• Emily Coogan

What the F is: rape culture

Updated: Mar 24, 2021

The term ‘rape culture’ has featured in many a discussion of late, but plenty of us are left floundering as to what it is and what we can do about it.

Put simply, rape culture revolves around a set of beliefs and social norms that trivialise sexual harassment and assault. The term emerged in the 1970s to depict the ways in which society normalises sexual violence, protects perpetrators, and promotes victim blaming.

Within rape culture, harmful sexual behaviours remain accepted and unchallenged.

Rape culture is pervasive and pernicious, and requires conscious rejection from all of us. It persists because of our own attitudes about gender and sexuality, supported and maintained by the power structures that the patriarchy holds dear.

But what does it look like?

Rape culture sees one in five women experience sexual violence from the age of 15.

Rape culture is shaming victims for their own assault and sympathising with offenders. It tells survivors that they encouraged harmful sexual behaviour, simply by existing. Nearly 30% of Australians believe that a woman is partly responsible for being raped if she was drunk or affected by drugs at the time. To the contrary, there is never an invitation to rape.

Rape culture dictates that women bear the onus of safety, and are blamed when they fail to safely return home. We are told that rape is an event that just tends to happen when women don’t follow societal warnings.

Rape culture polices the ways women dress and act to prevent and deter undesired attention. Women are told to avoid entering situations that may increase the chance of being harassed or assaulted, despite there being plenty of cases involving women, children and men becoming victims in circumstances where sexual violence could not be anticipated.

Rape culture is the constant objectification and degradation of women, supporting women’s subordination. It promotes sexual violence by conditioning men to be sexual aggressors, and women to be sexually passive. Over 40% of Australians believe that rape is the result of men being unable to control their need for sex. Conversely, men are not entitled to women’s bodies.

Rape culture silences survivors and prevents them from reporting, for reasons of stigma, shame, self-blame, distrust in legal processes, and misunderstanding of what is considered harassment or assault. Rape culture deceives us into believing that sexual violence is faceless, happening in dark alleyways by strangers. Conversely, in Australia almost 80% of survivors know their attacker.

Rape culture promotes impunity, which only further deters survivors from reporting. One in six victims of sexual violence seek advice or support from police, with only 10% of those reported accounts resulting in a conviction. Impunity is not restricted to the legal system, as most institutions fail to constructively address sexual violence and predatory sexual behaviour.

Rape culture is the complete misunderstanding of what constitutes consent. Lack of comprehensive education in this area is the result of rape culture, yet also works to fan its flames. Sign the petition here calling for consent and rape culture to be integrated into sexual education in Australian schools.

Rape culture ensures that sexual violence is common, but it also prevents us from understanding the true magnitude of the problem.

Rape culture ignores that men can also be victims of sexual violence.

Rape culture means women are cautious of driving, travelling, walking, drinking, socialising, exercising, working, dressing, and many more basic activities.

Rape culture requires our highest parliamentary officer to centre his own relationships with women and girls in order to glean empathy for survivors.

Anybody can uphold and perpetuate rape culture, so it is up to everybody to contest it.

How can we deconstruct and combat rape culture?

  • Stop victim-blaming.

  • Avoid using language that objectifies or degrades women in any way.

  • Remember that it is not a woman’s responsibility to protect themselves from assault, it is everyone’s responsibility not to rape.

  • Speak up and address jokes or comments that trivialise sexual violence.

  • Communicate clearly with sexual partners and never assume consent – only an enthusiastic “yes” qualifies, and that can always be withdrawn.

  • Be respectful of others’ boundaries and personal space.

  • Interrogate your own biases that allow rape culture to prevail.

  • Urge your local MPs, policymakers, and media to address the issue and increase public awareness and education.

  • Listen to, support, and believe victims.

  • Analyse your own media and porn consumption habits, as both can desensitise us to the seriousness of sexual violence.

  • Redefine and challenge your understanding of masculinity.

  • Have zero tolerance.

  • Don’t rape.

If you or anybody you know needs help:

BeyondBlue: 1300 22 46 36

Headspace: 1800 650 890

1800 RESPECT: 1800 737 732

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800