What is ‘Rape Culture’?

“Rape culture exists because we don’t believe it does,” Walter Moseley points out in his The Nation¹ article.

I’d like to believe Moseley’s thought—that the reason rape culture exists is because we haven’t wrapped our mind around the problem and how it functions. With that in mind, I think it’s only fair to educate those around us what rape culture is.  In order to hope for change, we have to grasp and tackle this overwhelming reality.

The first steps are to define it, recognize when we see rape culture occurring and understand the magnitude of the effect it has on people. If we can do that, then change can start to happen on an individual and societal level.

What is rape culture?

Rape culture is the practice of cultivating an environment in which we normalize sexual violence. In this culture, humans are objectified by placing more value on outward appearance and body parts than on that person as a whole. When we view someone as valuable only for their body or as an object, we clear the path to commit violence against them.

It is also about the language we use. Our culture doesn’t outwardly promote rape. Rape culture is more subtle than that. It is excusing or tolerating situations in which sexual assault, rape and violence are ignored, normalized or made into jokes.

Rape culture disregards and neglects an individual’s safety.

What are some examples of rape culture?

  • Demanding women to “act like a lady” or men to “be a man” suggests that there are specific boxes of traits and behaviors we must fit or take part in.
  • Blaming the victim. Asking a woman what she was wearing, why she didn’t call for help, etc. releases the perpetrator who commits the crime from responsibility of what they’ve done and shifts blame to the victim.
  • Slut shaming. Men are praised for sexual behavior and women are socially ostracized for the exact same behavior.
  • The message that women can avoid unwanted attention if only we are careful enough. This suggestion causes feelings of guilt in women who may start to believe a crime acted on them is their own fault.
  • Teaching women how to avoid getting assaulted or raped instead of teaching men not to rape.
  • Men who are supposed to be leaders in our society making light of sexual assault.
  • Pop music telling us there are “blurred lines” and “I know you know you want it”. This devalues consent and often values a male’s desires over women’s choices.
  • Men’s inappropriate behaviors are reasoned away with the saying, “boys will be boys.”
  • A judge sentencing a man to 60 days in jail for raping a 12 year old girl. (CBS news²)

It might seem like these examples are one-time occurrences, but in reality they add up to form a larger societal trend. This trend is called rape culture.  These occurrences are not rare; they happen so often and sometimes without notice, but we need to start connecting the dots. If our society continues to deny that this larger problem exists, then we have failed to create a culture for victims to express their trauma and receive help.

What is the Young Women’s Resource Center doing about this issue?

The Young Women’s Resource Center has been working since 1978 to combat this prevalent, widespread problem. We support, educate and advocate. 

The YWRC promotes empowerment in all of our programming. We discuss what empowerment is, what it means to empower ourselves and others, and how we can become resilient beings.

We create a safe environment that respects choice. All girls and young women deserve to feel like they have a choice over their own bodies. In our smalls groups, we allow them to choose where they want to sit, if they want to participate that day or participate in group at all.

We educate about the power of words and their origins. We believe in learning that some words are used to oppress or demean others and how doing so can perpetuate rape culture.

We talk about gender equality and our belief that every girl deserves a life of possibilities.

We emphasize that women are more than their outward appearance.  We work hard at the YWRC to cultivate a space for women to express positive self-confidence and positive body image. Our girls have the opportunity to build their own self-esteem and confidence. At the YWRC, we remind the girls that what matters most is who they are: we focus on their talents, goals, gifts, abilities and strengths.

Every woman that comes through the doors of the YWRC is taught that she is valued and deserves to live in an environment where she feels safe from the dangers that rape culture has allowed.

What can YOU do?

Avoid using language that objectifies or degrades. Speak up, and speak loudly. Take people seriously when they have been assaulted. Change the way you look at the media’s messages. Communicate and educate on consent.  Be aware of stereotypes. Get involved with community conversations and groups combating this epidemic.  (Marshall³)

We can no longer settle with the belief that rape culture doesn’t exist.  I challenge you to educate yourself and others around you. This is an issue for humanity that cannot be ignored; no one should be subjected to preventable pain.


¹ The Nation

²CBS New

³Marshall University