2013’s Scarlet Letter

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Note: This post is focused on the rape of women by men and in no way is attempting to disregard male rape victims. My research has always been focused more on female victims because of the recent cases in the media and the prevalence worldwide of male rapists. Trigger warning on the images on rape culture at the bottom of the post.  

We live in a rape culture. It’s not a culture that blantantly says “Rape is good,” but it is a culture that is making it easier to excuse and even justify sexual assault. Torrington and Steubenville are stories of tragedy, where victims of rape and sexual molestation are harassed through social media by their own peers, and Rehtaeh Parsons, Amanda Todd, and Audrie Potts are only a few of the victims who have been driven to suicide by the bullying. These are cases where young women’s mistakes (getting drunk, hanging out with the wrong people) are used as justifications for what happened to them, where they “had it coming.” It’s a horrifying truth that being sexually attacked seems to give others a reason – or a right – to call you a “slut.” It’s the equivalent of being issued Hester’s scarlet letter in the classic book.

People blame the use of social media, where one photo or conversation can be spread all around the world in a matter of seconds, where an entire high school, an entire town, can know about an event only minutes or hours after the fact. However, social media is just a new tool for the evil that is occurring, it is exacerbating an old problem. Women who were perceived as being sexually impure have been shamed for centuries. Women who became pregnant from rape were denied the right to even say they had been raped, because it was believed both parties had to orgasm in order for a child to be conceived. It has always been up to the woman to prove the guilt of her rapist, not for a rapist to prove his innocence. To this day, some cases are thrown out or ruled in favor of an attacker because it was determined that the woman didn’t “struggle enough.”

I believe the problem is complicated, but two huge components are people’s lack of knowledge about what constitutes consent and a deep-seeded mistrust of women. Blurred lines about boundaries and consent start young. Girls are taught that when a boy bothers them or even hits them, it means they like them, or the boys’ actions are shrugged off as “boys will be boys.” I’ve seen a viral video of two young children, probably about four and five, where the boy pins the girl against a wall, trying to smooch her, and she repeatedly pushes him away. She even pushes him down once, but he wobbles to his feet and again attempts to move in. You can hear the adults behind the camera giggling and saying “Aww,” unaware of the disturbing nature of the scene they are capturing and how this young boy who will become a man is being taught no one will stop him when a girl obviously is not interested in his attention. From that point on, men are taught through entertainment and even some religious teaching that women are tricky, don’t mean what they say, and are vulnerable to persuasion. A joke on “Family Guy” illustrates this belief (thought I suspect it is attempting to show the problem, not promote the action) when an animated James Bond repeatedly pulls a woman close to him, saying that she wants to sleep with him while she replies, “No.” Finally, she says yes, and James Bond looks at the camera and says, “Sixty no’s and a yes, means yes.” Countless other shows and media outlets characterize women as indecisive and playing hard to get. Some even go so far as to show women manipulating men into sex and then accusing them of rape, leading people to believe that false rape accusations are much more common than they actually are. In a study done in the United Kingdom, about .6% of rape accusations were false. Statistics are similar in the United States.

Alcohol plays a large part in rape cases, and for women, it often de-legitimizes her story. It even incriminates her: “She was drunk, she wasn’t being responsible, what did she expect would happen? (As if rape is ever something anyone should expect) For men however, alcohol often excuses his actions: “He was drunk. He didn’t know what he was doing, he’s a good guy.” This double standard reverses the role of victim and attacker, opening a woman up to ridicule and a man to sympathy.

Another issue is the oversexualization of women, but not just in the sense of fashion magazines or movies. It’s the kind of sexualization that women aren’t in control of. Creepshots is a trend where men (I have yet to hear of a woman doing this) take photos of unsuspecting women, focusing on their cleavage, butts, and other areas the photographer finds sexually pleasing. They then upload the pics to sites like Tumblr and Reddit (the main page for creepshots has been banned) where others comment graphically about the images. I’ve interacted with a blogger who takes these pictures and his response to criticism is, “Free speech,” and “If they didn’t want me to look, they wouldn’t be dressed the way they were.” Oddly enough, many of the photos feature women dressed in simple jeans or workout clothes; apparently, no matter how a woman is dressed, she is inviting sexual comments. It’s like the judge who ruled in favor of a rapist during a case, who essentially said that if a woman is not actively saying “No,” her body, by just existing, is available for sex. It’s the same philosophy that allowed marital rape to not be thought possible, that when a woman says her vows, she is throwing away her ability to refuse any sexual advances by her husband. Thinking of a woman’s body as a passive unit separates a woman from her humanity and autonomy. People who take creepshots are not rapists (necessarily), but they are contributing to a culture that is training young men to see women’s bodies as objects and as something meant only for their eyes. “Why else would she dress like that?” There are many reasons, such as practicality, but the fact that a woman has to explain why her clothes are not meant to sexually arouse strangers or even to just gain attention is troubling.

There are too many people who don’t believe a rape culture exists. It’s 2013 and we still have people who believe a woman can’t become pregnant because of rape, that a husband can’t rape his wife, that women can’t rape men, and that a passed out teenager being violated is “ruining” her attackers’ lives by reporting their actions. People are dying because of rape culture. 54% of rapes go unreported because victims are terrified of being shamed. Young people need to receive knowledge about the facts and just how important respect of the bodies of others really is. With the speed of social media only accelerating, our society needs to catch up and make rape culture a thing of the past. 

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Stats:

http://www.policymic.com/articles/41583/crying-rape-on-innocent-men-doesn-t-happen-as-often-as-you-might-think

http://www.rainn.org/statistics

Images of Rape Culture: (may be triggering)

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