This year, there has been so many conversations about ‘rape culture’; Jian Ghomeshi’s victims, verdicts of trials, women creating extraordinarily brave open letters to their rapists, run ramped on the internet. Survivor bravery is at its peak, as are memes and gifs and statuses and shares that support victim bravery, whether we know the victims or not. That is the good news.
The “bad news” of all of this is that despite all of this, we are STILL talking about rape culture. We are still lambasting media outlets and misogynistic judges and bystanders who applaud athletic effort over shunning abhorrent, disgusting behaviour of star athletes who rape — and care more about their feelings than that of those they have violated and victimized to the point where they must re-piece their lives, their agency, their sexual freedom and freedom to go to parties with the assumption that ‘nothing will happen.’ Despite positive steps in the right direction, here we are, again, collectively appalled by the results of a sexual assault trial; 6 months for being caught red-handed assaulting an unconscious woman. Because any more than that might have a significantly negative impact on the poor young rapist. And we wonder collectively why more women don’t speak up and stand up to their rapists: why? Because they are forced to be publicly scrutinized, judged, and most importantly, forced to re-live that moment again but this time, in front of everyone including lawyers and judges who clearly don’t give a shit what they have to say. Because the poor young student star athlete is suffering due to his remorseful actions (which he refuses, in the case of Brock Turner, to even acknowledge).
Because the reality of all of this is this: many people say one thing, and do another. They pretend to be male feminists, but they are still at parties taking advantage of women who won’t consent. They say they support and believe survivors, but they shun and isolate friends who have been assaulted and talk shit about them behind their back. They post memes with good intentions but then go on their merry way, ignoring anything that looks suspect at a bar because they don’t want to get involved. Because as long as there are vulnerable people, there will be people who want to take advantage of them and all of these good intentions is all for nothing because at the end of the day, rapists win in court and all the good intentions and combative posting and vehement sharing of posts like Turner’s victim’s powerful open letter to her attacker do nothing. We need to do more. We need to be better. We need to not only acknowledge and empathize with victims, but do more to fight for them, support them, listen to them, ask the right questions, make them feel validated and welcomed and most importantly of all, ‘NORMAL’. Whatever that normal looks like to the survivor.
Words I will never forget are from a former friend who once said to me in faux-concern that “[my] friends all agree that [I] need help” and that she “hopes [I] figure [my] shit out” or I will lose everyone I love. These words haunt me. When I think of them, I think of rape culture. Not from men who assault, but from women whose passive aggressiveness and their ability to attempt to use your own assault to fling back to you in your face, all the shitty things you’ve done and all your own fears of being alone or abnormal or isolated. Sometimes we assume all women and most men do their part to actively combat rape culture because they post positive messages and claim to believe survivors. And then behind closed doors they send a former best friend a private email like this and reveal that they might as well be assaulting girls and women too. This might sound harsh, but as a survivor of sexual assault, that’s how words like that feel: like a dagger in your back, like re-living your attack, by being reminded of how you often feel — as though you are nothing and nobody and it’s your fault that you were victimized.
“Rape culture” is oft-considered a buzz word that doesn’t really mean much because it means so many things. Like many areas of approaching the conversation about sexual assault, it’s best to ask victims how they see and feel and understand this supposed ‘culture’; to me, it is simply this:
Rape culture is the lack of actual support for victims.
Rape culture is about hypocrisy, people who neglect to truly educate themselves about what survivors go through not just immediately after their assaults but possibly for months, years, decades after; rape culture is claiming to someone’s face that you believe them then going behind their back and gossiping about your “rape” to their friends; rape culture is men who take advantage of vulnerable men and women; rape culture is a lack of actively taking a stance on an individual, global or local scale against sexual assault; rape culture is claiming that women lie to entrap men; rape culture is not listening to the word “no”, and/or not understanding that rape culture is not just about ‘no means no’, but also and importantly, about ‘yes means yes’. Rape culture is isolating victims because you don’t understand them, rather than being supportive in your efforts to try to. Rape culture is acknowledging that the crime of penetration isn’t just about a penis in a vagina – it can be touching, groping, fingering, dry humping or unwanted oral sex but the feelings of the victim can still be the same regardless; all sexual assault is wrong and horrendous, no matter how the public perceives your experiences with assault and measuring it by comparing it to others’ assaults.
If you don’t support survivors, you support rape culture. It’s for this reason, rape culture still persists to this day. And why we all sit here angrily wondering how someone caught RED-HANDED can be sentenced to 6 months in prison. Why someone’s athletic career is prominently featured in an article about the crime they were convicted of. We don’t do enough to believe and support victims. We’re catty, we’re apathetic, we naturally exclude or fear what we don’t understand. We are sometimes people who take advantage of others And when we continue to stoop down to the lowest common denomination of what it means to be human, that’s when we continue a cycle of rape and assault.