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What Is Rape Culture and How Does It Work?

What does it really mean, and how can we work to eliminate it?

We have come a long way since the “me too” movement began, but there’s still a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done in eliminating rape culture. The phrase may be familiar to you, or you may have no clue what it means. To give you some context, rape culture was coined by feminists in the 1970s and it was designed to show the ways in which society blamed victims of sexual assault and normalized sexual violence. It is a culture of  having sympathy for the abuser, rather than the violated individual. This can mean making excuses for the perpetrator’s actions, questioning the survivor on what they were wearing at the time, or questioning if substances were involved. No one goes out expecting to be sexually violated. Yet, rape culture has instilled the idea that women must go through extra precautions to avoid being violated. It can be just as challenging for men to report an assault as they too face a scrutinizing amount of victim-blaming. Toxic masculinity is partly to blame here, as men are often shamed or encouraged to stay silent if they’ve been assaulted. 

“All too often, when we see injustices, both great and small, we think, That’s terrible, but we do nothing. We say nothing. We let other people fight their own battles. We remain silent because silence is easier. Qui tacet consentire videtur is Latin for ‘Silence gives consent.’ When we say nothing, when we do nothing, we are consenting to these trespasses against us.”

Roxane Gay

So, essentially when someone uses the phrase “rape culture,” it involves victim-blaming, supporting the perpetrator, and not recognizing how huge and systemic an issue sexual violence really is. We see this happen a lot within the news. For example, when a young and academically successful person has been found guilty of sexual assault, they are often given a lighter sentence due to their “bright future.” Judges instead probe and grill survivors during court cases, which makes it incredibly difficult to come forward. The justice system is notorious for victim-blaming. Our society believes that only certain people can be rapists, which is far from the truth. There has been a failure to understand that just because someone appears “nice” doesn’t mean that they can’t assault someone. There are so many myths around how sexual assault works, which contributes to rape culture. For example, saying “yes” does not automatically mean someone wants to participate in any form of sexual activity. A “yes” said out of coercion is not consent.

Here are a few more examples of how rape culture works: 

  • Women must be sexually passive and submissive, whereas men are encouraged to be aggressive and initiate sexual behaviors with as many women as possible. 
  • Jokes about sexual assault 
  • Teaching girls to cover up (i.e. dress codes, where students are forced to change or even go home if an outfit is too “tight,” or in many cases if a bra strap is showing. Teachers saying this is too distracting for students is part of why rape culture still exists. 
  • “Boys will be boys” phrase. 
  • Assumptions on the kind of individuals who get assaulted and failing to realize it can happen to anyone. 
  • Movies that depict men being sexually dominant and pursuing a girl after she’s said no countless times. 
  • Excusing rape and assuming it is a normal part of our society while underestimating its devastating effects.
  • Defending celebrities and getting angry at the women who come forward. 
Line drawing of a woman

For a more in-depth look at everyday examples of rape culture, this article shares some more insights. 

To eliminate rape culture, we must become more self-aware of our own attitudes and biases surrounding it. It would be beneficial to self-reflect and understand why you may hold certain beliefs and educate yourself on improving and becoming more of an advocate in ending rape culture. In fact, reading this blog is already a start. You can also educate others, and if you see someone using derogatory language or jokes surrounding sexual assault, call them out and let them know why it’s wrong. In other cases, when talking to a friend who has been sexually assaulted, it’s important you support them and not excuse the abuser’s behaviour just because they seemed “nice.”

Remembering that the stereotypes for who can be a rapist are not always accurate. In reality, it can be someone you don’t expect. To end rape culture, our society must stop putting survivors in a pool of shame and guilt because they chose to do an extremely brave thing; coming forward and seeking justice. 

For more information, these websites share some great ways we can eliminate rape culture: 


Written by: Taryn

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