Columns, Opinion

RYAN: The Reality of Living in a Rape Culture

We have a major problem with how we treat women in this country. That problem is criticizing a young woman when Rolling Stone fails to do its job before printing a story. That problem is releasing that woman’s name, address, phone number and email address to the general public in pursuit of the “truth.” That problem is a fictional character on The Newsroom telling a rape victim that he is “morally obligated” to presume that her less than credible attacker is innocent.

That problem is a television icon abusing his role and allegedly sexually assaulting approximately 20 women. That problem is the U.S. Department of Defense classifying an increase in reported sexual assaults as a good thing because it shows “growing trust … in the system.” This is not an abstract problem when 1 in 5 women on U.S. college campuses have been sexually assaulted.

We cannot afford to ignore that often our system results in fewer repercussions for rapists than those who report their attackers. I really don’t understand how anyone can say we don’t have problems with rape culture when in this country, the premise is that rape is inevitable and usually the victim’s fault. It really blows my mind, but considering every example I cited has occurred in the last two weeks, I’m led to believe that not enough people are concerned. That needs to change.

Slowly, small groups of concerned citizens are trying to shift the discussion of rape and sexual assault. We are beginning to teach young girls that no, it is not their fault, and it’s okay to go to the police. And yet, so many women are still afraid to turn in their attackers. Mother Jones reported on Friday that just 4 percent of victims report their attackers. The most cited reasons for not reporting include “didn’t think it was serious,” “thought she was partially/fully responsible” and “thought it was unclear that a crime had happened.” All of these responses are a result of a cultural norm we need to change.

Are we really surprised that women don’t believe these attacks are serious when we’re filling the airwaves with misogynistic lyrics from artists such as Robin Thicke, One Direction and Eminem? While Thicke was rather publicly eviscerated for his somehow-still-a-hit-even-though-it-objectifies-half-the-population song “Blurred Lines,” One Direction and Eminem have received significantly less flak.

One Direction’s “Little White Lies” has lines such as “I know you want it/I know you feel it too/Let’s stop pretending” and “Now you wanna make some rules/now cool then we’ll watch them break tonight/I know what you want.” Don’t worry though. It’s not like young, impressionable girls are the ones listening to this music and learning that saying “no” doesn’t always mean “no.” Oh wait.

In Bad Meets Evil’s song “Vegas,” Eminem sings about raping hip-hop star Iggy Azalea with the lovely line, “Put that shit away Iggy/You gon’ blow that rape whistle on me/(Scream!) I love it.”

However, this problem isn’t only evident in the music we listen to. Sunday’s episode of “The Newsroom” reminded us all that even the liberal highbrows still have their doubts about the validity of rape allegations. I cited the example earlier in the article, but basically Don Keefer, a producer for the fictional Atlantis Cable News network on the show, has a conversation with Mary, a Princeton University undergraduate who was sexually assaulted. In their discussion, Keefer explains that even though her rapist is “a sketchy guy,” he’s still morally obligated to believe he’s innocent. What.

But in case the fictionalized version of what’s wrong with society isn’t convincing evidence, let’s use Emma Sulkowicz as a real-world example.

The name might not sound familiar, but Sulkowicz is the Columbia University undergraduate student who is still carrying a mattress around her campus. According to Slate, Sulkowicz will carry her 50-pound dorm room mattress around with her as long as her rapist remains on campus. When she went to campus authorities, Sulkowicz said administrators decided that the man was “not responsible,” despite the fact that at least two other students have filed charges against him.

Sexual assault victims have to jump through far too many hoops in order to bring their attackers to justice. As a society, we immediately question the reliability of a woman who comes forward to report a sexual assault, but another Slate article reports that only 2 to 8 percent of all sexual assault claims are false.

We have an obligation to the women in this society to treat rape and sexual assault more seriously. There is no substitute for compassion and believing their stories. Perhaps, more importantly, we have an obligation to the next generation of women and men to teach them better than we were taught. Rape is a crime, so let’s stop treating the victims like they’re the criminals.

One Comment

  1. The idea that we live in a “rape culture” has been thoroughly debunked. Recently the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a report showing the actual rate of female college students becoming victims of sexual assault is 6.1 per 1,000 students, or 0.61% (instead of 1-in-5, the real number is 0.03-in-5). For non-students, the rate of sexual assault is 7.6 per 1,000 people or 0.76%. So women are safer on campus than off.

    The DOJ data also shows that, between 1997 and 2013, incidences of rape have PLUMMETED by 50%.

    With such miniscule rates of sexual assault on campuses, how is it that we have an alleged rape crises? As they say, follow the money (and influence and power), which USA Today recently discussed in an Op-Ed piece entitled, “The great campus rape hoax”:

    “Upshot: Women on campus aren’t at more risk for sexual assault, and their risk is nothing like the bogus 1-in-5 statistic bandied about by politicians and activists. So why is this non-crisis getting so much press?

    “It’s getting press because it suits the interests of those pushing the story. For [U.S. Senators] Gillibrand and McCaskill, it’s a woman-related story that helps boost their status as female senators. …”

    “This kind of hysteria may be ugly, but for campus activists and bureaucrats it’s a source of power: If there’s a ‘campus rape crisis,’ that means that we need new rules, bigger budgets, and expanded power and self-importance for all involved, with the added advantage of letting you call your political opponents (or anyone who threatens funding) ‘pro rape.’ If we focus on the truth, however — rapidly declining rape rates already, without any particular ‘crisis’ programs in place — then voters, taxpayers, and university trustees will probably decide to invest resources elsewhere. So for politicians and activists, a phony crisis beats no crisis.”