Rape Culture and The Blame Game: Should We Be Pointing Fingers?

By definition, rape culture is a concept which links rape and sexual violence to the culture of a society, in which prevalent attitudes and practices normalize, excuse, tolerate and even condone rape. The term has recently become common place in news headlines and everyday conversation as high profile sexual assault cases are publicized and debated. Finally, it seems that a majority of Americans are not content with continuing to allow these cases to be here one day and gone the next, metaphorically pushed to the back of our minds until another horrible incident kicks and screams it’s way to the forefront. As trials open and close, we are insisting upon continued research, rallies and support; coverage of specific scenarios is traded for conversation centered on the how and the why behind the culture that has formed. While I am grateful the overall outlook has progressed and discussions are being had, I also must wonder if, as we strive to eradicate sexual assault and shutdown rape culture, we are too quick to place the blame on certain sectors of our society. Should we really be pointing fingers at the few or do we need to realize the root cause of rape culture is actually the mindset of the many?

There is no denying that many recent, high profile rape cases have involved high school and college athletes. It is also hard to argue that the use of date rape drugs has not been heavily linked to fraternity houses across America’s college campuses. From too much experience, we have been made aware that numerous incidents of sexual assault happen after the victim has consumed alcohol, leaving them highly intoxicated. When we review the incidents that have turned into headline news, it does appear that there are a few common denominators. Does this mean that athletes, fraternity members and drunk girls should be held responsible for rape and rape culture in America? I think not but, lately there has been discussion that supports fingers being pointed in the direction of these groups.

A recent column published by The Nation’s Dave Zirin, argued that the dynamic between jock culture and rape culture should be obvious. Zirin writes, “I’ve heard the stories from athletes I’ve interviewed and from women with detailed descriptions of rape that go unpunished if someone with sports related status is accused. Too many young male athletes are taught to see women as the spoils of being a jock. These young men are treated like gods by the adults who are supposed to be mentoring them.”

On an opposing front, a contributing writer at Slate magazine penned an article pleading with college women to stop getting drunk in order to prevent sexual assault. While the author does make certain to express her belief that the perpetrators are responsible for the crimes they commit, the focus is on teaching young women to prevent rape by not consuming copious amount of alcohol and ensuring they are always in a state to protect themselves. In the end, this outlook is still placing preventative ownership on the victim when we should be focusing on wiping out the behavior, leaving behind nothing to prevent.

If we comb the headlines of late, there are numerous columns and articles that blame the hierarchy of Greek life and the expected image of fraternity men; the entitlement of male athletes and the notion that jock culture breeds rapists; the idea that girls can and should prevent sexual assault and rape by reducing their alcohol intake and not putting themselves in a position that may lead a man to believe they are “asking for it.” Rape is a horrific act, a crime that no person should ever have to experience and a crime I believe many people are diligently trying to resolve. However, I also believe that as a society, we want so desperately to find a resolution that we often seek a root cause, a singular direction in which to point our fingers; we overlook the fact that the issue is widespread and embedded in the larger culture. While I agree that addressing some of the most highly publicized issues is a start, it will not attack rape culture at it’s core because it is not a problem that can be pinned to any one sub-culture; there is no one direction in which we should solely be pointing.

I won’t deny that what many have reported isn’t true. I am from a small town, deeply rooted in a love of high school football. In fact, I grew up not far from Steubenville and am familiar with the attitudes there. Post graduation I attended college with some of the biggest names in college football so, I know exactly what entitlement looks and acts like. During my undergraduate years, I was also a member of Kappa Delta sorority which means I am familiar with the best and worst parts of Greek life. Like many analyzing these sub-cultures, I am fully aware that high school athletes put on a pedestal have committed rape. I have certainly seen college athletes act as if any girl in the bar should feel lucky to go home with them and I will honestly tell you I have been to fraternity parties where girls were warned not to lose sight of their cups. However, I will not agree that any of these sub-cultures are responsible for the greater rape culture. In my opinion, I think we need to consider the fact that they are a side effect of a much greater mindset.

Rape is not just a problem among athletes and it is not an incident contained to sorority and fraternity row. Sexual assault is not simply breed within the sectors of our society that often times do have entitlement problems. The rape culture and sexual assault issues we have are the result of a broader cultural mindset that a human being is something anyone would be entitled to in the first place. Rape culture is a mindset of the many, a sadly deep rooted outlook that we need to begin overturning from all angles. Too often, stories of rape are made headline news and we debate them, express our outrage over the acts, yet true justice slips through our fingers. Punishments are not just, are not given at all or are too often criticized with sympathy doled out for the offender. We need to make proper examples out of each and every offender in order to teach consequence, present a unified “zero tolerance” front in order to begin shifting the mindset of the whole. The concept of right and wrong in these instances is very black and white and it is everyone’s job to ensure that is the message being sent no matter who the perpetrator is. We need to punish the act until it is no longer thought of as remotely acceptable, no longer even thought of as an option at all. For every one college athlete or fraternity member whose entitlement has led him to believe he can have sex with a girl without her consent, there are 100 who would never dream of disrespecting a human being in that way. For every Steubenville there are multiple small towns in which young men on elite football teams are learning about discipline and respect. Why is that? Quite simply, because the notion of sexual assault or entitlement to sex is rarely, if ever, being taught to these young men. Rather, it is being condoned by a larger population once it happens, tolerated by members of a society who still think that women could ever be “asking for it.” We need to begin affecting change by wiping out these very thoughts. The root cause of rape culture is the portion of our society that still believes, and is subsequently teaching all ages, genders and walks of life, the notion that rape is ever anyone’s fault but the rapist and could possibly be acceptable for any reason.

For better or worse, or perhaps for a different discussion all together, entitlement seems to be an emotion felt by many within our culture. It might be that we have an entitlement problem or it might be that we need to change what people feel they are entitled to. All generations need to live by the understanding that they are not entitled to intimacy with another person, that people are not something to be had, nor are they entitled to inappropriate, disrespectful behavior or crime without consequence. Whether highly publicized or not, rape is happening all over the world and the perpetrators range from serial rapists to high school kids forming rape gangs to grown adults in positions of power; no matter how many times one particular group, sub-culture or gender makes the news, 1.3 rapes per minute can only be accounted for by an entire population. Understandably, the notion that rape is a widespread, deep-rooted cultural issue is more frightening than the idea that it is a contained crime among entitled young men but, I believe the more frightening scenario to be true. Eradicating rape culture doesn’t mean cracking down on athletes, intoxication levels and fraternity parties; eradicating rape culture means shifting the mindset of every single American until no one believes that anyone is ever asking for it; until no one in any part of our society tolerates, condones or normalizes these behaviors.

Feature Image via Change.Org