The first time I heard the term “rape culture” being used in the mainstream media was following the horrid Delhi bus rape in 2012. Of course, at that time, it was used in a mostly racist way to describe Indian rape culture. The unspoken implications were that this is not the kind of thing that happens in the civilized West, only in foreign cultures where tradition still holds a stranglehold over society.
Back then, I was quick to point out both that rape is not a culturally accepted practice in India (however, as I later realized, maybe there is a rape culture in India), as well as the very real rape problem in the West as well, highlighted by the Steubenville High School rape and subsequent cover-up by the local community.
In 2014 though, following many slut walks, which have by now become mainstream, the debate over rape culture has clearly shifted to our own society. Scores of feminist are denouncing Western society as a “rape culture,” which quite frankly bothers me. It bothers me because it dilutes the term until it can be made to mean anything at all. It bothers me because there are still many societies in which the rape culture is alive and well—Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Somalia, just to name a few—societies in which honor killings, honor rapes and female genital mutilation are not only happening, but are ENCOURAGED. It bothers me because in our own society, rape and sexual assault were acceptable until a few hundred years ago. And most of all, it bothers me because the feminists who attack the so-called Western rape culture do not bother with the vast majority of rape victims: men.
To me there is threshold between a rape culture society and a society in which there are rapes. Because let’s not kid ourselves: rape has always been a part of human history. As long as certain men choose to not control their instincts (or, some argue, cannot) there will be rapes. And yes, I will be quick to concede the point that rape perpetrators are by and large men. However, trying to eradicate rape is like trying to eradicate murder: as long as there are psychopaths out there, it ain’t happening.
But to talk of a rape culture, you need to show more than just rapes happening. You need to show society’s acceptance or even encouragement of rapes and other forms of sexual violence. And this is where I part ways with the feminists and others who call our society a rape culture.
Traditional Rape Cultures
In societies traditionally associated with the rape culture, rapes and sexual assaults are much clearer than in Western society.
Let’s take the case of Afghanistan as an example. One of the worst forms of sexual violence against women in that country are “virgin loans.” These are essentially loans taken by farmers secured against one of their virgin daughters. There is no age requirement, so the daughters could be as young as 9 or 10 years old. If the farmer, after having sold his crop, cannot repay the loan back, he has to give his daughter in marriage to his creditor. As soon as she becomes married, she becomes the creditor’s property, which gives him the right to use her in any way he chooses, including sexually.
Or let’s look at Saudi Arabia, where adultery is a crime, and apparently rape is an accepted form of punishment, at least among certain parts of society. I am referring, of course, to the infamous Qatif rape, when a woman who was found in a car with a man not her husband—they may, or may not have been engaging in the act—was raped by 7 strangers. In the subsequent rape trial, the perpetrators were given prison sentences, but the shocking part was that the woman (and her lover) was also sentenced to a public lashing for committing adultery in the first place (she was later pardoned)!
Finally, we have the gruesome situation of Female Genital Mutilation (“FGM”), mostly in Africa and some parts of the Middle East. The statistics are staggering: FGM affects 98% of all women in Somalia, 91% in Egypt, 88% in Sudan… The girls are cut between the ages of 9 and 14, at the onset of puberty in order to maintain their chastity. By and large, their respective societies condone the practice, even when FGM is legally outlawed.
All of the above are examples of sexual assaults against women that are widely supported in the underlying culture. To talk of “rape culture” in these contexts makes eminent sense.
Rape Culture in Western Society?
Now let’s look at what is being defined as “rape culture” in western society. The advocates of the term point out to this absurd statistic:
As we know by now, statistics can be made to say anything, so let’s break this one down. Firstly, it is interesting to note that the studies cited range from 1999 to 2012. Considering that the US population has increased by over 40 million (about a 15% increase) in that timespan, it is hard to imagine that statistics that are 13 years apart have much in common. But let’s skip over and keep going with our breakdown.
“40% of rapes get reported to the police… 10% lead to an arrest” How do you know that 60% of “rapes” that are not reported are in fact rapes? How do you know that the 30% of reported rapes that don’t lead to an arrest are rapes? As defined in our laws, rape is a crime. In America everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty by a jury of his/her peers. Before an accused is brought to trial, there is a police investigation. How does RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) suggest handling this issue? Simply take the victim’s word for it and forego the legal process? But then you would be taking away another citizen’s rights and freedom without due process!
Believe it or not, that is one of the cornerstones of the “rape culture in America” argument. That the legal system is slanted against victims, making it hard for them to come out in public because of the antagonism of (male) police officers, judges, attorneys, etc… The fact of the matter is, any kind of accusations are looked upon suspiciously when there is no hard evidence to support them. And when it comes to rape, because of the nature of the crime, it is very hard to collect evidence unless done immediately (that’s why colleges and other high-risk areas have rape kits).
The second main issue with rape statistics has to do with the nature of the crime: most victims were raped by someone they knew, not a stranger. Between the 6% of completely fabricated rape accusations and the 3% conviction rate, there lies a huge gray area.
What if both participants in a sexual encounter were drunk, even blacked out, at the time? Who raped who? If the girl wakes up in the morning and feels like she was raped since they had sex, but can’t remember it and neither can the guy, should he be sent to prison?
What if a girl had only one drink, meets a guy she likes who can really handle his liquor and who happily follows her to her place, 10 shots deep. In the morning he has no idea who she is or where he is. Did she rape him? What if the roles were reversed?
I recently had a conversation with a young female friend in San Francisco. She was describing her experience at a “sketchy” bar/club, notorious for sexual predators who slip drugs into their victims’ drinks and engage in other devious behavior. Long story short: her and her friend were drugged and barely found their way home that night, but luckily no pervert got to them. Things could have been a lot worse.
Based on this, my friend was telling me why she supports slut walks and why she believes the US is a rape culture: because young women cannot dress up however slutty they desire, walk into an unsafe environment, proceed to get intoxicated (alcohol or drugs of their choice) and be allowed to simply “dance” the night away without being groped, drugged or worse. She said that as long as that will not happen, the US will be a rape culture.
Her argument speaks more to millennials’ confused stance on life and their puerile desire to have their cake and eat it too. But it also echoes many other feminists’ comments in support of slut walks and female sexual freedom.
Now don’t get me wrong: I believe women should be just as free as men to be sexually promiscuous, or to dress provocatively. However, both sexes must be aware of what the likely consequences of their actions will be. As recently exemplified by the violent beatings of pranksters who ventured into inner cities and other “hot” areas, provocative actions can have violent, unforeseen consequences.
Sure, a young attractive girl is free to dress as skimpily as she wants. But as soon as she leaves the comfort and security of her home, she needs to be aware that her outfit, and accompanying behavior, will gather male attention. Depending on where (and when) she goes, that sort of attention can manifest itself in violent ways, for example in bars where men are intoxicated, and therefore much less likely to behave in a rational manner.
“Let’s Teach Men Not to Rape”?!?!?
This brings me to the topic of “teaching men not to rape.” But most men in America already know and understand that rape, just like murder, or stealing, is a crime. Most men understand that “No means no.” Rape education has long been a staple of sex/health eduction in high school, and it is doing a good job. By the time a high school male reaches college, he has been taught that no means no, unconscious means no, and incoherent means no.
And the small minority who doesn’t get it, most likely never will. This is the equivalent of saying “we need to teach people not to kill each other.” Well, Jesus and his followers have been preaching that for the last 2,000 years, and yet murder has still not been eradicated! Same with teaching kids abstinence or the use of contraceptives: judging by the rates of teenage pregnancy and teenagers with STDs, education, while important, has its limits.
However, if one even dares to suggest that maybe, just maybe, we should teach women how to protect themselves from rape, all gates of feminist wrath sway open and the harpies spew venom on the poor soul who dared to come up with such an insulting suggestion. Listen carefully to what Stephen A. Smith said the first time around: he didn’t say it was a woman’s fault for getting beat up/abused, what he said was that we need to teach women not to put themselves in those situations.
My stance is very similar to his: I don’t believe that any women, no matter how intoxicated or scantily dressed, deserves to be raped. However, I do believe that people should be held accountable for their actions. If I decide to walk around a bad part of Detroit at night, conspicuously wearing a gold watch, I don’t deserve to be mugged, and maybe even murdered. But most people would agree I am begging for something bad to happen. Why should rape victims be held to a different standard than mugging/murder victims?
As a brother to a sister (and potential father of daughters, who knows?) I truly believe that women should be taught how to defend themselves, both physically and emotionally. I know this is an extremely controversial position to hold in America in the year 2014, but think about it: we teach our children how to protect themselves against pedophiles, teach bus riders how to defend against pick-pockets, homeowners how to protect their homes, why is it taboo to teach the same to our women? It is surely more effective to teach an intelligent person not to put himself/herself in a bad situation than trying to teach a psychopath not to act like a psychopath.
Edited: In the original version I sounded like I believe ALL rape education is useless, when what I mean is that we are already promoting rape education in our high schools, so no male with a HS degree can use the excuse that he “didn’t know better.” If I am wrong, and if there are men out there who are not clear about the concepts of consent, freedom of choice, etc… then by all means educate them.
Dress Like a Slut, Beware the Consequences
Don’t get me wrong: I certainly believe that the perpetrators of assault crimes, sexual and otherwise, should be punished to the full extent of the law. The fact that someone walks around the wrong part of town at the wrong time of day, or that a woman chooses to dress provocatively, should not be a mitigating factor when dishing out the punishment to the perpetrator. However, you cannot paint the victim as “blameless” when the crime she suffered was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of her actions. No, rape victims who dress provocatively are not “asking for it,” nor are they to be blamed equally with the monster(s) who rapes them. But if they put themselves in the wrong situation knowingly and intentionally, then they have to shoulder some of the blame.
While feminists will go to great lengths to emphasize that the way someone dresses should not affect how they will be treated (the aforementioned “slut walks”), empirical evidence suggests the contrary. RAINN, quoting a U.S. Department of Justice study, tells us that sexual assault rates are up to 10% higher in the summer than in winter. Can this have anything to do with the difference in the amount of clothing that is worn in the two seasons?
Men: the Real Victims of Our Rape Culture
Prison rape, interestingly, is not a topic that feminists cover. Like AT ALL. A quick search on Jezebel (the modern feminist bible and news source) yields exactly 0 results on the topic. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the vast majority of victims are men?
According to one research group, 200,000 men are raped in prison in the US every year. Some of them are raped—and killed—while awaiting trial, because they cannot afford bail. It is interesting to compare this number with the number RAINN provides for total sexual assaults in the US per year, about 238,000, which excludes prison rape. If you combine the two statistics, it would imply that close to 50% of rape victims in America are men!
The ridiculously high incarceration numbers in the US—don’t forget, we incarcerate more people than China and Russia!—coupled with the general public’s acceptance of what goes on behind bars, comes suspiciously close to a “rape culture.”
While our constitution forbids “cruel and unusual punishment” at the hands of the Federal, state or local government, we accept that 12% of our prisoners will be raped. If we cannot agree that getting raped is cruel and unusual punishment, then what is? Especially in the case of sexual crimes perpetrators , who are known to be targeted themselves as soon as they enter the prison system, we either turn the other way, or we agree that them being sexually assaulted is a fair punishment for their crimes. Well, hello: this is exactly what rape culture is all about! It is a culture in which sexual assault as a form of punishment is acceptable. Just because Jezebel won’t talk about it, should we keep quiet about the real victims of the rape culture in the US?
Edit: I did the math wrong on the rape-per-year statistics, initially claiming that 84% of rape victims were male. Thanks to my friend Lily for pointing out that RAINN did NOT include prison rape in its 238,000 sexual assaults-per-year figure.