Earlier this month, “Stanford Rapist” Brock Turner walked out of jail after serving three months of a six-month prison sentence. Turner made national news this year when two men caught him raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster in Jan. 2015.
Even though he was caught in the act, and even though the victim came forward to testify against him, the judge worried a stiffer sentence would have a “severe impact” on a 20-year-old. The rape charges were thrown out and, convicted of three lesser sexual assault charges, Turner served less time than most do for nonviolent drug offenses.
I wish I could say this sort of behavior toward rapists was rare, but it’s not. Just this week, a Canadian judge entered a judicial hearing for asking a 19-year-old rape victim “why couldn’t you just keep your knees together?” before acquitting the accused rapist of all crimes. During the trial, he told the defendant to tell his male friends to “be far more gentle with women…to protect themselves, they have to be far more careful.”
I’m sorry, what?
That is what Rape Culture is, my friends: It is when judges, laws, and society in general prioritize the safety and protection of rapists over the safety and protection of victims. It’s when one in five American women will be raped during her lifetime, but 97 percent (97 percent!) of rapists are never convicted.
These are some examples of Rape Culture. Sound familiar?
You’ve been told to carry pepper spray or walk to your car with your keys between your fingers.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t take measures to make yourself feel safe (I keep pepper spray in my bag at all times because it puts my mind at ease). Still, society prefers to teach women not to get raped, rather than teach men not to rape in the first place. You see this all over: There is nail polish you can dip in your drink to test for date-rape drugs, horrible memes about “hairy-leg stockings” as rape prevention, and whole books of advice urging women not to drink too much or wear short skirts.
You were dress-coded in school or told your clothes are “distracting.”
This is a big one. The notion that what we wear distracts men, or worse, “leads them astray,” enforces the disturbing and toxic idea that men are not responsible for their bad behavior. It starts off as “boys will be boys,” but can evolve into something more dangerous—like when a federal judge thinks a woman wearing a short skirt “deserves” to get raped.
You’ve consumed media that makes “no means yes” seem sexy.
There’s an age-old trope in books and movies in which a woman rejects a man, but eventually comes to love him after he does enough convincing. We’re taught to think “the chase” is romantic. It’s when Noah dangles himself from a Ferris wheel in order to manipulate—yes, manipulate—Allie into a date. It’s the dozens of times one character shuts up another, angry character by kissing them instead of letting them express their feelings. It’s when song lyrics can imply “I know you want it,” because there are “blurred lines” (of consent).
That’s Rape Culture, and it affects all of us. It’s the mundane, day-to-day experiences that normalize treating women like objects. We can change it, but it’s going to be a steep uphill battle—one that will require us to get educated, stand up for ourselves and others, and quit tolerating sexist or dangerous behavior.
Here are five ways you can fight Rape Culture in your everyday life:
Believe victims. Period.
When a survivor comes forward about abuse, it’s easy to jump on the are-they-telling-the-truth train (“What if they’re ruining the life of an innocent person?”). Stop. Take a breath. Statistically speaking, victims just don’t lie. When a victim comes forward about a rape, they’re subjected to all sorts of trauma all over again: They’re forced to retell their painful story over and over while becoming a national lightning rod for victim-blaming and media scrutiny. People don’t just sign up for that lightly—I know I wouldn’t. Yes, there are exceptions to every rule, but even if there is a small chance a victim is lying, isn’t it better to be wrong one out of 20 times, rather than the other way around? That’s just math.
Shift your focus.
Whenever you hear about a rape, whether in the news or from someone you know, shift your focus from the survivor to the perpetrator. “What were you wearing?” and “Were you drinking?” should be expunged from your vocabulary. Phrases like these perpetuate the idea that rapists have an excuse to attack victims.
Don’t put up with casual sexism.
Stop saying words that are demeaning or objectifying to women, like “slut” and “whore,” even when those words are said in casual passing or as part of a joke. If a friend does the same, don’t be afraid to comment that it’s not OK. Oh, and for the love of all that is holy, don’t laugh at rape jokes, or any language that makes fun of victims or marginalizes their trauma. It’s not cool, okay?
Raise boys who understand consent, know what Rape Culture is, and treat women like human beings.
This is by far the most difficult and important item on the list. Parents need to have an ongoing conversation with boys about consent and what consent means (“encouraging” someone into sexual acts isn’t enthusiastic consent). They need to learn how to gracefully accept rejection and respect a woman’s decision as valid (and final).
Educate yourself (and others).
Major cultural shifts can only occur when enough of us take the time to understand the problem and evaluate the role we play in it. Here are some good resources for learning more:
This isn’t easy work, but we need to start now if we ever want to see a different world.