alleviates blame from abusers. 

Saying “Boys will be boys,” “Don’t walk at night,” “Just tell them no,” “You shouldn’t have been partying,” and “Why would you trust them?” “Why were you drinking so much?” and the well-known and infamous, “What were you wearing?” all perpetuate the idea that victims of sexual violence are in some way responsible for the act(s) committed against them. It diverts attention from the fact that another person or persons were solely responsible for making a callous and self-serving decision to take advantage of another person. 

Sustaining ideas like these are what allow the more overt forms of hegemony in the second tier of the pyramid. These include cat-calling, unwanted touching, and unsolicited photos/comments that get excused or laughed off because victim-blaming behavior is normalized. These actions dehumanize and strip autonomy away from people, which is how more actions of physical violence come to fruition. Even if you view it as “just a joke,” having a lack of respect for others is how abusive mindsets thrive. 

The third tier is where more sadistic forms of sexual assault begin happening. For example, practices such as “Stealthing,” or removing a condom during sex without your partner’s knowledge or consent for one’s own sick pleasure happen because degrading ideologies go unchallenged. These practices connect to more violent and intensely traumatizing forms of sexual violence and abuse such as drugging, date rape, molestation, and coercive sex.

Framing harassment as a harmless joke, sustaining sexist ideals, and excusing bad behavior are the pillars that makeup Rape Culture. When we minimize or ignore red flags such as sexist dialogue, lack of respect for boundaries and consent, lack of respect for a person’s autonomy, and undermining the trauma of victims by joking about it or placing blame on them, we allow the cycle of abuse to continue. 

When a person chooses to assault and violate another person, the impact it will have on the victim will endure for their entire lifetime. Many victims of sexual assault will drop out of school or lose their job due to post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from the incident, or even from fear of seeing their attacker in again. It can take years to fully come to terms with what happened, and years of therapy to deal with it. So many victims will blame themselves for what happened, long before they even speak of the incident to another person. Ridiculing these victims will embolden abusers, which can and will lead to more people being harmed by selfish, disgusting people.

Behaviors like harassment, misogyny/sexism, and disregarding personal boundaries and consent are all red flags that should be pointed out, punished, and corrected. The assumption that any of these behaviors are “harmless fun” is false and ludicrous. These behaviors and actions are Rape Culture, and excusing them in any way is Rape Culture. Do not be complicit in it.      

Sexual misconduct is a crime that has no justification in any context. There is never a reason to violate someone else other than selfishness and narcissism. There is no reason to pressure someone into having sex with you other than selfishness and narcissism. There is never a reason to sexually harass someone other than selfishness and narcissism.

Silence is violence. If you see or hear any of the behaviors or actions discussed in this article, tell someone. Call the person out, and tell them that what they are doing is hurtful and inexcusable. Distance yourself from people who don’t respect your boundaries and/or the boundaries of others. Work to dismantle Rape Culture to make a happier, safer, and more equal world.                                

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