This term has become popularized in the media over the last few years, and with good reason. The epidemic of rape and sexual violence in the United States is through the roof, and it’s an issue that historically has not gotten enough attention. In fact, the true issue is that our culture has traditionally facilitated a culture of silence and acceptance of rape.
Rape Culture on College Campuses
New initiatives and political attention to this issue makes it hopeful that this culture of silence may change.
One of the areas in society where the concept of rape culture has gotten the most attention is on college campuses across America. Why? Studies say that a whopping one in five women and 6% of men face rape or sexual assault during their college experience.
College campuses can be a particularly dangerous place for this issue because of the nature of the institution. It is usually an enclosed culture with certain norms and behaviors that facilitate the issue of rape. Namely, the culture of alcohol, drugs and parties which lead to droves of intoxicated people who cannot legally give consent to sexual acts.
So how is it that rape culture is so prevalent on college campuses?
What exactly is it about the college culture that makes it so susceptible to high volumes of rape without consequences to the offenders? We’ve mentioned the “party culture” which can increase the chances of someone getting into a situation where rape is more likely. But this does not necessarily explain the fact that only 12% of sexual assaults are actually reported.
Not only this, but in only half of these cases the accused is eventually found responsible despite the fact that only 2% of rape charges are said to be false reports. This means that a staggering 2% of rapists are held responsible for their actions.
These numbers are largely a result of cultural norms which have been prevalent in our society as far back as history goes. Men have traditionally and still are largely seen as dominant, and male dominance over women is seen as natural and acceptable. This can be seen in the dominance of men in positions of power and larger wages going to men than women for equal work.
How did we get here?
This culture runs deep. Popular culture continues to perpetuate male and female stereotypes, further ingraining, from a very young age, the concept of women being the less powerful of the two sexes. This leads to a tacit acceptance of women being taken advantage of sexually.
Because this idea runs so deep in our culture’s blood, it makes it a challenge for rape and sexual assault providers to come forward with their story. Too often, they are not believed and their perpetrator is never convicted. Too often, their culture asks them questions like “what were you wearing?” and “how much did you drink?” as if revealing clothing and intoxication makes the act of rape acceptable.
Nobody wants to come forward with an accusation that will never be believed or accepted.
The Misconception of Rape Culture
Our culture often thinks of the rapist as a man hiding behind the trees, ready to pounce on some innocent woman minding her own business. The truth is that rape victims are more likely to know their attacker than not, and it’s not only women being assaulted.
When nobody comes forward to report rapes, rapists are never punished for their crimes. The people who commit these crimes are given a mental green light that says, “you won’t get caught, you can rape if you want to”.
When we look at the statistics as to how many people admit that they would rape someone if they could get away with it, this fact becomes very disturbing. In one survey of college males, 35% admitted that they would rape if there were no repercussions, 7% of college men had raped someone in the past and 63% of those 7% had committed an average of 6 rapes each.
What this ultimately creates on college campuses is a space in which those who do commit rape are not given any reason to stop. It creates a pool of serial rapists. They are rarely caught, and time after time, nothing comes of their crimes.
What are we going to do about it?
Addressing this issue is a tricky situation. Because it comes down to very tacit and underlying elements of our culture that are taught at a very young age by family and pop culture alike, alleviating this problem is easier said than done. While programs and initiatives can be put into place, changing the fundamental nature of a culture is a whole different can of worms.
There are a few actions that college campuses across the nation could be taking, and indeed federal laws are now requiring campuses to take some of these actions.
Colleges are now required to have programs aimed at rape prevention on campus and to have an advocacy effort to get this message out to their students. In addition, they are required to have specific policies for dealing with the investigation of rape cases, and they must give victims information about support services.
President Obama, however, has said that “compliance with these federal laws is uneven and, in too many cases, inadequate”.
There are other steps campuses could be taking that are not required by law, such as establishing an official definition of consent, educating students about what sexual violence is, making a clear statement that sexual assault is not tolerated and establishing and enforcing strong sanctions for those who commit the crime.
An End to Rape Culture?
Around 22 million women and 1.6 million men in the United States have been raped at some point in their lives. This number is shocking and appalling, and it’s not something comfortable for our culture to deal with. It’s not comfortable to deal with because much of the blame ultimately comes down to ourselves and our cultural norms. Truly addressing this issue comes down to taking a hard look in the mirror as a culture and making real change.
While it’s not easy, this nation is taking real strides at trying to address this issue, and the forefront of this effort is happening at our most vulnerable college campuses. It’s time we all take part in the movement and make a conscience effort to combat rape culture in our day-to-day lives. The well-being of millions of men and women depend on it.