You Should Care: Ending rape culture

by Elisabeth Wilder – Horizon Columnist

If you’re like me, maybe you have seen the recent news articles about rape culture shared on a Facebook timeline, sent through an email, or heard about it through word of mouth. Maybe you have read the article about Emma Sulkowicz who was raped in her college dorm room and is now carrying her mattress wherever she goes until her rapist leaves or is expelled from campus. Or maybe you read about the University of Kansas’ lack of action against on campus rape. Some of you may have even read Sarah Stephens’ article in the last issue of “The Horizon.” Whether you have been reading these stories or not, the message is clear, we need to rethink our perceptions and attitudes towards rape and rape culture.

Time magazine covered the story of Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz's rape and the performance-art project she's using to draw attention to campus rape and rape culture. (Time.com)
Time magazine covered the story of Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz’s rape and the performance-art project she’s using to draw attention to campus rape and rape culture. (Time.com)

What is “rape culture,” exactly? Rape culture describes cultures that are permissive, non combatant, or that normalize sexual assault based off of ideas about sex, gender, or sexual orientation. Typically, rape culture is perpetuated by rape myths, or misconceptions about rape. Rape myths are primarily victim based; meaning that when rape occurs the blame is put on the person who was raped. Some common rape myths include:

  • The idea that the victim is asking for sexual intercourse based off their behavior, dress, or reputation.

  • Blaming the victim for being in the wrong place or location

  • Using alcohol or intoxication as a form of consent from the victim

  • Justifying rape because the victim and the offender were dating or left together

  • Claiming that if the victim didn’t fight back, it was consensual

When discussing rape and how to prevent it, the subject is usually deduced to two options. Either we teach men not to rape or we teach women how to avoid being raped. What we often overlook is that rape happens to people of all genders, ages, and sexual orientations. Rape isn’t just about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Rape happens to women in long term relationships, elderly patients in hospitals, men in the military, transgender people in bathrooms, and children and teenagers at school.  The premise of stopping rape culture is more complicated and vast than we realize, and we need every voice to help.

To end rape culture, we need college women carrying around mattresses and holding up picket signs demanding their institutions to take action. We need men to cease from participating in organizations that promote ideas like “no means yes.” Together we must address media and radio that sends messages such as “I know you want it.” Celebrities and athletes who are accused of rape deserve more than a slap on the wrists and a one game suspension. Arguments about what constitutes a legitimate rape based on dress, reputation, or behavior need to cease. Ultimately, rape culture will end when we learn how to discuss, define, and express our sexuality in a healthy way.

Please, take a stand against rape culture and the myths that help spread it. Address it when people say things like “she deserved to be raped.” Promote attitudes and ideas that encourage healthy beliefs about sex. Avoid supporting organizations that oversexualize men and women. Intervene when you overhear plans to use alcohol to facilitate sex, or to take advantage of someone in a vulnerable state. Ask for consent. Open the conversation up about how we perceive sex in our culture. Be on the look out for sexual harassment at school, work, and other facilities.

As a woman, I’m not taking a stand against rape culture because my gender is primarily targeted. I’m taking a stand because this is most recurring violent crime in the world and I refuse to help perpetuate it under the idea that anyone ever deserves or is somehow responsible for having their sexual integrity violated.

Elisabeth Wilder’s column, “You Should Care” will explore current events and will appear in each issue of the Horizon. Elisabeth is a sophomore disaster management major. 

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