On sexual assault: letters from the community

What is rape culture?

Several events will be taking place in upcoming weeks explaining what exactly rape culture is, and we should all strive to attend. In the interim, this is a literary update.

“Rape culture” refers to the our wider social culture in which women’s bodies are devalued, commodified, and casually addressed in derogatory contexts. We’re familiar with victim blaming & slut shaming, both highly symptomatic of rape culture. But it’s also the culture that perpetuated statistics such as: less than half of all rapes are actually reported, and in college, less than 5 percent; only 3 percent of rapists spend even a day in jail; sexual assault prevention and training on college campuses is intolerably low; in 31 states, convicted rapists can sue for custody and visitation rights. It’s the culture that coins "legitimate rape" and questions the validity of consent. It’s catcalling; the notion that we can somehow "prevent rape"; Eminem songs; jokes where the lack of consent is a punch-line; gratuitous shots of uncomfortable women in the show Mad Men; thinking, “she says no, but she means yes.” Constant images of women fragmented, objectified, and misrepresented are rape culture. How we teach masculinity is rape culture. “Boys will be boys” is rape culture.

When you feel entitled to a girlfriend, it’s rape culture. So is the very existence of Terry Richardson. When you think a girl just put you in the “friend zone,” and thus rationalize that being “nice” allows you access to her body, you participate in this culture. It’s the notion that men don’t get raped, that sexual assault is not a systematic problem, and that addressing the perpetrators may somehow ruin “promising futures,” as with the Steubenville case.

Sexual violence is part of a widespread national, as well as an international, crisis deeply tied to issues of power and history. It’s also a vastly intersectional issue. A Massachusetts government study found that up to 93 percent of cases of college rape are non-stranger instances, and every 2 minutes, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. Rape is not exclusive to one demographic, precisely because it is systematic. Native American and Alaskan women struggle with sexual assault at rates 2.5 times higher than the national average. In many places, corrective rape is still used to “cure” LGBTQ individuals.

The lack of expulsion on Grounds for rape? Part of the same culture. And yet, in this heated time of frustration and anger, we can’t look to our university to fix rape culture, as that is an impossible wish. Not only should this chaotic time be one of activism, engagement, and dialogue, but also one that resonates with your life once you graduate from this university. Long-term plans, hopefully, will ensure that UVA’s future dealings with sexual assault are done in a way that will provide most justice and support for the survivors. However, rape culture will not end when you leave these grounds, and it is important to remember that the energy and concern felt here now must always extend beyond our walls. Outside of UVA, you will constantly be faced with situations that propagate rape culture and you will constantly meet people who are survivors, whether you know it or not. In both, it will be crucial to remember the lessons we are gaining in this moment so that we can play at least a small part in changing a violent culture.

Monica Mohapatra

CLAS '15


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