We Need to Talk about Rape Culture
T.W. sexual abuse
I watch as my phone buzzes itself off the table – I can’t be bothered checking the notifications because I know exactly what they are. As per tradition of being a woman, I’m currently on trial for having an opinion. After writing a Twitter thread discussing rape culture, I’m subjected to the usual response – a tirade of angry men hiding behind anonymous accounts calling me an over emotional idiot and trying to mansplain to me how women are the real enemies in these situations; confusing poor hapless men with their confusing definition of consent. It would almost be funny if this wasn’t the exact type of problematic behaviour that keeps the devastating blaze of rape culture so well fuelled.
Despite what many loud and persisting 4chan users believe, rape culture is real. Rape culture isn’t necessarily just about sexual abuse, although it’s certainly a large component of it – it’s about every component of society that accepts and promotes behaviour that can lead to sexual harassment or assault. It’s about toxic masculinity, slut-shaming, cat-calls, drowning out fair critique of society with the war cry – “not all men!” A society that perpetuates rape culture can be as subtle as shrugging off inappropriate “jokes” or as crushing as failing law trials that allow abusers to walk unpunished.
The Belfast sexual assault case is the most recent trial to come under popular scrutiny. After the men involved were acquitted of all charges, social media started the trend #ibelieveher to show support for the woman involved. Accompanied by these voices of support, however, were even louder shouts that persisted to vilify the woman. Even if hatred was not directed towards the woman in question, there was still plenty aimed at those in support of her.
A trend for social justice online has arisen. It acts to hold those accountable and works to ensure such behaviour isn’t simply brushed under the rug and forgotten like it so often is. Critics of this movement, however, say that if someone is declared innocent by the actual justice system, it’s unfair for members of the public to take it upon themselves to call out their supposed actions. However, in some cases, this can be argued.
Rape trials are notorious for failing the victim, with the process so gruelling and emotionally taxing that many don’t even bother reporting sexual assault. Sexual assault can be hard to prove in court, with many cases disregarded simply by the defendant saying sex was consensual. Even with what seems to be heaps of evidence, complications in the courtroom, a laxed judge, or bigoted assumptions about people involved can result in an unfair trial. Often, sexual assault trials are the victim’s word against the attacker’s, and a troublingly prevalent component of rape culture is that the victim is never believed.
Social justice on digital platforms wouldn’t be needed if the actual justice system wasn’t broken.
After the #metoo campaign hurtled into the limelight following the Harvey Weinstein accusations, Twitter became the place to share personal stories relating to the movement and create pressure for those accused to be held accountable. Despite this movement forging a supportive online group, it was far from a safe space.
Twitter allows anyone to speak their mind, which can result in it promoting and circulating rape culture. A study researching Twitter interactions surrounding sexual assault discussions found that tweets which were victim-blaming received more retweets and their authors had larger followings than those who tweet in support for the victim. For anyone who has ever tweeted in support of survivors of sexual assault, this is hardly surprising news, as often threatening replies are sent from those who disagree.
The #metoo and #timesup movements have ignited discussions about consent that are far overdue and, in many cases, it has offered the opportunity for people to learn more about what is and is not acceptable. However, so much more needs to be done.
‘A society that perpetuates rape culture can be as subtle as shrugging off inappropriate “jokes” or as crushing as failing law trials that allow abusers to walk unpunished.’
Changing a culture that’s so deeply rooted in so many people requires continual education and reminders. Schools need to look into teaching consent from an early age, whether that’s in the context of sexual relationships or not. Sexist tropes need to be addressed and perceptions changed. Inappropriate behaviours need to be challenged, no matter how small they may initially seem, because problematic behaviours can evolve and grow.
The opinion that challenging microaggressions is “PC culture gone mad” – that contributes to rape culture. The thought that because you haven’t personally experienced sexual violence or harassment means that it doesn’t exist – that contributes to rape culture. Instantly believing that any person who says they have been sexually assaulted is lying – that contributes to rape culture. Disregarding feminists who try to point out problematic behaviour by claiming “it could be worse” and we should “count ourselves lucky” – that contributes to rape culture.
Rape culture is rampant, it’s devastating, and as long as you continue to cover your ears and scream “it’s all a myth”, it’s still going to exist, it’s going to grow, and you will be contributing to that.
If you want to contribute to positive change, however, then start calling people out. When someone makes an inappropriate rape joke, when someone supports their favourite celebrity in the face of sexual assault charges, when your friend is flirting too much with someone who is clearly not interested – call them out. Whether that’s publicly telling them off or gently taking them to the side and explaining where they’re going wrong, is your choice. What’s important is that you spoke up against rape culture because silence is no longer acceptable.
If you or a loved one has ever experienced sexual assault and you wish to talk to someone about it, call Rape Crisis Scotland on 08088 01 03 02 (open 6pm – midnight)
If you have experienced sexual assault, you can attend a sexual assault referral centre and have a forensic examination up to 7 days after the incident. Any evidence collected can be kept on file in case you wish to notify the police later. The sooner you are checked, the more likely it is for evidence of assault to be found.
You can find more information here