Everything You Need To Know About Rape Culture

What the hell is rape culture anyway? Here's everything you need to know about it. | Illustration by Sarah Wintner

What the hell is rape culture anyway? Here’s everything you need to know about it. | Illustration by Sarah Wintner

When someone is raped, sometimes one of our first instincts isn’t to condemn the rapist or wonder if the victim is okay. No, one of the first questions that pops into people’s minds is this: Hm, what were they wearing?

How screwed up is that? Still, not that hard to believe that someone would ask that, right? Well, we all have rape culture to thank for that. Yes, rape culture. Contrary to popular belief, rape culture isn’t just a term that some teenage feminists on Tumblr created. It’s a useful way of explaining the way that rape is perpetuated and excused in just about every society on the planet. Want to learn more? Check out everything you need to know about rape culture.

What exactly is rape culture?

Rape culture is a concept in which the rape and sexual violence is normalized thanks to society’s approach to gender and sexuality.

For example, in the infamous Stubenville rape case back in 2012, in which a teenage girl was raped by two high school football players, many critics suggested that the rape wouldn’t have occurred if she wasn’t drunk. Let’s not get it twisted: The rape wouldn’t have happened if those dudes didn’t decide to rape her. For some folks in the court of public opinion, she should be held responsible for her rape because she “asked for it” given her drunken state and, perhaps, her attire. Oh, and those football players that were sent to juvie for their crimes were mourned as nice boys who had bright futures. Crap on the (female) victim, excuse the male perpertrators. That, everyone, is an example of rape culture.



But it takes other forms besides rape. The ways in which sexual harassment–including street harassment–are shrugged off is another way that sexual violence is seen as non-threatening. And then there’s rape jokes which turn sexual assault into a punchline. Hey, remember when a teen girl’s rape became a meme? There’s also the assumption that a rape allegation is a lie, used as an act of revenge, attention seeking or guilt, especially in high profile rape cases. Oh, and on top of all of that there’s the fact that women feel less safe walking around at night than men and that girls and women are constantly having their bodies seen as inherently igniting sexual attention (sup, dress codes?). Yes, just a few examples of how rape culture can and does dominate our way of life.

Anyone can be a rapist, from that creep in your biology class to your favorite musician to your cousin. Nevertheless, we live in a culture that is more likely to develop skepticism towards a survivor of rape than a perpetrator of it. That’s a big effing problem, everyone.

WTF? It’s not like our culture is saying “it’s cool to rape people!” Culture doesn’t rape people, people rape people.

sloan eye roll

Of course there’s nothing in a country’s constitution that says, “LOL we’re cool with rape BTW.” And it’s fair to point out that RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), one of the most important and influential anti-rape organizations, believes that the term rape culture is a distraction. In a statement to the White House regarding rape on college campuses, they said, “While it is helpful to point out the systemic barriers to addressing the problem, it is important not to lose sight of a simple fact: Rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime.”

Unfortunately, this came across to some as out of touch. Rape might not be directly caused by cultural factors, but cultural factors encourage a lack of justice against rapists.

Here are some straight up facts: One in five women have survived rape or an attempted rape, but sixty percent of sexual assaults aren’t reported to the police. Two-thirds of rapes are committed by someone the rape survivor knows and 97 percent of rapists don’t receive jail time. Native-American women have a higher rate of rape and attempted rape than any other demographic in the United States. People have created products in an attempt to avoid rape and drugging thanks to date rape drugs!  Rape and sexual assault is a very real thing happening to real people, and yet it is still shrouded in guilt and victim blaming. As Jaclyn Friedman, author Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape told Time magazine, “If we already despise rapists, why are they so rarely held accountable in any way? …What we really despise is the idea of rapists: a terrifying monster lurking in the bushes, waiting to pounce on an innocent girl as she walks by. But actual rapists, men who are usually known to (and often loved by) their victims? Men who are sometimes our sports heroes, political leaders, buddies, boyfriends and fathers? Evidence suggests we don’t despise them nearly as much as we should.”

We don’t live in a culture that explicitly says rape is okay; it’s against the law for a reason. But our culture certainly does little to discourage rape from happening and even allows rapist to get away with their actions while directing the blame elsewhere, to short skirts and miscommunication. That’s rape culture.


Obviously not everyone is raped because of things they wear but wearing a mini skirt can’t exactly help, right?

Let’s get this straight: Rape is about power. People wearing mini skirts are raped, people wearing sweatpants are raped, people wearing Disney princess pajama bottoms are raped. People of all ages, gender-identification and personal style preferences are raped, period.

Additionally, it might be easy for someone to associate skimpy clothing with rape when they’re under the impression that rape is an act that happens in dark alleyways after a night of partying. Yeah, not the case. As I pointed out earlier, most rape survivors know their attackers; they aren’t strangers. Rape isn’t approached the way that a burglary is. There’s no “ooooh, shiny!” methodology in the way that most rapists rape people. Get that out of your heads right here, right now.

Rape culture just sounds like another phrase to make men look evil or something.


Absolutely not. Male-identifying people are also rape survivors; you don’t need to think too hard to think of any, just consider the dozens of male rape survivors associated with the Catholic church rape scandals. And hey, women are capable of rape, too.  This isn’t about hating on men, but it doesn’t behoove anyone to ignore some straight up facts: Most rape survivors are women, most of their attackers are men. It’s important to investigate the way that gender roles play into the way that we look at rape culture and the normalization of sexual violence.

Okay, so if rape culture exists what are we supposed to do about it?

That’s a good question. One of the most important things we can do is acknowledge that it exists in the first place; we live in a society that, frankly, has a crappy way of responding to and addressing rape. I know, I know, telling someone to acknowledge these things sounds like do nothing advice, but think about it. If someone confided in you about being raped and, instead of sexist judgement, you treated them like a human being who–oh, I don’t know–didn’t ask for this to happen to them, that’s a big eff you to rape culture. Encouraging someone to report their rape is a big eff you to rape culture. Challenging your friend who makes rape jokes, maybe by letting them know that there’s a big chance that someone they know has been raped, is a big eff you to rape culture. There are lots of little things we can do that help treat rape and sexual assault as the heinous crime it is. Of course, rape can’t stop without people deciding not to rape, but we can all play a part in making the world we live in more hostile for rapists as opposed to hostile towards rape survivors.


What other examples of rape culture have you noticed in your everyday life? Have you ever been a victim of it in an obvious way? Tell us in the comments!


You can follow the author, Ashley Reese, on Twitter or Instagram. Don’t worry, she doesn’t bite!

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