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Opinion | Ignoring "rape culture" is fueling the ongoing problem in society

Milam's Musings

By Brett Milam
On April 7, 2014

The United States has a "rape culture" - meaning a systematic apparatus that allows rape to flourish - and we should reject those who say it does not exist.

There seems to be a lot of chatter lately about rape culture, what it means, whether it is helpful to victims and if it even exists at all. Much of it on the heels of the recommendation "The Rape Abuse & Incest National Network" (RAINN) made to a White House task force aimed at fighting sexual assaults on college campuses.

Among those recommendations, RAINN rejected the idea of "rape culture." While the recommendations, written by its president, Scott Berkowitz and vice president for public policy, Rebecca O'Connor, acknowledge systematic barriers to addressing the problem, they say not to lose sight of a simple fact:

"Rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime."

This is disheartening news to me, as RAINN is the biggest and best organization fighting sexual assault in the country. I follow them regularly and have donated to them in the past, but this rejection of rape culture is truly puzzling.

Nobody I know of who believes rape culture exists would deny the claim made by RAINN: Of course rape is about an individual committing a violent crime on another individual. Rape culture addresses the issues around why reporting numbers are shockingly low, why victims are still blamed and why people still don't understand what rape entails.

Caroline Kitchens in a Time column agreed with RAINN that the focus on rape culture is distracting from helping victims. However, her article is predictable in that she slams feminists for positioning women versus men. Again, she misses the point.

A facet of rape culture is the idea that men are largely unrecognized victims and also face barriers to reporting. The FBI only recently changed their definition of rape to include male victims.

"Rape is a horrific crime, and rapists are despised. We have strict laws that Americans want to see enforced," she said.

According to RAINN's own study, 97 percent of rapists never spend a single day in prison for their crimes. We despise the caricature of rapists - the monster lurking around the corner - not the real face of rape; people we know. Look no further than Steubenville, Ohio for an example.

Just a short four-hour drive from this campus, a young girl was gang -raped while passed out drunk and left naked in front of her house on a cold night. The video of the rape was circulated around the high school and on social media. Police refused to investigate.

One boy, when asked why he didn't intervene when witnessing the rape, said, "It wasn't violent. . . . I thought [rape] was forcing yourself on someone."

That is rape culture: the systematic barriers the victim faced to receiving justice against her violent attackers. Those systematic barriers include a personalized belief that "our boys couldn't rape" and more telling, the problem of perception regarding false allegations of rape.

When polled, people believe 30-40 percent of rape victims are lying. The actual number is more in the low single digits. While it is not illegitimate to discuss false allegations, when that is the first thought that comes to people's mind when talking about rape, then it's a problem.

Brad Pitt's production company, Plan B, has plans to turn the case into a film. That is good news for anyone looking to get the message out about rape culture.

Unfortunately, many rapes go unreported and victims do not receive any justice, as the Steubenville victim did much less a potential film on it. Again, the under-reporting is an ugly facet of rape culture. Victims fear coming forward and facing reprisal or attacks on their character or some are not even sure they were raped, if alcohol was involved.

Rape culture is when Miami University allowed Antonio Charles to remain on campus for two years after his own fraternity kicked him out, only to rape again in 2011.

In 2009, according to City Beat, Charles' fraternity brothers reported him to OPD for criminal voyeurism; he had been videotaping his sexual assaults. Another woman reported him even further back in 2008. Apparently, that still wasn't enough for Miami to take action.

He wasn't kicked out of the school until that 2011 assault came out.

Zerlina Maxwell, a TV commentator, writer and sexual assault survivor, helped lead the hashtag #RapeCultureIsWhen in response to Kitchens' Time article. A few of the tweets from her speak to what I'm getting at here - rape culture is not just some fairy tale feminists are weaving:

"#Rapecultureiswhen you go to friends for support and they ask you what you were wearing."

"#RapeCultureIsWhen too many people think consent to drinking means consent to everything else. Nope."

"#RapeCultureIsWhen we think rape is rare and that feminists R just being hysterical. It's not rare and I'm not going to be quiet."

#RapeCultureIsWhen Zerlina Maxwell receives rape and death threats for starting that hashtag.

In a Time article in response to Kitchens' piece, Maxwell spoke about her own sexual assault. The first person she went to after her assault said, "You were drinking, what did you expect?" More people she went to asked about what she wore or if she had done something to cause the assault.

"The truth is ugly. But by denying the obvious we continue to allow rapists to go unpunished and leave survivors silenced," she said.

Indeed it is and contrary to Kitchens' belief, rape culture is not just some over-hyped theory from "hysterical feminists."

I am a proud feminist, so I find the connotations associated with feminists - we're just nuts whining in the corner - irksome. But more than that, I find RAINN's rejection of rape culture terribly troubling.

Their refusal to acknowledge rape culture just adds more fuel for those who think it's not a "thing."

Rape culture is a "thing" and we should be seeking solutions, not misguided ignorance.

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