By: Erika Kellerman, sophomore Communication and Media major
How They Correlate
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 91% of sexual assault victims are women. One in five women will be raped during their four year stay at college. According to Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN), in 2013, 63% of all rapes across the United States went unreported.
Sexual assault is not caused by how much or how little a person is wearing. It is not caused by how much alcohol a person has consumed or how sober they are. It has nothing to do with whether a person is a virgin or not, or how much sex they’ve had in the past.
Sexual assault, however, is caused by people who sexually assault and rape. It should be as cut and dry as that; but unfortunately, it’s not.
If a person does not consent to sex or sexual acts, it is sexual assault. No does not mean “convince me.” No does not mean “try harder.” Hesitation is also a sign of discomfort. No means no. “Yes” is the only green light in moving on with sexual acts.
Women can rape men, men can rape men, queer men, and transgender women. Their age, race, sex, religion and gender identity do not matter; sexual assault does not discriminate.
From a feminist perspective, one believes that sexual assault is also caused by the rape culture permeated throughout society. This is also true. Due to patriarchal values, rape is excused and covered up, making it seem as though it is the victim’s fault.
Rape culture is defined as “an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture” (Marshall University’s Women’s Center).
Rape culture is “perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.” In laymen’s terms, when you call your friend a slut, whore, or talk about their body in a way that objectifies her/him/them, it contributes to rape culture. When you read/watch something that depicts a person getting raped purely to have rape in a story, it contributes to rape culture.
Because of rape culture, women (whether they were born with a vagina or not) struggle to report their rapes in fear of backlash from their communities, the police, and even their families. In high profile cases like the Steubenville, Ohio sexual assault in 2012, the victim (a high school student) was ostracized by her community and made out to be the “bad guy” because her attackers were two high school star football players. The school district attempted to cover up the rape by tampering with evidence, but were caught. In the end, faculty members and coaches were indicted.
Countless studies have been done to show that most women who report their sexual assaults aren’t lying. One study done in particular was the “Symposium on False Allegations of Rape” by David Lisak, Lori Gardinier, Sarah C. Nicksa, and Ashley M. Cote. Their research concluded that (most) women who report their sexual assaults are being truthful. This supported the fact that most opposing “research” was false. This also proved that statistics of false rape reporting were lower, or even exaggerated, in certain cases.
It’s On Us?
The “It’s On Us” campaign was launched by President Barack Obama in 2014. On April 5, Vice President Joe Biden and actor Matt McGorry spoke at the University of Pittsburgh about It’s On Us. The campaign, in theory, was created to help keep women and men safe from sexual assault by holding bystanders partially accountable.
The campaign is effective in certain ways. A bystander can hold institutions responsible when they don’t take appropriate action. A bystander can also stop an inappropriate interaction from taking place. Yes, it is extremely important to be an active bystander when things are going awry, but why shouldn’t we, as a society, teach people how not to rape their friends, family members, and random people they see on their campuses? The bystander can only do so much. The (scary) reality of the matter is: if a bystander stops one assault from happening, the attacker can move onto another victim.
The preaching and teaching of how to be an active bystander can only go so far. Being able to intervene in situations where a person cannot consent, or does not consent, is a common example presented in programs like It’s On Us. BUT, the troubling fact is that nowhere in this campaign does it mention the actual rapists. It mentions intervening during an attack, but it doesn’t directly address the attacker. In an article posted on feminist website Ravishly, a woman named Melissa McEwan said:
To write rapists and potential rapists out of the messaging, to fail to include simple and straightforward language like, “It’s on us to not rape other people,” the campaign suggests that rapists are outside of us, other than us, strangers lurking in the dark and waiting to harm us.
This point presents a thought: the attackers’ actions are not being properly addressed, and the attackers are not being held accountable for their crimes. This promotes victim blaming, especially when victims are questioned as if their attacks were their faults.
In conclusion, rape culture in American society is not necessarily a new concept; however, rape has gotten more coverage in mainstream media. As a result, victim blaming and the oversexualization of women has increased. As bystanders in 2016, we can help our friends and people we see in uncomfortable situations, but this is more than just giving tools to people to be better bystanders. We need to have a better call to action against the people who actually do the attacking, raping, and assaulting.
Photograph: http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/10/10/2765271/rape-culture-social-media/ (& Buzzfeed)