Rape Culture/Relationship Abuse Culture is a culture that accepts and supports men’s use of violence against women. Abuse is not a natural result of anger problems or alcohol—it is a learned behavior that operates within a larger context. Ideas, customs, and institutions influence the development of male violence. A number of social forces act on the individual to breed misogyny and shape ideas about male dominance and the devaluation of women, which can normalize abusive behavior. Relationship Abuse/Rape Culture is made up of many interrelated societal phenomena, that include objectification, misogyny, victim blaming, and gender role expectations. Rape culture is the desensitization of and acceptance of violence against women as normal. Advertisements, movies, video games, the mishandling of court cases, etc. have contributed to this desensitization of violence against women and the examples below demonstrate how society minimizes, trivializes, and even encourages rape and abuse.
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Warning: This page contains disturbing imagery and violent lyrics
Objectification of women is a large part of relationship abuse/rape culture and has serious consequences. When a person sees his partner as an object, he is more likely to see her as a personal possession rather than an individual. Objectification also makes it harder to empathize with women who have experienced abuse or sexual violence. As long as women are seen as objects, they will continue to be seen as objects to beat and rape in our society. People do not beat or rape “humans”; they beat or rape “objects.” Women are still portrayed as objects in the media and seen as objects in mainstream society. Objectification of women and sexualization of violence occurs in advertisements, music videos, video games, movies, pornography, and in various interactions (sexist language, catcalling, etc). The examples below portray women as sexually available, submissive, interchangeable with other women, while men are displayed as aggressive, dominant, and violent. These sorts of examples are everywhere, and they send a message that women are objects for men to act upon violently and sexually.
Street harassment is not a compliment. It degrades and objectifies women, stemming from the concept that women exist to please men and that men are entitled to women’s bodies. Click here for an informative graphic on how sexual harassment plays into the big picture.
Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines has been called a “rape anthem,” and rightly so. This song mocks consent and sends a message that “no matter what you say or do, I have decided that you want to have sex with me.”
Misogyny, or the hatred and distrust towards all women, can be the driving factor for objectification, victim blaming, and sexism in general, but our culture also accepts blatantly misogynistic messages that contribute to rape and abuse of women. Misogynistic lyrics, images, and discourse are everywhere, and until misogyny is eliminated from our culture, sexual assault and dating violence will continue to occur.
In May of 2014, Elliot Rogers went on a shooting rampage in Santa Barbara, in an attempt to kill sorority women, killing seven people including himself. Here is an excerpt from his journal:
His viewpoints are a reflection of misogynistic beliefs of many men who are part of the anti-feminist backlash, illustrated on online forums specifically targeting women. His actions cannot be separated from a larger discussion of the implications of rampant sexism in our culture.
Video games are often violent, sexist, and objectifying of women, but Grand Theft Auto is one of the more extreme examples. The only female characters in the game exist to be groped, pursued, raped, and even murdered. GTA is clearly catered towards men (with no female protagonist), and it encourages players to act violently and disrespectfully towards female characters. Here are some examples:
- In the car, players tune into a radio station that advises them to crush a woman’s sternum during sex because “most women love that.”
- A large part of the game can be spent in strip clubs and with prostitutes. Having sex with prostitutes increases the player’s stamina points, and many forums encourage running over prostitutes with a car
- When In the strip club, lap dances consist of trying to grope the woman while the guards are not paying attention.
- Sometimes topless women can be seen through the window at a particular mansion and the player can snap pictures of these women.
- Some users have altered the code of the game in order to rape other players.
- If the player follows a woman on the street, she will get uncomfortable and speed up while looking over her shoulder.
- If you are inactive during the game for some time, the character takes control of the camera and starts zooming in on womens’ bodies.
Harvey Weinstein’s abuse and assault of women led to an increased focus on the issue of sexual assault and rape culture due to his high profile position as an accomplished film producer and the sheer number of women who have spoken out against him.
In late 2017, over 100 women, including renowned actresses, reported in the New York Times, the New Yorker and other outlets that Weinstein had raped them, appeared naked in front of them, forced them to massage him, offered them advancement in their careers in exchange for sexual favors and much more. He was removed from his company and many international film organizations, and subsequently charged with rape, criminal sex act, sexual abuse, and sexual misconduct and arrested. Lack of accountability is a component of rape culture. Weinstein’s initial response to the allegations against him was a letter in which he claimed that being born in the 60s was the cause of his actions. His refusal to acknowledge his choice to abuse and assault illustrates the lack of accountability that permeates this culture. The fact that he was able to abuse women at all also demonstrates that society allows people in power to feel like they can get away with treating women as sex objects. The idea that abuse is a natural and justified consequence of power is rape culture.
The actions of Harvey Weinstein, and the flood of reporting as a result, reignited an international social media campaign, #MeToo, started by Tarana Burke. This movement was a call of awareness in which people shared their stories of being sexually assaulted or harassed to force the conversation about the need for change to the forefront of society. While this conversation has raised awareness of the issue, it is also important to note that it places additional pressure on survivors to share their stories. Survivors should not feel responsible for subsequent actions by a perpetrator and should not be blamed for not having come forward “sooner” or when society would like them to.. This is another asepct of rape culture. Thus far, the Me Too movement has resulted in an unprecedented amount of media attention and political discourse, but it has also been met with backlash. This backlash includes questioning of whether survivors’ experiences were “bad enough” to be worth reporting. Abusers like Weinstein have continued to hold power because questions like this lead to women only feeling safe enough to report their behavior when they feel that enough women share that experience for them to be believed. This backlash undermines and belittles not only the women who have come forward, but all those who might ever be affected by sexual assault.
Donald Trump was recorded crudely objectifying women and bragging about his ability to get away with sexual harassment and assault due to his celebrity status. In the recording he says, “I did try and f*ck her. She was married. … I moved on her like a b*tch. But I couldn’t get there. And she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look. … Yeah, that’s her. With the gold. I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. … Grab ’em by the p*ssy. You can do anything.”
Bragging about sexual assault is rape culture. Objectifying women is rape culture. The reaction to Trump’s words, by labelling the conversation as merely “locker room talk” is rape culture. The lack of accountabilty is rape culture.
Victim blaming is another element of Rape/Relationship Abuse Culture. Putting the blame on the victim/survivor shifts the focus from the perpetrator and makes it seem as though the victim/survivor is responsible for being abused or raped. Saying things like “she was asking for it,” because of how a woman was dressed or how intoxicated she was at the time of being assaulted or “she provoked it,” when a woman is hit or verbally abused are victim blaming statements. There are a number of ways that victim blaming occurs in our society, both on the interactional level and on a larger cultural level. We need to develop a culture that holds perpetrators accountable and that offers support and understanding towards victims/survivors.
Steubenville Rape Case
In Steubenville, Ohio, in August, 2012, two football players raped an unconscious high school girl, while bystanders took pictures and tweeted about the events. Here are some of the bystanders’ disturbing, misogynistic comments:
Instead of focusing on the perpetrator (and the many bystanders), the media response was to blame the victim:
In 2009, Chris Brown beat Rihanna and pictures surfaced of her bloodied face. After this information became public, society did not focus on Chris Brown’s horrifying actions, but instead blamed Rihanna, the victim. The media and general public blamed her for the abuse. Here are some examples of from comments on MTV.com:
Not only are the above examples strangely empathetic towards the person who perpetrated the violence, but we know that someone cannot provoke their partner into being abusive.
Here is an account of what really happened, taken from Chris Brown’s affidavit:
Even after the horrific facts of the case were made public, the victim blaming went on. People continued to victim-blame her by focusing on “why she went back” instead of asking “why did Chris Brown do this?” or “why does our society continue to accept domestic violence?” It is important to remember that the perceived “choice” to stay with Brown (or others we see in the media) is often based on the fear of retaliation by a very powerful public figure. The reality is that the most dangerous time for a survivor/victim is when she leaves the abusive partner; 75% of domestic violence related homicides occur upon separation. See Barriers to Leaving an Abusive Relationship for more information on why it is difficult to leave an abusive partner and why we shouldn’t focus on that.
The case of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has elicited a national outcry and one of the largest discussions about domestic violence, the implications of victim blaming and the presence of rampant desensitization towards violence against women in sports and elsewhere. When a video surfaced of Rice dragging Janay Palmer’s unconscious body after punching her out in an elevator, the response from all directions was to blame Janay Palmer and excuse Ray Rice. Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL, called the abuse “a terrible mistake.” John Harbaugh, Ravens coach, said that the assault was due to “couples issues” and said publicly that he hadn’t seen anything to suggest that Rice wouldn’t be back on the field next season. In an unbelievable example of victim blaming, the Baltimore Ravens tweeted:
Sports commentator Stephen A. Smith, on national television, responded to the video by accusing women of provoking and causing the abuse perpetrated against them.
It was not until a second video surfaced which shows Rice dealing Palmer the blow that knocked her unconscious that the Ravens fired him and the NFL suspended him indefinitely, as the Ravens had previously only suspended him for two games. But why does it take this video, which forces Janay Palmer to relive the abuse, for anyone to take real action? Ray McDonald, 49ers defensive lineman was arrested for a domestic violence felony, yet he is still playing. Greg Hardy, defensive end for the Panthers, was found guilty of abuse and death threats towards his ex-girlfriend…and is still playing. Terrell Suggs, another Panthers player, is still playing despite the fact that his girlfriend has come out with horrifying stories of abuse, including him punching her in the neck and pouring bleach on her and their son. Why are none of these men being held accountable for their actions? Because they don’t have video documentation? The fact that we needed “proof” beyond police reports is a problem. Our society does not believe women until the abuse is pushed so close to our faces that we no longer can look away.
And the victimization continues. The media is blaming Janay with headlines such as, “Why Does Janay Keep Standing By her Man? This illustrates the societal ignorance of the nature of abuse by assuming that if it were really dangerous, the victim would leave and she could do so easily. The reality is that upon separation, the risk of retaliation and homicide increases by 75%, for at least two years (LERC) and victims/survivors know this; they feel it their gut or her partner tells her he will kill her. It happened when Jovan Belcher killed Cassandra Perkins. See Barriers to Leaving an Abusive Relationship for more information. Instead of putting the responsibility on Janay Palmer to leave, the media/NFL/courts should be demanding that Rice, and others, stop abusing.
Gender role expectations refer to the societal norms that dictate what constitutes “manhood” and “womanhood.” From an early age, we are socialized by our parents, peers, and the world around us to act out our assigned gender. Little girls and boys learn that there are certain things they should be doing, and certain things they are not allowed to do, and this education continues into adulthood. To be a “woman” is to be soft-spoken, emotional, beautiful, and attentive to male needs and to be a man is to be physically strong, unemotional, aggressive, sexually advanced, and rejecting of all things feminine. These gender roles constrain both women and men and contribute to the abusive mindset and victim-blaming attitudes.
Tony Porter, in a TED talk, provides a moving example of how societal ideas about masculinity contribute to rape culture and acceptance of violence against women.
In response to the Chiefs hanging up Jovan Belcher’s jersey as a way of memorializing someone who had murdered the young mother of his infant, Joe Samalin, Sacchi Patel, and Ben Atherto-Zeman from MasculinityU wrote this short piece:
This page was created by a Next Generation Intern from the Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness.