Traditionally, January is the time to reflect on the past year—to look back at its failures and achievements and ultimately try to find ways to improve in this next chapter of life. We‘re about four months into 2016, so I think this is a perfect time to reflect on how it’s going so far and how to improve from last year. But I want to key in on a specific topic that seems to be the white elephant in the room, the thing we all know happens but don’t really like to talk about, even when it happens to us. I want to have a serious conversation about rape culture in America.
In just these past four months, major events took place revolving around sexual assault and harassment; we found out that 60% of women who work in tech reported being sexually harassed, the Kesha v Dr. Luke trial came to an end, Officer Daniel Holtzclaw was sentenced to 263 consecutive years in prison for targeting and assaulting black women in low income communities, American Crime Season 2 focused on male rape, and the biopic of the Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas hearing debuted this month.
We live in a society that’s more likely to blame the victim, more likely to treat rape as the punchline of a joke, and more likely to believe that victims must be battered and bruised to be considered victims at all. “Hot” teachers have sexual relations with teenage students and it’s seen as a win instead of statutory rape. Sex sells and saying no really means yes because you’re just playing hard to get.
There were quite a few companies under fire in 2015 for their holiday ads: Bud-Light, Bloomingdales, and SuperGurl. Now I don’t know if maybe the marketing teams listened to Baby, It’s Cold Outside one too many times or if we just live in a really rape-supportive society, but a lackluster apology like “This isn’t what we were trying to portray” is all it takes for these companies to sweep it all under the rug.
There are so many celebrities who have been involved in sexual assault cases but still managed to save face and have prosperous careers. Roman Polanski, Kobe Bryant, Mike Tyson and R. Kelly (just to name a few), have all been involved yet people are still in disbelief that they committed the crime. Kobe just played the last game of his career and he has been a very influential athlete to the entire world, and for that reason everyone seems to leave out the fact that he raped someone and pretty much admitted it.
Our media, politics, and justice system create this message that you can’t trust those who report rape. That the worst thing that could possibly happen is not being raped, but being accused of rape. On top of that, people who report rapes are often investigated as if they are the ones who committed a crime. There are so many movies that have scenes about retroactive consent and while I am a person who loves watching shows like Law and Order: SVU and Scandal, these are shows that feature rape plots that can be problematic.
Lee Ann Kahlor & Dan Morrison state in “Television viewing and Rape Myth Acceptance among college women” that rape plots in television tend to desensitize viewers to violence and can be manipulative and damaging as they often give in to rape myths and victim blaming. It’s also important to remember that we cannot joke and or be passive when we talk about rape. Not because it’s not politically correct, but because it downplays the violation of a person’s body and safety.
All hope is not lost. We have a long way to go but we are heading in the right direction. I leave you with a quote from Kate Harding’s book Asking for It.: The alarming rise of rape culture- and What We Can Do About It that I hope you remember when you think of rape or sexual violence: “Healing isn’t linear, support and justice aren’t guaranteed, cops aren’t always sympathetic, rapists aren’t monsters, and there is no such thing as ‘what a real victim would behave like.’”