Tackling the acceptance of rape culture
I was walking back from a lecture today and I received this text message:
From West Mercia Service ATTENTION ALL GIRLS AND LADIES: if you walk from home, school, office or anywhere and you are alone and come across a little boy holding a piece of paper with an address on it, DO NOT TAKE HIM THERE! Take him straight to the police station, for this is the new ‘gang’ way of rape. This incident is getting worse. Warn your friends and family and family. Forward on.
As an activist working on issues of violence against women, I am used to reading horrific accounts of gender violence on a daily basis, but something about this made me freeze on the spot and put my hand to my mouth.
As I’m sure a lot of you will already guess, this is more than likely to be a hoax, and I’m not going to explore here whether it is fact or fiction (you can read more about it here) as this is not the point I am getting at.
What I want to focus on is rape culture and the normalisation of sexual violence in culture.
I told several of my female friends about the text message I received and their response was to roll their eyes. No shock, just a casual acceptance. This is when I truly realised the depth of the problem.
Feminists and people campaigning for human rights have been talking about rape culture and campaigning against it for years and it seems like it is getting no better.
The UK still has the lowest rape conviction rate in Europe, women are still blamed for being raped and, amongst the people I know at least, the idea that we can successfully challenge and change this culture has faded out.
In 2011, we saw a rise in the way rape culture seeps into everyday life. The word ‘frape’ continued to be used regularly on Facebook, a Canadian police officer told students not to dress as sluts if they didn’t want to get raped, police posters implied that if women dressed in a certain way or drank too much that it would be their responsibility if they were raped, and comedians like Frankie Boyle continued to use rape as the subject of their jokes.
While rape culture continues to spread, it seems that the feminist fightback is only getting stronger.
2011 marked the year of the SlutWalks, a global movement spurred from the incident in Canada which attempted to challenge the victim blaming culture. The movement was picked up by the mainstream media and it created a public dialogue on the subject.
Not to forget the Rape Never Funny campaign which featured WVoN’s own Jane Osmond.
The campaign challenged pages on facebook such as You know she’s playing hard to get when your chasing her down an alleyway (sic) and successfully managed to get Facebook to take them down (See previous WVoN story here).
While I realise how entrenched rape culture has become in our society, I do believe that it can be challenged and greatly reduced. But in order for this to happen, the conversations that we as a society need to have will not be easy.
For a start, we need to go back to what some might call the basics and consider what constitutes rape.
Always at the back of my mind when I am discussing rape culture is a report carried out by The Havens which points out some really chilling statistics that need to be addressed.
We need the law to recognise gender as a category on which hate speech is based.
The Huffington Post wrote about an article entitled “Sexual Mathematics,” published on the website “UniLad,” the apparently number one online magazine for student ‘lads’.
The article said:
“If the girl you’ve taken for a drink… won’t ‘spread for your head’, think about this mathematical statistic: 85% of rape cases go unreported. That seems to be fairly good odds.”
In addition to this, the author then added at the bottom of the piece: “Uni Lad does not condone rape without saying ‘surprise’.”
Under current legislation, this is perfectly lawful.
We need to tackle our pornified culture which depicts men as aggressive consumers of culturally objectified women.
It seems like we have a massive feat ahead of us but we are making some progress.
Just this week, The Guardian reported how Alison Saunders, head of the Crown Prosecution Service in London, is questioning how the media helps to build pre-conceived images of female rape victims and how this can lead to acquittals.
We need to tackle rape culture, not accept it as inevitable. It is not inevitable and never will be.
Until we have a society that recognises it is still rape if the woman is asleep, it is still rape if she changes her mind, and a woman is never responsible, we need to open a discussion that spreads not only to popular culture, but to the judiciary system and government policy.