We’ve launched our Campaign to End Sexual Violence, and we want you to have all the resources you can get. That’s why we’re bringing you a series of posts devoted to the campaign toolkit, and breaking down the points inside.
A student journalist for the Ohio University school paper recently wrote about rape culture “not existing” on campus. This is my response.
As a student at Ohio University, I see and experience rape culture every day. From overhearing casual comments about how a guy “only likes the chase,” and no other part of a relationship, catcalls from porches, still insisting that if a survivor was intoxicated that he or she is somehow a responsible party in the assault, or even a horrific example during Homecoming weekend when a woman was sexually assaulted on the main street on campus while people looked on and took videos, rape culture is prevalent here. As much as I hate to say it, that makes sense: this is a college campus, and that’s how society teaches young men they should behave. But some people don’t see it.
To say that rape culture does not exist on this campus is to keep one’s eyes and ears closed. The incident that happened Homecoming weekend might have been isolated by its publicity, but sexual assault is by no means a small problem on this or any other college campus. According to RAINN—the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network—only 54% of rapes are actually reported to the police, and of those rapes that are reported, only 3% of the attackers will spend a day in prison. To put it plainly, sexual assault is prevalent and underreported.
Rape culture comes into play in several ways. The first is by allowing people to think that certain things that are assault are somehow not assault, and then reinforcing these unacceptable behaviors as normal. As Mr. Pernecker points out in his letter to the Post published October 16, “in that case, every year hundreds and hundreds of rapes occur in Athens. Yet, only a few report it.”
Mr. Pernecker is, unfortunately, correct. Rape is prevalent. And his trivialization of rape with that statement reinforces rape culture even more.
By setting up a definition of rape that is not nuanced and that is not inclusive, we are more likely to blame the survivor of a rape that we consider “illegitimate.” Mass media portrayals of sexual assault show it as being violent, “forcible,” as some state codes put it, and infrequent. Shows like Law & Order: SVU, however addictive they may be, don’t help with dispelling this standard.
Such a simplistic definition of sexual assault that is so widely spread only makes an already traumatizing experience for a survivor more frightening and more hurtful. This isn’t about “crying rape”—this is about not consenting to activity that happened, feeling completely violated, and then having a pervasive cultural force (that’s what rape culture is) tell the survivor that he or she wasn’t actually assaulted.
Among all the things Mr. Pernecker has gotten wrong, there is another area in which he is correct: Ohio University does have a drinking problem. And that drinking problem also contributes to rape culture. Drinking is viewed as a way to “get people into bed,” and that’s entirely problematic. When two people who are intoxicated go to bed with each other, they’re very rarely equally drunk. And what becomes an issue the next morning is that sometimes, someone feels violated. That feeling of violation? That’s the feeling of being raped.
Rape culture is what teaches people that it’s okay to get drunk and have sex. It’s what teaches people that you should get drunk and have sex. And it’s what teaches people that after this drunken sexual encounter, bragging is not just acceptable, but encouraged. If you’re the survivor of a sexual assault committed by the braggart, having your assault broadcast as a “victory story” makes an already horrible and embarrassing situation even worse.
Being put into that position causes very few sexual assaults to be falsely reported. By most estimates, it’s 2% that are false. That’s an incredibly low number, considering that it’s 2% of the 54% that are reported at all. People should take accusing someone of a sexual assault seriously—and they do. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: people don’t just “cry rape.” The entire notion that “crying rape” is such a prevalent thing? That’s rape culture.
It’s a powerful force. And it’s definitely real.
We do need to redefine and rethink what rape is, as a society. But we don’t need to restrict it, as Mr. Pernecker seems to suggest, because that’s just a failure to understand what rape is. And such a misunderstanding of rape is the reason rape culture is so powerful and so pervasive.