“Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.”
– Marshall University Women’s Center
By Kyle Taylor and Rachel Beatrice for Capital News Service
To many people, especially men, the term “rape culture” may seem like hyperbole. But anti-rape activists say it’s an apt description of the everyday reality faced by women and some men.
Women’s rights activists say rape is prevalent because society condones sexual violence against women. They maintain that rape culture is perpetuated by myths about rape.
Fatima Smith, assistant director of Sexual and Intimate Partner Violence, Stalking and Advocacy Services at the Wellness Resource Center at Virginia Commonwealth University, says it’s important to challenge problematic thinking and commentary about rape.
“Not confronting individuals who laugh at rape jokes, or not correcting people that say seemingly harmless statements like ‘that chair is so gay,’ are things that contribute to the problem of rape culture,” Smith said.
“When we don’t interrupt the group thought that it’s OK to let people get away with joking about the serious reality of sexual assault, rape culture continues. The ongoing acceptance of this group mentality builds the foundation of a culture of violence.”
To raise awareness of the reality of rape and rape culture, here are 10 of the most common myths about sexual assaults.
Myth 1: Rape survivors are “asking for it” with suggestive clothing or word choice.
Fact: No one asks to be raped. Rape is a violent crime, and no woman’s behavior or dress gives a man the right to rape her. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network states that it’s the perpetrator who selects the victim; the victim’s behavior and clothing choices do not mean that they are consenting to sexual activity.
Myth 2: A person cannot sexually assault their partner or spouse.
Fact: Nearly one in 10 women has been raped by an intimate partner in her lifetime, according to the 2011 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Myth 3: Sexual assaults most often occur in public or outdoors by a stranger.
Fact: The study “Female Victims of Sexual Violence, 1994-2010,” done by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, found that 55 percent of rape or sexual assault victimizations occur at or near the victim’s home, and 12 percent occur at or near the home of a friend, relative or acquaintance.
According to research by the organization Rape Crisis, “only around 10% of rapes are committed by ‘strangers’ and around 90% of rapes are committed by known men, and often by someone who the survivor has previously trusted or even loved.”
“One of the largest misconception about sexual assault is that the rapist is a stranger that jumps out of an alley,” said Liz Canfield, a rape survivor and assistant professor in the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.
During a recent discussion on sexual assault awareness at VCU, panelists noted that a large majority of rape survivors know the perpetrator and that this contributes to survivors not wanting to press charges.
Myth 4: Rape does not happen that often.
Fact: The National Crime Victimization Survey (2009-2013), conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, found that an average of more than 293,000 people age 12 or older are raped or sexually assaulted each year. This means a sexual assault occurs every 107 seconds in the United States.
Myth 5: If two people have had sex with each other before, it’s always OK to have sex again.
Fact: If a person is in a relationship with someone or has had sex with them before, they still can be sexually assaulted or raped by that person. Consent must be given and received every time two people engage in sexual contact.
On its website, the VCU Wellness Center notes that “consent on a prior occasion does not constitute consent on a subsequent occasion and the existence of a prior or current relationship does not, in itself, constitute consent.”
Myth 6: It’s only rape if someone is physically forced into sex and has the injuries to show for it.
Fact: Sometimes people who are raped sustain internal and/or external injuries and sometimes they don’t. According to Rape Crisis, “rapists will sometimes use weapons or threats of violence to prevent a physical struggle or sometimes they will take advantage of someone who isn’t able to consent, because they are drunk or asleep for example. Many people who are sexually attacked are unable to move or speak from fear and shock. Just because someone doesn’t have visible injuries doesn’t mean they weren’t raped.”
Myth 7: People often lie about being raped because they regret having sex with someone or out of spite or for attention.
Fact: Disproportionate media focus on false rape allegations perpetuates the public perception that lying about sexual violence is common when in fact the opposite is true. Rape Crisis found in its studies that “false allegations of rape are very rare. The vast majority of survivors choose not to report to the police. One significant reason for this is the fear of not being believed.
Myth 8: A healthy person can resist being raped or sexually assaulted.
Fact: According to the CDC, one of every six adult women has been a victim of rape, and about 92,700 men are raped in the U.S. each year. Healthy and strong people are raped every day. Rape victims include lawyers, doctors, military personnel, students – anyone and everyone could be vulnerable to rape or sexual assault.
Myth 9: Men are not victims of sexual violence.
Fact: According to the research by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1.5 percent of all men have been raped, and 47 percent of bisexual men have experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact in their lifetime.
Molested by his uncle at age 11, a sexual assault survivor who wishes to remain anonymous said he never told anyone because he didn’t think anyone would believe him, especially because his uncle “was a strong member of the church.” Not even the victim’s mother knows the story.
“I think it’s a little messed up that everybody thinks that it’s only women being raped – especially with all the reports of priests molesting little boys. But a lot of unreported stories come from little boys who get molested by family members – but no one wants to put their family member out there.”
A related myth is that men who are raped by another man are gay or weak. This misconception keep many male rape survivors from getting the physical and emotional support they need after a sexual assault.
“It’s harder for men to admit they have been molested or raped or sodomized or anything like that because it makes a man feel less powerful,” said the Charlottesville man who had been abused by his uncle. “They may think that [others may think], ‘Oh, he must be gay now because he was raped as a little boy.’ It’s definitely tough – it is not easy.”
Myth 10: There is nothing we can do to prevent sexual violence.
Fact: According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, “there are many ways you can help prevent sexual violence including intervening as a bystander to protect someone who may be at risk.” RAINN is the nation’s largest organization helping prevent sexual assault.