What is rape culture?

Rape culture is a culture that tolerates, trivializes, excuses, or even promotes rape. When we talk about rape culture we are generally talking about the attitudes people have about rape, rapists, and rape survivors, the way rapists and rape survivors are treated, and the way rapists and rape survivors are portrayed in the media.

For example, in a rape culture, the blame for rape is put on the survivor (a phenomenon often known as “victim-blaming”). Survivors are told they caused the rape to happen by wearing suggestive things, being drunk, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This teaches rape perpetrators to not feel guilty about what they’ve done if the victim was “asking for it”. It also makes people feel like they can’t say no to unwanted sexual activity if they’ve done something considered unsafe or suggestive.

Another example of rape culture is the idea, promoted by hundreds of thousands of books, movies, plays and TV shows, that the ideal sexual situation is “man ravishes woman”. In this vision of sex, the man (or the dominant partner in a same-sex relationship) is sexiest when he is overpowering the woman (or the submissive partner) and never asking for permission. These ideas become embedded into the cultural meanings of masculinity and femininity. Similarly, the woman is considered sexiest when she is submitting to his power. This sexual script creates a very high risk for rape, because it discourages communication about what each partner wants to do.

These are just two examples amongst many. Briefly, other examples include:

  • Perspectives like sexism, racism, ageism, classism, transphobia, and queerphobia that degrade our respect for certain bodies
  • Assumptions that only promiscuous women are raped, or that men don’t are raped at all or that only “weak” men are raped
  • The trivialization of rape through rape jokes and comments like “that test raped me”
  • The continuation of wars, which always include high levels of sexual assault against civilians and soldiers alike
  • Refusing to take rape accusations seriously, or trivializing stories of rape and sexual assault