What is rape culture and how is it still 'a thing'?  

Exploring what is culture, how does it operate and how can it be coined with criminality and violence. Are we living in a society where part of us suffer and the other part is turning their heads? 

          It was not so long ago when rape was still classed as a “crime against property” and eventually “became a crime against the person” (Pallotti, 2012, p.1.). Not even talking about it not being regarded as a crime at all. If this alone is not a signifier that something has been clearly off within our society, then you are in the right place. Rape is an exertion of power, a feeling of entitlement and control, thus dehumanizing. 

        In the 16th century rape was not considered a serious and believable crime, also the abundance of women within the justice department, meant that all the statements were taken and interpreted by men (Pallotti, 2012). You might wonder why I have mentioned something that happened five centuries ago, as we have learned as a society and moved on. Right? You could not be more wrong. It is still the case in so many countries all over the world, the ability to disregard something as non existent anymore just because it does not concern you is privilege, naive and ignorant. 'That is not happening anymore, is it?' , 'things have changed' and 'this does not happen here'.  But let's look at the facts. Moreover, when addressing this pattern of abuse, I am talking about all of us in the world, as there is a common idea that atrocities mostly happen in the over exploited countries, but I want to draw the attention to the US, Denmark, Ireland and all the other parts of the Western world, who like to portray themselves as the rightly world leaders. Wash their hands clean and point fingers. We have this false pretense that we know and do better, whereas most of the Western practices have been forced upon the rest of the world by the same people we label as explorers. To understand the roots and spread of assault and abuse it is important to note how crucial intersectionality is within this research, as you can be oppressed and be an oppressor at the same time.

        What is known to be a ‘rape culture’? People rarely use the term outside of the feminist circles, as ‘culture’ is usually associated with arts, literature and well-travelled people, therefore knowing it more from a sociological and anthropological perspective. However, according to Dahl (2004) culture can be something shared between individuals and larger groups and it also entails a behavioural pattern, however it is not static, it is fluid and ever changing. When using this as a base of what culture is and can be, then rape within today’s society is a part of a culture.  According to WAVAW (Rape crisis centre) the term was coined in the 20th century with the release of the movie ‘Rape Culture’, which specifies that “a rape culture is created when sexual violence becomes normalized and tolerated among members of society”. It can also be linked to the rise in popular culture and media influence and representation of women, adding it also has historical roots. Rape culture is not only the act itself, it is the tolerance and existence of jokes, TV, music and advertising using it. Let’s take, comedian Daniel Tosh making rape jokes during his live performance and responding to a woman’s disagreeing comment with, “Wouldn't it be funny if that girl got raped by, like, five guys? Like right now?” (McGlynn, see Perez and Greene, 2016, p.1.). Hilarious, right? This example also entails the idea that a very common and serious crime can be made into entertainment (Kramer, see Perez and Greene, 2016, p.1.). Decriminalizing something in people’s minds and views can be very dangerous and lead to normalization. The joke alone would fade into nothingness, if it wouldn’t be for the audience laughing and his comedian friends protecting him, basing it on the innocence of ‘it’s just a joke’, or ‘in this age of political correctness people can’t take a joke anymore’.

    Rape culture is persistent in media and advertising, even world known brands, such as Calvin Klein and Valentino use sex, rape, domination and humiliation to promote their products. More, these advertisements also produce gender stereotypes. "The advertising operators often use stereotypes in the communication process, because the ad manages to easily standardize representations, preconceptions or values, which characterize a society" (Petcu, et.al. 2012, p.526). By using these ideologies as a tool to sell product, these campaigns are sending out negative images about women and justifying mistreatment and the passiveness of women in the society. Furthermore, not only creating new ones, but cementing already existing ones.

"The advertising operators often use stereotypes in the communication process, because the ad manages to easily standardize representations, preconceptions or values, which characterize a society" Picture source: https://pagesix.com/2015/03/16/feminists-outraged-over-dolce-gabbanas-gang-bang-ad/?_ga=1.183490982.1634507122.1452806163

     Moving from entertainment (if you want to read more about the protection of these industries and protection of celebrities go here) to structural parts of our lives, which include our everyday, family, relationships etc. Rape culture is evident in the horrifyingly high numbers of fraternity rapes (US) and sexual abuse during frosh weeks in UK and Canada. Fraternities are hierarchical entities, very much like our institutions (which I will address next) and are led by gendered power and control systems, who are disproportionately male dominated and white. They reinforce these systems though symbols and chants - see picture below. Instead of telling boys how to act, to not harass and rape, we tell girls how to act and dress, we also send out a message that boys are more entitled to education and are more important in educational settings, even though they struggle in school more and have lover attendance rates at University. Ironic, as men hold almost all top positions in the world.

Rape culture is persistent in media and advertising, even world known brands, such as Calvin Klein and Valentino use sex, rape, domination and humiliation to promote their products. Picture source: https://www.complex.com/style/2013/09/controversial-calvin-klein-ads/violence

      How is this not yet another signifier that there is something very rotten at the very core of the way we interpret gender and function as a society and individuals? How can we just brush it off as ‘boys will be boys’, if these same boys you have defended your whole life are after your underage daughters? Maybe we should stop concentrating so much on the gender binaries we project onto our children. Maybe instead of silly gender reveal cakes we should try glitter rape statistic balloons – 1 in 5 for women and 1 in 71 for men; how about smashing a piggy bank – 1 dollar for a boy and 78 cents for a girl; or maybe already show the probabilities of who’s going to be more successful at becoming an executive of a company. I know I sound bitter, but how can we keep getting fed this nonsense all our lives? That my sister will have to work harder to become who she is, as this world will keep telling her that she has a specific role to play in this society, which only fits into a small box of what is deemed appropriate female behaviour. How we raise our children and treat members of the society is directly responsible for how we treat women and what is acceptable behaviour, furthermore, who can get away with it. We raise girls and boys differently and that is part of the problem, we trap them in carefully crafted gender cages and expect them to adhere to every single one of our own and societal projections.

    Let’s address the previously mentioned institutionalized misogyny and hierarchy. The institutions, which are supposed to be the main pillars of our democracy are all tainted and built on misogyny, racism, hierarchy and supremacy. A judge in California can rule that a college boy’s future is more important than the girl’s, who he raped behind a dumpster ( See link on the right about the case of Brock Turner). He’s mind can also be changed by presenting a 17-year-old girl’s pair of lace underwear in court as evidence against her or showing a gang rape video where the woman did not scream and fight enough, so it cannot be classed as rape.  The committee can also tell you that if it’s “legitimate rape” (what does that even mean) your “body can shut rape down”(see link on the right). Some of the most influential and successful people have rape and assault accusations against them, yet they are still top executives, presidents, heads of departments, schools and families. Phone Tint, a minister for border affairs of Rakhine, said in an interview: “These women were claiming they were raped, but look at their appearances — do you think they are that attractive to be raped?” (Gelineau, 2017, p.2).  Whenever people scream that all these accusations ruin men’s lives, I want to ask – how and show me evidence? Why do we still not have laws protecting the most vulnerable and oppressed in our society, yet we have laws protecting the most influential and rich?


Akin: 'Legitimate rape' rarely leads to pregnancy. "Also stated that if a woman did conceive after a rape, he would still oppose abortion in this case because “the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child."

Source: https://www.politico.com/story/2012/08/akin-legitimate-rape-victims-dont-get-pregnant-079864

Brock Turner just wanted to hook up with a girl. We can't ruin his life for simply doing what all the young boys crave? Does it matter if the girl was unconscious behind a dumpster? I guess not! Picture source: https://www.daytondailynews.com/news/local/brock-turner-was-just-trying-hook-with-girl/rp4khXYlMJRNKKo5yNeyPN/

      If any of what I’ve just mentioned does not signify that rape culture exists, then I guess we are all doomed. I am just going to have a bottle of wine and cry myself into oblivion whilst looking at the 2017 statistics of the Criminal Justice System, where "out of 1000 rapes 994 perpetrators will walk free", also "out of 1000 rapes only 310 will be reported". Furthermore, victim blaming within this space can be even more harming as it takes the spotlight away from the actual perpetrator. Before rape was criminalized, it was looked at by psychiatrists, who made "sexual psychopath laws that generally defined a rapist as "a person unable to control his sexual impulse or having to commit sex crimes" (Jones, 1999, p. 839.)". According to Victims of Sexual Violence: Statistics (2017) one in every 6 women in the world, has at some point in her life experienced rape or sexual assault, if following the theory of psychiatrists, it would mean that more than a third of world’s population (of men) are psychopaths and cannot control themselves. Meaning that they are in a permanent state of being a rapist, which would mean all of the rape myths and victim blaming would be true and wearing a mini skirt is an actual trigger. It is ,however,a very inaccurate statement. Is this the reality we all want to live in? If not, then we must have more conversations with institutions, governments, communities and most importantly men.


Dahl, S., 2004. Intercultural Research: The current state of knowledge. Middlesex University Discussion Paper NO.26 [online], (February). Available via: https://poseidon01.ssrn.com/delivery.php?ID=588125096113081101106012108111099121035031077054017013065114024077027108102086026081118107106002104019004119031064022101099022058090092058002007014083071006091018060032110106121077116098111072012029067022091022085100123003069094087112022004085071&EXT=pdf [Accessed 19 January 2018].

Gelineau, K., 2017. Rohingya Muslims: Rape of persecuted minority by Burma’s soldiers ‘methodical’, investigation finds. The Independent [online], 11 December. Available via: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/rohingya-crisis-latest-burma-soldiers-rape-methodical-rakhine-muslim-minority-bangladesh-un-a8102911.html [Accessed 19 January 2018].

Jones, O., D., 1999. Sex, Culture, and the Biology of Rape: Toward Explanation and Prevention. Califronia Law Review [online] 87(4) (July). Available via:  https://scholarship.law.berkeley.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.co.th/&httpsredir=1&article=1551&context=californialawr/eview [Accessed 17 January 2018].

Petcu, D., Suciu, S., Gherhes, V., Obrad, C., 2012. Advertising, Communication and Gender stereotypes. Anale. Seria Stiinte Economice [online] 18, 526-530. Available via: https://search.proquest.com/docview/1372760606?accountid=14693&rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsid%3Aprimo [Accessed 19 January 2018].

Perez, R., Greene, S., V., 2016. Debating rape jokes vs. Rape culture: framing and counter-framing misogynistic comedy. Social Semiotics [online], 26(3) January 265-282. Available via: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10350330.2015.1134823?scroll=top&needAccess=true&instName=Nottingham+Trent+University [Accessed 14 January 2018].

WAVAW. What is rape culture? [online]. Available at: http://www.wavaw.ca/what-is-rape-culture/ [ Accessed 14 January 2018].

Victims of Sexual Violence: Statistics [online], 2017. USA: RAINN. Available via: https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence [Accessed 19 January 2018].

The Criminal Justice System: Statistics [online], 2017. USA: RAINN. Available via: https://www.rainn.org/statistics/criminal-justice-system [Accessed 19 January 2018].

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