March 9, 2017
By Krithika Pennathur
cw: rape culture, sexual violence
The United States Department of Justice defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” The definition is clear: sexual assault is a non-consensual, sexual act forced upon someone. Yet we live in an era where it is so prominent and it is still an issue.
If you are an individual who is college-age (from 18-24), you are at a higher risk of sexual assault. One in five women experience a form of sexual assault on campus. One in sixteen men experience a form of sexual assault on campus.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, more than 90% of victims within this age group do not report their assaults.
I want to draw attention to the last statistic- more than 90% of victims do not report their assaults. In order to talk about sexual assault, we need to talk about the culture that allows this to happen at such high rates.
The term is garnering buzz lately, but what does it really mean? Rape culture is an environment in which rape is normalized yet often excused by the media, pop culture, and influential figures in society. It involves the way we collectively think of rape, not only the actions. As a society, most of us do not publicly engage in sexual violence. Instead, situations involving rape are talked about in such a normalized manner while people who come forward with their experiences are often stigmatized. Too often, these stories are ignored, and some are even made to seem humorous.
One example is a publicized rape that took place in Steubenville, Ohio. In August 2012, a high school girl was repeatedly sexually assaulted by two high school football players, with evidence that was documented and posted on social media. The media was mourning the end of the rapists’ football careers rather than discussing the horrendous act they committed. The Steubenville case was one of many cases where the athletes who were charged with rape garnered more support and the victims were deemed as “career-destroyers”. As a society, we seem to care more about the end of a football career and the end of someone’s fame. We are mourning the rapists, rather than mourning their detrimental actions. We portray rape as an acceptable act by sympathizing with the rapists.
Looking at pop culture, music influences these notions as well. Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” is the most publicized example. There are three striking lines in the chorus of the song: “I know you want it,” “Can’t let it get past me,” “I hate these blurred lines (of consent).” These phrases mimic the actual phrases of rapists. It is telling women “you know you want it” because of these “blurred lines.” And despite all the outrage and the controversy, the song charted at number one on U.S. Top 40 charts for twelve weeks, and on several other countries’ charts as well. The song glamorizes rape and the encounters women have before sexual assault can occur. Instead of creating pieces that condemn these actions, glorifying these actions garners more attention and approval from the public.
As more women are courageously reporting their rapes to police officials, they are more often than not deemed as giving falsified information or not taken seriously. Terms such as “legitimate rape” and statements claiming that “it isn’t rape if she’s unconscious” are clear examples of rape culture in society. There is no factor of “legitimacy” when talking about rape. Rape is rape, even if she is not fully conscious. A woman should not be told, “You were drinking, what did you expect?” Even if the woman was drinking, no one should expect she will be raped. Her drinking is not an excuse for a man to violate her body. Similarly, a woman should not be asked, “What were you wearing at the time?” Using the woman’s outfit as an excuse to perform a despicable action is horrifying. The objectification of and violence against the woman is the real offense. It is almost as if her clothing is being used to blame the woman for being raped.
Having said this, there is a significant improvement in the amount of resources for sexual assault survivors on campus. Many universities have Title IX offices and specified counselors who deal with sexual assault cases. For example, at the University of Pittsburgh, there is a Sexual Harassment and Assault Response Education (SHARE) office, special counselors at the counseling center who help sexual assault victims, and direct connections with the Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAR).
Although this is a step in the right direction, many women are still hesitant to report. Instead of blaming the victims, we should be rehabilitating the victims. Instead of debating the existence of this culture, we should be trying to change the way we think about rape. Rape isn’t a song topic for a number #1 hit. Rape isn’t a career ending event; rape is much more than that. And I sincerely hope something will be changed to end this culture.
Krithika Pennathur is a sophomore English Writing (nonfiction track) and History major pursuing minors in Chemistry and Statistics and certificates in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies & Public and Professional Writing at the University of Pittsburgh.