When people hear stories of sexual assault, the first thing some people ask is “What was she wearing?” “Was she drunk?” “Why did she join the boys?” Worse, some people don’t react at all.
Gender-based violence and sexual harassment is an everyday occurrence that people simply accept it as a fact of life.
This is Rape Culture — a society or environment in which sexual crimes are prevalent and sexual violence against women is trivialized. Rape and abuse is normalized, downplayed, and excused, so much so that people have grown callous to the harrowing experiences of many women. So much so that perpetrators are barely held accountable to their crimes.
A Look at Rape Culture
Every case of sexual harassment isn’t a wholly independent incident; it’s not a simple dynamic between a perpetrator and a victim.
These incidences are fed by culture that emboldens perpetrators and shames victims.
A culture that reduces the female body as something men can touch and use as they please, instead of a human being deserving of respect and personal space. It’s a culture of impunity, in which the perpetrators could easily get away, and a culture of victim-blaming, in which the victim is accused of disturbing the peace — as if the violation of her right to her body is a mere inconvenience to her friends, family, and, the perpetrator.
Rape culture skews the conversation of sex crimes.
When a case is discussed, people talk more about the justification of the crime — she was drunk, she was wearing skimpy clothes — rather than the rightful punishment for the crime. Rape culture makes people think more about what the victim did to deserve this, rather than the fact that the perpetrator committed a crime.
In this environment, perpetrators are born and thrive. Exposed to media that trivializes rape and sexual violence, they become insensitive to others’ right to their bodies. Following the dictum that it’s always the women’s fault, they themselves don’t take responsibility for their actions. Seeing peers who easily get away, they think they, too, would be easily absolved.
And so the cycle continues.
It is far more difficult to put an end to rape culture than it is to perpetuate it. It would take a collective effort to shift our mindset, unlearn a deeply embedded tradition, instill the values of respect into the next generation.
But we’ve compiled small things you can do today to help put an end or, at the very least, stop feeding rape culture.
1. No Victim-Blaming
One of the defining characteristics of rape culture is that it justifies sexual violence against women. The narrative is that it’s OK for a man to rape:
- If the girl is high;
- If the girl is drunk;
- If the girl is showing skin;
- If the girl is alone at night;
- If the girl is alone in her dormitory,
- And if the girl is at a party.
It’s a long list of conditions that places the blame of the crime on the girl. This framing absolves the perpetrators of accountability for their actions.
People forget that alcohol or seductive clothes DO NOT take away a girl’s right to her body.
Nothing makes rape acceptable. No invitation is acceptable other than an explicit, verbalized “yes.”
Choose your language carefully when talking about a case with other people. You have the power to exclude words that excuse sexual assault and harassment.
2. Zero Tolerance of Sexual Harassment
If you’re in a supervisory position, the head of a team, or part of a group of friends, practice zero tolerance on sexual harassment. If you’re a leader, make your policies clear against unwelcome advances, requests of a sexual nature, and other offensive physical or verbal actions against an employee or an applicant. And enforce them accordingly.
Listen to the victims and enforce proper protocol to protect everyone involved. Yes, including the accused because policies like these could also be exploited.
Do not let even small incidences go. Else, you set the precedent for the next perpetrators.
3. Celebrate Non-Traditional Masculinity
Rape culture has raised generation after generation of men who believe their masculinity is anchored on violence, aggressiveness, and dominion over women. Notice how people instinctively label a man who’s soft-spoken and graceful as “unmanly” — gay, bi, queer. Often, as an insult.
Stop setting rough behavior and callous language as the bar for masculinity.
Let boys show their emotions and don’t shame them for liking traditionally feminine pursuits, like sewing, cooking, raising orchids.
It’s 2020. We no longer say “boys will be boys” because we acknowledge that men can have a diverse range of interests, fashion choices, and manner of speaking.
4. Be Sensitive to Jokes
A woman or a child is raped every 53 minutes in the Philippines. Seven in 10 are children. So no, it’s not “just a joke.”
To make a punchline out of rape or sexual violence is to trivialize and normalize it. Jokes make a very serious situation seem trifle.
Amy Logan’s article “The United State of Women” illustrates how a single punchline can dismiss the experience of a sexual assault victim. Her co-worker asks, “What is the difference between rape and rapture? Salesmanship.” The line downplays the power of consent, creating a parallel between a legal transaction and crime. It reinforces that, as with the tradition of the salesman, it’s perfectly all right for the predator not to stop at the first “no.”
When someone cracks a similar line, respond. Call jokes out, and question if men are really devoid of discernment and restraint. People can make intelligent jokes that seek no harm and don’t poke fun at the experience of countless women.
Let me point out, however, there are comedians who are able to make rape jokes work.
The difference is that they are not dismissive of the experience of the victim. Take Carmen Esposito, for instance. She crafted an entire set about sexual assault, even titling it “Rape Jokes.” Here, she recounts her own experience as a victim, focuses on the plight of victims, and stresses, through jokes, that rape is a crime not to be taken lightly.
Esposito and her peers don’t aim to make excuses, absolve the perpetrators, or even encourage the crime (example: people won’t believe unless there are 12 women raped by the same man, so men should just rape 11). Instead of underplaying consent and right to ones’ body, they ridicule the perpetrators and mock rape culture. Unlike most who make rape jokes, these comedians do not shy away from the conversation that follows. They encourage it, showing that they did not throw the joke in for a cheap laugh.
But these comedians are more the exception than the rule.
5. Nurture a Generation that Honors Consent
It’s important for children to learn consent from the very beginning. Teach them to honor other people’s “no” and, at the same time, enforce their “no.” Encourage them to ask for permission before showing physical affection. Moreover, don’t force them to receive affection from someone, even if it’s a relative or a close friend.
Teach children that, instead of waiting for a clear “no,” wait for an active “yes.” Never assume that consent is given. If the girl is in no place to give consent (she’s drunk or unconscious), then no consent could be given.
Rape culture is pervasive and hard to kill, which is why I’m taking the next generation into account. It’s deeply embedded into the way we think, so much so that we don’t realize it shaping everything, from the way we talk to the way we create policy.
But despite its omnipresence, remember that you have a voice, and you can use it to create a safer, better world for our girls.