Rape culture

Trigger warnings, not kidding about with the title.

It would be a dreadful thing to be falsely accused of rape. It might damage your reputation and cause the people around you to trust you less. Were the accusations to be believed, you might be dragged through the miserable indignities of a court case, and if you lose, you might spend a few years in prison, years of your life you can never have back.

Most reported rapes do not end in prosecution. If it is one person’s word against the other (and it often is) then we prefer, culturally, to err on the side or the accused. Innocent until proven guilty is a core tenet in law. If it does go further, the victim can expect to have their clothing choices, romantic history, even their reading habits brought up as evidence that they probably consented. If you knew your aggressor, the scope for proving that you didn’t consent, is alarmingly small unless you went to the police with the evidence of injury on your body. Even then, it may be suggested that you just like rough sex.

As a culture, we value the reputations of those who have power over the bodies and bodily safety of their possible victims. We assume the victims have nasty, malicious motives for saying these terrible things, and when the pillar of the community, the famous person you saw on telly, the politician claims innocence, we take that seriously. Even if multiple victims claim to have been abused, we minimise the harm done ‘it was just a bit of harmless groping’ and all too often, we let it go.

For a victim of assault, it is a life sentence that will affect your relationships, your sense of self, your confidence and mental health, probably to some degree for the rest of your life. If someone abuses you, there is something lost that is never coming back. For victims who were children when it happened, I suspect this is even more the case, but children have a hard time getting heard when the responsible adults around them turn out not to be so good after all.

As a culture, we prefer to think that people make up false allegations of rape, rather than consider that rape is happening. It has been pointed out to me that the skin colour of the man involved makes a lot of odds here, and that we are far more willing,  culturally, to find black guys guilty of rape, and for that matter other crimes too. It is worth comparing the implications. An unchecked rapist or child molester can get through a lot of victims, leaving a vast legacy of trauma. Do we really collectively think that to be falsely accused of rape is worse than being raped?

Now, imagine the balance shifted a little, and that we became just a little bit more willing to hear the stories of the victims and marginally more prepared to doubt the stories of the accused. What would happen? Would more men become more wary about getting into situations that would make them easy targets for accusations? Would more guys be less willing to have sex with drunk and unconscious women who might protest about it later? Would people of both genders be less willing to abuse children? Would some people reconsider the influence of their power, wealth, physical strength, financial control and other means of manipulation, and try to avoid exerting those to reduce the risk of their being accused of abuse? Might it become important to the men who don’t currently give it much thought,  to make sure that consent is clearly given? Might we collectively reconsider the idea that a short skirt, an invitation to have coffee, getting into someone’s home, getting them in your car and the like are not the same as consenting to sex? I can see only win here.

A shift away from the desire for short term gratification and towards more responsible thinking about the emotional and social costs, would be brilliant and would improve life for everyone. We teach our daughters to avoid dangerous situations that might get them raped. We need to start teaching our sons not to rape, and not to get into situations of dubious or pressured consent, which is not consent. A little shift would go a very long way.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. View all posts by Nimue Brown

12 responses to “Rape culture

  • mabhsavage

    There was a big feminism rally at Cambridge and one of the comments written on a board was ‘I need feminism because people still ask what the victim was wearing’. This stuck with me because this is, as a society, where we come unstuck. We don’t ask ‘What the hell is that guy doing? What is he thinking? How can he act that way?’ We ask ‘Well, what was she wearing?’ Thereby almost immediately shifting responsibility from attacker to victim. It’s tragic, and it needs to change. Great article.

  • ksfinblog

    well said but sadly the majority prefers to bury their head in sand.

  • angharadlois

    Yes yes yes!

    This kind of attitude is RIFE. In my alma mater, we had a notoriously lecherous supervisor who had allegedly already been moved on from 3 colleges for sexually harrassing female students. I think in a lot of cases people might know, deep down, that something isn’t right – but at the moment there is very little cultural imperative for them to DO anything about it.

    I’ve lost track of the number of times guys have got angry with me after realising that I wasn’t interested in sleeping with them – I was dancing in their general vicinity simply for the love of dancing, and talking with them simply for the interest in conversing. I no longer go out dancing – I got tired of being seen as fair game for wandering hands – and I am wary of random conversations now, knowing how easily they can take a nasty turn. Even as someone who has been fortunate enought to have never experienced genuine sexual abuse, I still feel a little bruised by the way our culture expects women to either be sexually available or to stay out of sight.

    This comment has turned into quite the rant! I am going through a bit of an angry-feminist reappraisal of the way life has been for the last decade or so and thinking, you know what? Things really shouldn’t be this way.

  • syrbal-labrys

    The trouble with a rape culture is that even a completely VALID accusation is considered worse than rape; a rape culture considers rape a minor thing that happens to women — I can’t tell you how often I heard (as a young woman) “Well, women are BUILT for it.” A rape culture entitles rapists..so yes, this needs a LOT of shifting.

  • Cat lover

    Thank you. I was about to have an apoplectic fit after reading the comments on an Agora post by Lydia Crabtree. She shared something painful and related it to the Farrow-Allen situation, and the comments have been dominated by the usual suspects. So maddening!

  • Hakea

    Yes. A million likes, though wordpress only allows me one! ;p

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