When I first came across the term “rape culture”, I had some disbelief about its existence. What was it actually implying? Rape…culture? The term was largely involved in some of the biggest news and pop culture stories of 2014, but what exactly does it mean?
Rape culture is used to encapsulate any actions or representations of sexual violence that is scarily treated as the norm or expected of society. It was first coined by feminist groups in the 1970s, appalled by the lack of sensitivity when discussing or treating rape victims (a majority of them being girls and women) and the media’s obsession with graphic, sexual imagery. In the last twelve months, the term made an abundant comeback. And whether boldly printed in sometimes sensationalized headlines or as a part of entertainment storylines, its omnipresence left me cringing. By winter’s end, I had had enough of witnessing of what felt like a huge lack of social and moral responsibility on dealing with such a sensitive, personal subject that’s become as normal to read about as NASDAQ stocks.
The word “rape” has gone from being a trigger to everyday. Yet despite my initial frustration, in order to understand rape culture’s role in today’s news coverage, it was imperative to look back at the news stories it was a part of. The timeline below shows how rape culture made an impact in 2014, and you’ll definitely see a pattern of victims not taken seriously (“victim-shaming”), questionable articles, shocking attacks, and brave survivors all on a quest to uncover why this has or is happening.
Morocco’s parliament made a big step forward in unanimously agreeing to repeal a notorious addendum in a rape marriage law. Before, as a part of Article 475, its penal code allowed rapists the option of marrying their victims to avoid prosecution of sexual assault.
Amending the horrendous option began two years prior when in 2012, there was the heartbreaking marriage of 16-year-old Amina al-Filali to her 23-year-old rapist. al-Filali was forced to elope in order to salvage her family’s legacy because the sex was out-of-wedlock, (never mind it being non-consensual.) Seven months later, the young girl committed suicide. Since her death, lobbyists fought for tougher action and protection of sexual assault and child brides.
President Obama began publicly discussing plans to support, push, and regulate laws and programs towards preventing high school and college rape, a growing concern since 2012’s Steubenville High School case. The Obama Administration and its White House Council on Women and Girls released a memorandum titled Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action, officially stamping their awareness. Per The New York Times, Vice President Joe Biden shared this statement: “Our daughters, our sisters, our wives, our mothers, our grandmothers have every single right to expect to be free from violence and sexual abuse. No matter what she’s wearing, no matter whether she’s in a bar, in a dormitory, in the back seat of a car, on a street, drunk or sober — no man has a right to go beyond the word ‘no.’ And if she can’t consent, it also means no. Men have to take more responsibility; men have to intervene. The measure of manhood is willingness to speak up and speak out, and begin to change the culture.”
West Bengal, India:
Out of West Bengal, India, a 20-year-old woman informed authorities that she was not only gang-rape by a group of men, but that they were ordered to commit the crime by the chief of their village. The Indian government responded quickly to the case, and at the time 13 men were arrested as the victim was in the hospital.
Kirti Azad, of the Bharatiya Janata Party, spoke to the Indian media, expressing the nation’s shock and disappointment and shock on the story: “Shameful incidents are happening in our country… Unless law takes strict action and creates a sense of fear in people, such sad incidents will continue to happen. It is very surprising that in a state governed by a female chief minister, a woman is being raped; it is very shameful.”
Gang rape in particular has been a scary occurrence in India for the last few years, following the mortifying crime of a New Delhi woman’s brutal rape on a bus in 2012. The victim, who was a physiotherapy intern, later died in the hospital due to the injuries she obtained, and since then, four of the six rapists have been sentenced to death.
Feministing were the first to discover this specific example of society’s sometimes lax take on sexual assault. When happy-go-lucky spot The Daiquiri Factory in Spokane named one of their drinks “Date Grape Koolaid”, it induced shock from female patrons, since the Factory somewhat assumed no one would see its clear connection to the term and real crime of “date rape”. Customers went to the restaurant’s Facebook page demanding an alteration, but the Daiquiri Factory was unapologetic and tried to downplay the drink’s controversial name. Later, they even boasted that “Date Grape Koolaid” was one its top sellers.
A war of words raged between the Factory’s insensitivity and customers, but the dive got theirs. In June, the spot was shuttered and its eviction was based on of the justified outcry over “Date Grape Koolaid”.
Complaints of Indiana’s state laws not doing enough for its sexual assault victims were solidified when statistics released from 2009 to 2011, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that Indiana ranked was the second-worst state when it came to prosecuting rapists. In the Hoosier State, it could take as long as five years for a rapist to have legal action against them, otherwise known as a the statute of limitations. Activists had been trying for years to get Indiana to wake up and stop allowing criminals to freely roam the streets, and one activist fighting is male victim, Keith Morris. Morris informed authorities about his rape by a church leader, and his rapist has yet to be convicted.”Indiana has a severe problem. There should be no time limit on prosecution.”
Apparently, we weren’t the only ones confused or unappreciative of the term “rape culture”. In March, RAINN (The Rape Abuse & Incest National Network) released a letter, addressed to the White House Task Force, denouncing “rape culture” as a kind of made-up, colorful language that excused rapists and their crimes:
“In the last few years, there has been an unfortunate trend towards blaming ‘rape culture’ for the extensive problem of sexual violence on campuses. While it is helpful to point out the systemic barriers to addressing the problem, it is important to not 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.”
Interestingly, Slate thought that RAINN had missed the point in that “rape culture” was useful because it was easier way to discuss the general impact of sexual violence. The term is supremely controversial, but the last thing we should be concerned about is what to call sexual violence when doing a Google search, but instead how to stop it and bring cases of it to justice.
HBO’s Game of Thrones, four seasons in, included its first rape ever in the episode “Breaker of Chains”. It would also be the first major discussion of rape in 2014 pop culture, as many fans found it propaganda filled and unnecessary. In a scene where the character Cersei is mourning the death of son Joffrey (who’s laying on a panel) her brother and love interest Jaime is nearby. In an abrupt turn, Jaime forces himself on Cersei.
Fans of GOT were appalled at not just the scene, but for the major fact that such a scene doesn’t even exist in the original GOT novels. When the characters Cersei and Jaime do have sex, it was consensual. The show’s creators David Benioff and D.W. Weiss were accused of including rape for shock value, and episode inspired a number of think pieces and Q&As with Benioff and Weiss about its impact.
TV shows have been using rape as a gimmick for some time now. We all know Law and Order can’t go an episode without it, but lately year it’s gotten out of hand with fan favorites including sexual assault storylines such as Scandal, Mad Men, American Horror Story: Coven and Sons of Anarchy.
The New York Times published a lengthy update on the dismissed case of Florida State University’s prized football player Jameis Winston accused of raping a female freshmen student. The matter was another powder keg example of how rape cases are sometimes mishandled by the judicial system, and especially when involving students. As he faced no official charges and evidence limited, Winston went on to win the coveted Heisman Trophy award in November 2013 and in December, Willie Meggs announced that the case was over: “We’ve carefully examined all the evidence in this case and have concluded that no charges will be filed against anyone in this case.” Times‘ went deep into understanding why Florida and the Tallahassee Police Department seemingly protected Winston, a star player, and not the victim that came forward with her story. The police department didn’t even bother to collect Winston’s DNA or detain him for questioning.
TIME magazine released one of its most provocative covers, in using a traditional school banner that read: RAPE, with cover story titled “RAPE: The Crisis In Higher Education.” Rape culture on American campuses was the focus as the pub looked deeper into the biggest stories of it, such as Steubenville. Online, TIME had also revealed as a part of their ‘It’s Time To End ‘Rape Culture’ Hysteria’ piece, the University of Montana in Misssoula was nicknamed “America’s Rape Capital”, with over 80 reported cases of rape and sexual assault in the last three years.
The National Review Online published a demeaning article that challenged The White House’s Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault plan. A collaborative effort between multiple writers, first, Heather Mac Donald ridiculed the Obama Administration for “parroting over 20 years’ worth of feminist propagandizing”. It gets worse. Mac Donald went on to say that college rape would be less prevalent if girls would stop drinking, as Mona Charen added that feminists were the cause of creating environments of “sexual insensitivity and sometimes even brutality.” (What?) Then Thomas Sowell concluded The White House’s program was just assuming that by “threatening colleges that don’t handle rape issues the politically correct way – that is, by presuming the accused to be guilty” was a form of “lynch-mob mentality.”
The piece was delusional and full of hate as it rightfully earned the title of victim-shaming, especially after The White House had determined that 1 in every 5 women are sexually assaulted or raped.
George Will wrote an Op-Ed blasting the Obama Administration’s Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault report, by stating it was full of “dubious” information and facts. The Washington Post writer argued that the stats of 1 in 5 women being raped or assaulted “fall[s] apart” ,or short, based on the number of “reported” assaults on record. Like the National Review Online, Will argued that many of those reported assaults were “cries” of rape, and he more concerned about the repercussions of sexual assault for the rapist and perpetrators than the victim: “And you’re going to have young men disciplined, their lives often permanently and seriously blighted by this — they won’t get into medical school, they won’t get into law school, and all of this.” Petitions for his resignation appeared online, and while WP did not fire him, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch dropped him as a syndicated columnist.