Over the past year and a half, the nation has seen many issues discussed by political leaders as well as those vying for the office of the President. Hillary Clinton, a champion for women’s rights, talked about her interest in closing the wage gap. Donald Trump, who shockingly won the presidency, expressed his views on immigration. There is one issue that neither candidate has directly commented on, and that issue is rape culture in America. According to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network, someone in America is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds, and it seems that the population often forgets that (RAINN.org). Rape victims are often treated with skepticism when they report what happened to them, told that it was their fault that they were raped, and then shamed. While the nation as a whole has shown much improvement since the 1970’s when the term “rape culture” was coined by the second wave of feminists in America, it still has a very long way to go (wavaw.ca). Rape culture still exists as an everyday component in the lives of Americans and is perpetuated through small things such as jokes about rape right up to the big things, such as the 10,000 untested rape kits sitting on shelves around the country. In the following pages, I will examine how America allows rape culture to continue in our society through the trivialization of rape and the severity of victim blaming.
Rape has become a term that is heard on a weekly if not daily basis. It is seen in movies, on television, in books, and is the butt end of many tasteless jokes. Rape seems to be completely normal to most Americans when it should be something that shocks and upsets them. Instead, it gets lost in the flow of issues the nation is facing, and when it is finally brought up, it is scrutinized under a microscope by those with invalid opinions. In her book, Jody Raphael cites an explanation given by Todd Akin, representative of Missouri at the time, on abortion and rape, who said “…women’s bodies block unwanted pregnancy when ‘legitimate rape’ occurred” (Raphael 2). He goes on to say that if a woman wanted an abortion because she was raped, that she is lying about being raped (Raphael 2). In all this, he fails to define what “legitimate rape” is. The point Raphael is trying to make in her book is that he may be implying that “legitimate rape” cannot involve someone that the victim knows, which is the focus of her work. Todd Akin, who clearly does not know how rape or even a woman’s reproductive system works, felt the need to voice his opinion in order to defend his stance on abortion, and in the process made a mockery out of those who were raped by individuals they may have known. He essentially writes them off as not actually being raped and makes them out to be liars, when in reality, the definition of rape is “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any part of the body, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without consent of the victim” (RAINN.org). Nowhere in this definition are there any references to how the victim knows the attacker, if at all. In reality, acquaintance rape is far more common than most people know. In fact, RAINN reports that 7 out of 10 rape perpetrators knew their victim as an acquaintance (RAINN.org).
A prime example of rape trivialization comes from Robin Thicke, who faced backlash after releasing the song “Blurred Lines” in 2013. It rose quickly in popularity but was criticized for promoting an overall non-consensual feel. It features lyrics such as “…the way you grab me/must wanna get nasty” and “do it like it hurt,” as well as the line “I know you want it” repeated throughout the entire song that some said sounded like it was being whispered in a woman’s ear (AZlyrics.com). Thicke, whose video was eventually pulled from YouTube, took an event that many women fear on a daily basis and turned it into a source of revenue. Perhaps the more unsettling realization is how fast the song gained popularity. It peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 list in July 2013 and can still be heard being played three years later (Billboard.com). I can vividly remember the song being played at my senior prom in May 2015. There was also the online t-shirt store who sold t-shirts that not only promoted rape but domestic violence as well. Solid Gold Bomb was forced to shut down after it produced shirts that read “Keep Calm and Rape A Lot” as well as “Keep Calm and Hit Her” (McVeigh). We have to look at the example that this sets for the following generation as well as the adults in the current one. It shows that singing songs about violating a woman and making an inappropriate video will bring in millions of dollars. It shows that there are no consequences for this behavior. It is this mentality that leads to domestic violence, abuse, and the ridiculous idea that rape is somehow acceptable. Need a better example? Audio emerged of a high-profile celebrity having a conversation about a failed sexual encounter, saying, “Grab them by the p—y. You can do anything” (Fahrenthold). That man is now the 45th president of the United States.
A huge problem rape victims see in America is the act of victim blaming. The first question one asks someone after being told they were raped should not under any circumstances be “Were you drinking?” or “What were you wearing?” and questions of similar nature. One of the most shocking cases of this came in 2014 when a now federal judge asked a rape victim, “why didn’t you keep your knees closed?” (Willingham & Hassan). The victim had said that she had been raped at a house party over a bathroom sink, and the judge then proceeded to ask why she had not shifted her body or pushed herself into the sink to avoid penetration (Willingham & Hassan). He followed that up with “young wom[e]n want to have sex, particularly if they’re drunk” (Willingham & Hassan). The cherry on top of this controversial mess was the advice that Judge Robin Camp offered to the rapist before acquitting him: “I want you to tell your friends, your male friends, that they have to be far more gentle with women. They have to be far more patient. And they have to be very careful. To protect themselves, they have to be very careful” (Willingham & Hassan,). Imagine the embarrassment, anger, and despair the victim must have felt knowing that the one place where justice is supposed to be served, the courtroom, failed her. Thankfully, the case was appealed and will go to trial again, as well as a possible removal of Robin Camp from the bench, but why did it take two years for this to catch the public’s attention? The original trial took place in 2014 and appeared in the news in 2016. Imagine the embarrassment, anger, and despair the victim must have felt knowing that the one place where justice is supposed to be served, the courtroom, failed her.
In Raphael’s book, she references a somewhat similar case from 2007. A nineteen-year-old member of the US Airforce reported being gang-raped by three fellow airmen but eventually dropped the charges, citing “enormous stress” as a main reason (Raphael 3). As an added slap in the face, she was then taken to trial for underage drinking and “indecent acts” with other members of the Airforce (Raphael 3). As Raphael puts it, “She was charged with her own rape” (Raphael 3). It is hard to believe that it is 2017 and the nation is still blaming women for the actions of another. Could it be that women are simply doomed to face this judgment and shaming for the rest of time? Take, for example, a man shooting another man in the middle of the street. Society doesn’t ask what the victim was wearing or if he was drinking or if he was acting promiscuously. They definitely won’t say that he should have kept his legs closed because doing so would have kept him from being shot. So why then are we so quick to think that it is a woman’s fault that she is raped? Jody Raphael explains this as “the inevitable consequence of women’s sexual risk taking” (4). I don’t entirely agree with this statement, as rape can come from simply walking down the street to being overpowered by a spouse. There may not be any “sexual risk taking” involved unless spending time with a lover or waiting at a bus stop qualifies as sexual. However, Raphael is stating what the other side’s argument is and this may not be her personal view.
Something else to consider is the effect that this harsh victim blaming has on the victims themselves. Tomas Ståhl discusses in his research that rape victims often suffer from “secondary victimization,” meaning they blame themselves for what happened to them as well as experiencing blame from those around them (240). He attributes this to the reason why so few rapes and sexual assaults go reported (Ståhl et al, 240). In an online article about the effects of victim blaming, Beverly Engle, a marriage and family therapist, says that victim blaming makes it far less likely for victims to seek help for issues such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (Schroeder). RAINN’s statistics show that not only did 94% of women experience symptoms of PTSD two weeks after their rape, but 30% still had those symptoms up to 9 months after the rape occurred (RAINN.org). In addition, they reported that women who were raped are more likely to abuse drugs after the event, being 3.4 times more likely to use marijuana, 6 times more likely to use cocaine, and 10 times more likely to abuse other major drugs (RAINN.org). Too often people forget that rape victims are going through a myriad of emotions in the midst of their recovery and that they are already blaming themselves for what has happened. What they don’t need is a group of people saying that they should have dressed more modestly or kept their legs closed.
Rape culture absolutely exists in America, no matter how badly the opposition would like to deny it. It is something that we need to address not only for our sake, but for the sake of our children and the generations to come. We need to teach society that making jokes about rape and trivializing it is wrong, as well as blaming victims for what has happened to them. Just as we tackle the issues of immigration and wage inequality, we must take on rape culture.
Fahrenthold, David A. “Trump Recorded Having Extremely Lewd Conversation About Women in 2005.” The Washington Post, 8 Oct. 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-recorded-having-extremely-lewd-conversation-about-women-in-2005/2016/10/07/3b9ce776-8cb4-11e6-bf8a-3d26847eeed4_story.html?utm_term=.b1e0d64712df
McVeigh, T. “Amazon Acts to Halt Sales of ‘Keep Calm and Rape’ T-shirts.” The Guardian, 2 March 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/mar/02/amazon-withdraws-rape-slogan-shirt
Raphael, J. Rape Is Rape : How Denial, Distortion, and Victim Blaming Are Fueling a Hidden Acquaintance Rape Crisis. Chicago Review Press, 2013 [ebrary version].
“Robin Thicke Lyrics – Blurred Lines.” AZlyrics, 2017, http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/robinthicke/blurredlines.html
Schroeder, Michael O. “The Psychological Impact of Victim Blaming – And How to Stop It.” U.S News & World Report, 16 April 2016, http://health.usnews.com/wellness/articles/2016-04-19/the-psychological-impact-of-victim-blaming-and-how-to-stop-it
“Scope of the Problem: Statistics.” RAINN, 2016, https://www.rainn.org/statistics/scope-problem
Ståhl, Tomas, Daniel Eek, and Ali Kazemi. “Rape Victim Blaming as System Justification: The Role of Gender and Activation of Complementary Stereotypes.” Social Justice Research, vol. 23, no. 4, 2010., pp. 239-258 ProQuest Central, http://ezproxy.waketech.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/818415583?accountid=15152.doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11211-010-0117-0.
Trust, G. “Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ Hits No. 1 on Hot 100.” Billboard, 12 June 2013, http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/1566519/robin-thickes-blurred-lines-hits-no-1-on-hot-100?utm_source=twitter
“Victims of Sexual Assault: Statistics.” RAINN, 2016, https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence
“What Is Rape Culture?” Women Against Violence Against Women Rape Crisis Center, 2016, http://www.wavaw.ca/what-is-rape-culture/
Willingham, AJ, & Carma Hassan. “Judge to Woman in Rape Case: ‘Why Couldn’t You Just Keep Your Knees Together?’” CNN, 13 Sept. 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/12/world/robin-camp-rape-comments-trnd/