Do you ever get a sick feeling hearing news stories about sexual assault or rape on the news? Or are you one of the many people who skip the story and try to not let it bother you? Don’t feel bad… many of us do it. It’s a part of “rape culture”. Rape culture is defined as “a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse.” In other words, rape culture is the label for how our society today belittles or blows off instances of sexual assault or “rape”.
The very words “sexual assault” don’t sound as serious as “rape”, “molestation” or violation of another being. As defined by RAINN, sexual assault is the “unwanted sexual contact that stops short of rape or attempted rape. This includes fondling or touching.” But this is not how media, law and legislature define sexual assault. In fact, in some states (like New Jersey), the phrase “sexual assault” has actually replaced the word “rape” in law books. In other states (like Pennsylvania) “rape” means that force was used, while “sexual assault” is any act of intercourse without consent. Still others label rape as “criminal sexual conduct”, while others call it “sexual battery”. (source)
Is this just another way our society likes to lessen the blow when talking about stories where citizens are traumatically sexually violated?
I’m sure you remember that rape case that blew up with national attention. You know, the one where the guy was found raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster? He was detained by eye witnesses until police came, which meant there was no doubt he did rape the young woman, and yet he got nothing more than a slap on the wrist for it. Stories like this cause our “rape culture” tendencies to come out front and center. Instead of looking at the attacker for who he is – a man who took advantage of a woman in one of the worst possible ways – we instead look at and try to accuse the victim.
We start saying things like “well she shouldn’t have gotten drunk like that” because she had left a bar before the incident. Or “well what was she wearing?” as if any outfit could be an invitation for unwanted sexual contact. “She should have been more careful” as if it’s entirely up to women to be prepared in case they’re attacked, rather than placing the fault at the foot of the man attacking.
The View of Women
Rape culture isn’t new. Humanity has looked down on women for centuries. For the longest time (including during Bible times) women were treated as possessions, and raping a woman was an offense against the man who owned her, not against the woman herself.
Today, our outlook on sexual assault has pivoted from seeing women as a possession, to seeing them as the instigators. And what’s crazy is, that women aren’t the only ones who are raped! Men can be too, regardless of what you might think.
“Rape is the only crime in which the victim becomes the accused.” – Freda Adler
The fact is, any time a person attacks or forces another being to perform or succumb to sexual acts without consent – is rape. And if your partner is unconscious? There’s no way they could ever give their consent about anything. This helpful video should make it easier to understand:
Tea (Sexual) Consent
We hear stories about women being taken advantage of, and instead of immediately calling out the man, we start spewing “yeah, but…” trying to find a reason that the woman (or victim) may have brought it on herself.
Society likes to say the reason we remain skeptical of rape accusations is because “there are so many false claims”. But in reality? 63% of rapes and sexual assaults are never reported. And only about 2-10% of reported accusations are ruled false. Which often times doesn’t necessarily mean the victim is lying, but that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the rape happened. (source)
So what does this tell us?
It tells us that when women are victimized, they are terrified of coming forward. Terrified of what their family will think, their friends, and society. That a small percentage of false rape claims means that all victims, when coming forward, are looked at skeptically. And that because of this, women and victims who desperately need help to recovery from a traumatic event, won’t be getting the help they need. Check out the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s Publication on False Reporting to learn more about the facts on false reporting.
According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), 1 in 6 women have been raped. 94% of these women will experience PTSD during the first 2 weeks after, and 30% will continue experiencing it 9 months later.
I like to hope that every woman who reads this post hasn’t experience such a tragedy… but odds are, many have. And if you are lucky enough to be one of the 5 out of 6 women who have not been raped or assaulted – have you ever thought of what you’d do in such a terrifying situation, as the victim? How you would feel?
Law enforcement often looks at a delay in reporting a rape as evidence of a false claim. (source) And yet many people experiencing PTSD – for any reason – have a problem opening up about their traumatic experiences. So the next time you tell a victim “if that’s true, why didn’t you tell me?” – check yourself.
Books & Movies with Assault
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Rape and sexual assault are in a surprising number of movies and books, many times without even labeling it so.
But there are some books and movies out there that aim to raise awareness about rape culture. Have you ever read the book or watched the movie Speak?
It’s about a young woman in high school, dealing with her troubles alone, isolated, and afraid, after being raped by an upperclassman. It isn’t until after he attacks her a second time that she finally “speaks up” for herself.
What about one of my all-time favorite movies – Thelma and Louise?
Thelma & Louise are two women running from the law after shooting Thelma’s rapist. They knew that with so many witnesses at the bar they left watching Thelma and the man dance, that no one would believe he attacked her. So instead of confessing, they ran, and paid the ultimate price for it.
The Problem with Society’s Reactions
Many of the knee-jerk reactions (from both men and women) when they hear of sexual assault stories, are statements like:
“Boys will be boys, I guess.” (Um, no.)
“Well what was she wearing?” (Why does it matter?)
“She shouldn’t have been drinking.” (So men can drink but women shouldn’t?)
“Oh, she was probably asking for it.” (I’m sure that’s exactly what was written on her forehead.)
“She sleeps with everyone anyway.” (I don’t care if she’s slept with 1000 men. No means no.)
“Well they seemed pretty cozy when they were dancing all night.” (Yeah because dancing with someone automatically means they owe them sex.)
With reactions like these, it’s no wonder victims are hesitant to open up.
Someone very close to me opened up to me about their own experience with rape – something that happened to her before she was even old enough to know what sex was. It was heartbreaking, and extremely hard to hear. I kept wondering – why didn’t she tell anyone? Why didn’t her parents realize there was a problem?
But the truth was that she was afraid, like so many other victims. A child, afraid to open up about something so awful because she thought it was her fault. She thought she did something wrong.
This is why it’s so very important for us to change the way we view rape and assault, as well as the way we react to them. We need to rebuild our views on “rape culture” – criminalize attackers and stop accusing the victims.
What to do When Someone Shares her Story
First thing’s first when a friend or relative opens up to you about being assaulted – be supportive. Curb your judgmental thoughts. You may not even realize that what you’re thinking of saying would come across as judgmental, so before you say anything, stop and think. How would you feel if you were in their shoes? Would that statement hurt or help you?
Second – believe her. You may be skeptical of such a serious accusation, but people (especially those close to us) rarely lie about being raped. No one asks for this, so again, be supportive.
Third – encourage her to call police. If the attacker was someone the victim knew, she may be reluctant to call the attack “rape”. She may be confused, or start thinking she did something wrong. Don’t let her blame herself. This was not her fault.
Fourth – whether your friend plans to report things to the police or not, getting medically evaluated is a must. Help her through this trying time by being with her every step of the way. Tell her you’ll go with her to seek medical treatment. She trusted you enough to open up, and now it’s up to you to hold her hand as she gets help.
Fifth – If your friend in need has questions or needs someone more knowledgeable to talk to, let her know she can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.
(There’s an entire list of all kinds of other hotlines on the NCADV website, if needed.)
Lastly – don’t expect her to just “get over it”. Help her get the therapy she needs, when she’s ready. Being raped can be traumatic, and recovering from it can take a long time. Be there for her as long as she needs. Listen, ask questions, and don’t let her blame herself. Again, this was not her fault.
The Open Your Mind Project
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted or raped, sometimes opening up about the story can help make sense of things and aid in the recovery process. If you’re at or on your way to this point and are looking for an outlet, check out our Open Your Mind project.
OYM is a project we’ve started to help raise awareness of not just sexual assault, but also domestic violence, inequality, and discrimination. By asking victims to share their stories, we plan on compiling over 1000 true accounts of abuse and discrimination and format it into an eBook, available nationwide. We hope to use these stories to prove the severity of these terrible cases and the need for change. Change in reactions, in understanding, in how we handle such situations, and ultimately – change in the law.
We Have the Power
As members of society, we can make a difference in the way we react to stories of abuse and neglect. We have the power to support and change laws that will criminalize attackers and stop victim-shaming, making America a safer place to come forward and get help.
The first step to resolving any issue is to recognize there is one – and that’s what raising awareness through the Open Your Mind project is all about.
If you’re struggling after a traumatic experience and need someone to talk to, Kristen and myself are always available to lend an ear. Feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay strong mamas – we can make a difference.