TW- Rape/ rape culture
Rape culture is dangerous. Sadly, this is a fact that is often not taken seriously enough. And usual takes an extreme example or prominent case of sexual violence for people to turn attention to it for a few short weeks. Myths around rape and rape culture continue to infiltrate our society at a systemic and institutional level. Accusations of women and men “making up” claims of rape, or falsely accusing men of rape, thereby “ruining their lives” are still horrifically common. Ideas such as these give jurors, police and anyone who may be involved in reports of rapes, a preconceived idea about what rape is and who can be raped before the court session even occurs. And women are too often abused, scrutinised and revictimized during this process. When Emily Doe was assaulted by Brock Turner on her university campus, she was accused of partying too much, of drinking too much and of ultimately being the villain. In her victim statement, she said:
"If you think the answer is that women need to be more sober, more civil, more upright, that girls must be better at exercising fear, must wear more layers with eyes open wider, we will go nowhere."
Rape should not be trivialised. And yet, societal attitudes that normalise sexual assault continue to perforate it. When Sarah Everard was killed, women were advised to not go out alone to prevent the same happening to them. Going out alone is a classic example of how women are often told rape is their own fault.
The truth is rape is no one’s fault, except for the rapist’s.
Here, are some of the myths perpetuated by rape culture that make it more difficult for women (and men) to be believed if they are raped or assaulted.
1.) Women are asking for it
There is often an assumption that a victim’s behaviour, such as drinking a lot, or the way they dress (often in a sexually promiscuous way) means they want sex or is “asking for it”. However, how somebody dresses has nothing to do with whether or not they want sex. People dress differently depending on taste, cultural background or even the weather! Assumptions made by how people dress are usually a result of bias. Besides, people who cover up fully get raped. Children get raped. So how can we say this is because of what they were wearing?
Similarly, this is founded on the assumption that rape is about sexual attraction. However, sexual violence is an act of power and aggression, not attraction. It is often used to terrorise, exert control over, and degrade women.
2.) If someone changes their mind during sex, or doesn’t fight back, it is not rape
Someone changing their mind is not consent. Saying “no” is not consent. Crying is not consent. Being drunk is not consent. Saying “I’m not sure” is not consent. Anything except a firm “yes!” is not consent.
There also might be many reasons that someone does not fight back. You may have heard of “fight or flight”, but there is a third response called “freeze”. This is a survival response controlled by a part of the brain called the amygdala. It is the part of the brain involved in decision making. When going through a traumatic experience, this part of the brain freezes as an evolutionary response. Freezing makes prey invisible to predators. It is much more common than fleeing in many cases of sexual violence.
3.) People always report rape to the police
People often have assumptions about how rape victims would behave. So why would someone not report it to the police? In fact, “uncommon” behaviour is the norm after being assaulted. One of the ways a lot of victims may try to move forwards is by trying to resume their normal lives. Similarly, people are more likely to be attacked by someone close to them, as opposed to a stranger. It might be difficult to cut off someone close to you, especially if they are a family member. Rape culture can also affect how victims perceive their own attack, making them dismissive of it, or unable to believe it even happened.
4.) There is always a “perfect” (white, female) victim
Whilst rape, is nearly always done by men, people of all genders can be raped. Black women and women of colour are more likely to be assaulted than white women and disabled women are twice as likely to be victims of sexual assault. Individuals belonging to the LGBT+ community are also more likely to be attacked than heterosexuals. However, the idea of a “perfect (often white and female) victim” perpetuates the myth that only some women are likely to be raped and makes it so people do not believe victims. For example, men may be told they always want sex, so cannot be raped.
The continued perpetuation of these myths is dangerous. Rape culture is not just the action of rape itself, but the harmful ideas we all hold that can affect victims, and the way they can access sipport. We must do work to prevent rape culture in order to help victims. And this can start by challenging any harmful myths and perceptions we have of rape and what happens around it.