We Need To Talk About It
Everyone perpetuates rape culture. Females, males, mothers, fathers, students, teachers. It’s not their fault; it’s just the way of life in America. They contribute to the culture, which is an abomination that cascades. The first assault is physical: the violation of a fellow human’s body. The second assault is psychological: the blaming and shaming of the victim while the assailant goes free. The third is cultural: the feeling in our society that men are entitled to women’s bodies who withhold them at their own cost. The fourth is sociological: the “experts” in the field—victims with experience that could change our misguided thinking—are so traumatized by their experience, and so marginalized by our attitudes toward them, that they are too apprehensive to share their wisdom. These four separate assaults form rape culture, which is so pervasive in our environment that it seems normal. To fix this error made by history, we need to talk bravely about rape while on the victims’ side. Stubborn, closed-minded individuals will resist this conversation–as will some traumatized victims–but their reluctance stands between our current national psychosis and victims’ rights. We’ll never prevent people from becoming rapists if we refuse to talk about the problem.
To begin the discussion, we must fully comprehend what types of teachings rape culture implements. One type relates to the psychological assault: when outsiders side with the accused instead of the victim. Here, the victim is under scrutiny and is automatically presumed as a liar. This denial is a type of teaching that is taught and learned at a young age and throughout development. Examples in the media, gender norms and gender stereotypes teach girls to be ladylike and reserved, while boys are taught to be aggressive and are encouraged with heterosexuality. Kate Harding, when she says, “Boys are taught that sex is their right – it’s on demand, basically – and that girls will resist, and their job is to overcome that resistance. Instead of teaching them about respecting girls as fellow human beings, they’re taught that girls are sexual organs,” supports this idea. Girls aren’t encouraged to speak up for what they want, and when they do, it’s seen as a joke or a game. In this game, the perpetrators of rape are the winners, and the victims are the losers. This relates to the cultural assault that is a part of rape culture. Of course, not all rapists are men; even female rapists are held at a higher stance than their victims. Either way, the groundwork that encourages aggression in boys and reluctance in girls is the basis of rape culture. The foundation that is taught produces numerous ways of denying justice for victims and assailants.
When the victim of a crime is held accountable in some way, shape or form, he or she is the result of victim blaming. In contexts of rape culture, this is the psychological assault: victim blaming may include accusations that the victim was being provocative or suggestive, thus she was asking to be raped. Slut shaming is essentially the same thing. If someone were to tell a victim that because of the way she dressed, she was asking to get raped, he or she is slut shaming her based on her appearance. These terms make up the core of rape culture, and it influences rape victims to suffer in silence.
Many rape victims do not report their rape because they are fearful of not being believed by their friends and the police. In fact, the victim might not even know for sure if she was actually raped and may blame herself for what happened. This is detrimental to the victim’s well-being, and it all contributes to rape culture. Take Kali Rogers’ story, for example. She was raped by her close friend. They had been drinking and smoking that night, and he offered for her to sleep in his bed instead of on his couch. She agreed to sleep in his bed, but never consented to have sex. She says, “It was my fault, right? I’d had too much to drink, I accepted that joint, I agreed to stay at his apartment! I brought this on myself. Or at least, that’s what I made myself believe. I wasn’t even sure you could consider the act ‘sexual assault.’ His word against mine, and we all know how that would play out given my previous reputation and my actions that night.” She never went to the police because she knew her story wouldn’t stand, and even though she said “no,” she still felt guilty. When she says, “we all know how that would play out,” she reveals the issues involved in the consequences of reporting a rape that are universally known. People are raped because of what they are taught throughout their life; victims of rape have to choose between suffering in silence or exposing their trauma to disbelievers, and the rapist will continue on with their life.
Victim blaming is the beginning of a domino effect. First, when rape victims are blamed, shamed or turned away by their peers, family, police or their rapist after confronting their tragedy, they are hesitant to file a report and go through with a trial with trying their rapist. This resistance then causes the rapist to get away with the rape, and more people think that the consequences for rape are morphed. They may face legal punishment but are still supported by their community, or they may not even be sentenced at all. Either way, the blaming and absence of justice leaves victims battered and often unable to heal emotionally.
The cause of rapists’ success is essentially rooted in victim blaming. It has been this way since around 1670 when the English judge Sir Matthew Hale wrote that husbands cannot be guilty of rape because through their “matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto her husband, which she cannot retract.” Therefore, the wife is at fault because her husband owns her right to want to have sex. So, a woman’s husband got away with raping her because she was the one who gave him her rights.
Today, martial rape is illegal in all 50 of America, but it still happens. Mandy Boardman wrote about her nightmare of being raped by her own husband. She explained that he would drug her with Ambien and/or Xanax without her knowledge or consent, and would then rape her. She found video on his phone as proof. After divorcing him, Boardman felt the need to report her ex-husband. In court, he was found to be guilty of six felonies, but he was not sentenced to serve his punishment in prison. Instead, he was sentenced to live his life under house arrest in his own home. Boardman explains that the judge actually said, “that my ex may have been a crappy husband, but he was a good father and that I should ‘forgive him.’” This judge’s actions insulted Boardman, as well as shamed her. No one would tell a victim of a robbery to “forgive” the criminal who stole his or her belongings. A victim of robbery once trusted that his or her belongings were safe. Boardman had once trusted her husband not to drug and rape her. It is a tragedy that a judge, someone in extreme authority, would feel it was okay to explicitly shame a victim of rape into believing forgiveness of her assailant was due, simply because he was once her husband. The reality of Boardman’s relationship with her attacker makes it much more horrifying, and no measure of forgiveness should ever be granted.
The severity of victim blaming has indeed escalated and progressed over the years. There are different ways to blame a victim, like the aforementioned slut shaming. A case of slut shaming was seen online after three teenage boys raped a 12-year-old girl at gunpoint in Chicago in December 2012. When it was revealed that the rapists were going to be tried as adults, people felt the need to take to social media to share their opinions on the situation. People slut shamed the young girl by saying horrible things like: “just a loose drunk slut,” “Something she never should have done. A 12 year old girl shouldn’t be associating with 16 year old teenage boy. Some girls are advanced at this age and she should have known what he wanted her to do when he invited her to his home. No doubt she didn’t expect his friends to be there. I hope she be ok and learn from this bad experience,” and “SHOULD BE AWARE OF THEIR SURROUNDINGS regardless how drunk u are.” These people sincerely believe that this young girl is at fault for being raped because of her decisions and behavior. These illogical claims made to shame the young girl teach her that this tragedy is her fault. Even though she is not old enough to consent and even though she was raped at gunpoint, she is guilty. This shaming will continue.Others who read the claims will realize that the perpetrators receive the support while the victim is condemned.
Some may bring up the idea that the comments, while absurd, offer a lesson to other girls. The slut shaming comments would implicitly tell others to take more precaution so they don’t experience the same thing the victim did. The fact of the matter is, however, no one should have to take “more” precaution. A 12-year-old girl should be able to hang out with boys without having to worry about being forced to have sex with a gun pointed at her. A woman should be able to dress up and get a drink at a bar without being harassed by others. Women shouldn’t have to go to great lengths to keep themselves safe, contrary to what they are taught throughout our lives. The buddy system, going to the bathroom in groups, not wearing headphones while walking home at night, are a few examples of ways women are already trying to keep themselves safe. What else are they supposed to do? The answer relies on the participation of the other gender that is involved with the problem. Simply put, men should be taught to respect boundaries and privacy. Unfortunately, that seems too difficult for people to comprehend, thus there are numerous accounts where women are taken advantage of. Therefore, the domino effect adds fuel to the rape culture fire: victims are blamed, rapists are endorsed in some aspect of society, and victims are left in the dust without closure, leaving future victims hesitant to go through with legal actions of their own.
Not all the types of victim blaming are easy to identify, either. An example of this is a monologue about a man who was raped by his female teacher when he was a child. He says, “All the guys would laugh at me about it, calling me faggot for not enjoying it and I was like, ‘psych, I totally did enjoy it.’ Then they high-fived me and told me I was cool and that Ms. Tupper was hot and they were jealous.” Here, the perpetrators of the blaming are “all the guys.” They shamed him because he did not find being molested as a pleasurable experience. This caused him, as the victim, to adapt to their ideals by not taking his rape seriously. Since he did not accept this as a traumatic experience, he is unable to emotionally heal. He proves this by saying, “It was the most popular I’d been in my whole life. It was the happiest I’ve ever been. And I wasn’t happy, but sometimes as a guy, if you want to fit in you have to hide your pain and humor is a great way of doing that and that’s why I sincerely think that rape is hilarious. Because I have to.” He does not confront the candidness of what happened to him in order to prevent the weight of the tragedy from tearing him apart. Instead, he treats it like a joke because that is what he was shamed to do. So the domino effect prevails. The rape culture cycle continues because sincere justice is not served, and more victims fall into the abyss of rape culture and suffer silently. Since they are constantly suffering from some type of assault by their rapist, comments by outsiders, or verdicts from a judge, they are unable to fully heal emotionally. It then becomes difficult to generate discussion of rape culture, which perpetuates the cycle. The lack of their motivation to create a discussion is detrimental to stopping the cycle.
Falsely reported rapes are, unfortunately, a reality that is a part of rape culture. However, only 2 to 8 percent of rapes that are reported are false; a statistic that is little known to the public. Of those that know this statistic, many do not believe it is true and insist that far more rapes are falsely reported. Part of this thinking is the dilemma of recanting a rape report. When someone reports a rape and later recants it, he or she is often assumed to have falsely reported the rape, and is punished. The perceived liar is punished because he or she no longer wants to go through with the process, most likely in fear of losing and being exposed. In reality, he or she is telling the truth and is just giving up the fight. This may be because the victim doesn’t want to subject his or her life to judgment by outsiders. These outsiders include police officers that are investigating the crime reported. When investigating a rape report, it is common for officers’ brutal judgment to further contribute to flawed reports. Often times, when victims report a rape to the police they are quickly questioned without sensitivity and sympathy. The brash attitudes of the interviewers may pressure the victims into saying things that can be misconstrued, forcing them to appear as though they are lying.
Sara Reedy’s experience symbolizes the consequences of the harshness investigators often express toward victims. The authorities punished Reedy after she was attacked, even though she was completely innocent. In July of 2004, Reedy was sexually assaulted at gunpoint while she was working at a local petrol station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The attacker stole money from the cash register, forced himself on her, and then left.
After being assaulted, Reedy contacted the police, wrongly thinking they would be of help. A detective questioned Reedy where she was being treated after the attack. She wasn’t the picture perfect victim, so the detective was quick to make judgments. Instead of taking time to sympathize and hear Reedy out, the detective discredited her and accused her of stealing the money and inventing the story as a cover-up, despite the incriminating evidence that was found at the scene of the crime. In fact, when he first interviewed her, the detective asked Reedy how often she “used dope” and where the stolen money was, insinuating that she was at fault for the robbery. Since they believed Reedy was lying, the police charged her with theft and filing a false report. The officers’ unsympathetic attitudes and insensitivity sent Reedy to jail.
A year later, Reedy’s attacker struck again. Fortunately he was caught, and he subsequently admitted to assaulting Reedy. The police officers’ ignorance is a part of rape culture. Their distrust in Reedy stems from what they were taught about boys and girls growing up. Women are supposed to be quiet and reserved. Reedy wasn’t being quiet or reserved. She was speaking out, and the investigating officer disrespected her for doing so, whether it was an unconscious decision or not. The officers acted as close-minded disbelievers in this tragic situation, and it cost major losses and consequences for all.
In another tragedy, an innocent young woman was punished and humiliated because of the lack of sensitivity and understanding in investigating police officers. In August 2008, the 18-year-old woman was attacked in her apartment that was part of an at-risk youth program in Lynnwood, Washington. The attacker broke into her apartment, gagged her, used shoelaces to bind her hands together, and raped her. All of the evidence was left at the scene: the shoelace, the gag, and even the sheets of the woman’s bed. In addition, there were injuries to her wrists and genitals.
The young woman mistakenly believed that reporting her rape to the police was a good idea. She explained that detectives Jerry Rittgarn and Sgt. Jeff Mason didn’t believe her story. Instead the victim felt they were compelling her to recant her story. Again, the investigators were quick to judge the woman without sympathy. The woman felt as though she was in the wrong, and that she had no choice but to follow the instruction from the authorities to recant her report. Even though she knew what happened and had the physical trauma to prove it, she was wrongly instructed to pretend like the nightmare never happened. Following these instructions resulted in being fined $500 and charged with filing a false report.
After listening to the authorities’ insensitive instructions, the innocent woman faced unfair consequences. Based on the report, the young woman was portraying signs that she was lying, like not looking the police officer in the eye and “inappropriate” body language. In reality, the woman was just showing signs of traumatization. She was gagged and raped by a man; it’s very likely she may have felt uncomfortable opening up to a man in authority, like a police officer. Especially since that man in authority was showing signs of disbelief and was putting “words in her mouth.”
Two and a half years later, a man was arrested in Colorado for several rapes when police found pictures of the Lynnwood woman, as well as her ID card in his possession. He was found guilty and is serving a 327-year sentence. In order to find the young woman’s horrible experience true, her attacker had to strike again. The cultural assault is seen in this example, as well. The victim felt pressured into being quiet, ladylike and respectful to her male aggressive figures because when she spoke up for what she wanted, it was seen as a lie or a joke. Because the victim’s actions were not taken seriously, many people faced consequences that could have been avoided had the investigators opened their minds to a discussion instead of an interrogation.
There is not one specific person at fault for the creation of rape culture, and unfortunately, there is no easy way to destroy it. However, the acknowledgement of its existence is a start, and a discussion of what makes it prevail will begin to improve ideals, protect victims’ rights, and prevent people from becoming rapists. It is a difficult feat for individuals who have been traumatized by rape culture to join this conversation, especially when they are up against authoritative disbelievers. But to deny the conversation would deny a solution, and a solution is sorely needed.
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