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Rape Culture and the Fight Against It

By Jess Burgess

I was thirteen the first time I got cat called. I was walking home from school when a group of men started walking in my direction, they were yelling sexual obscenities at me, my school uniform was not enough of a deterrent. I then got home to the news making fun of brave women that were coming out and talking about their rape experiences, the beginning of the Me Too Movement. The next day at school I heard stories from my friends, how they had experienced the same harassment as me. We were thirteen. We were walking home from school. We were barely even teenagers and yet men double our age still subjected us to their sexually fuelled harassment. 

This is rape culture. This is what society has conditioned us to believe is normal; something women should accept. Rape culture is defined by Marshall University as “an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalised and excused in the media and popular culture. Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorisation of sexual violence.” One in five American women have survived rape; 33 million women in America alone. This figure is not only disgusting but sadly unsurprising to many.

In the United Kingdom last year, there were over 57,000 rape claims, of which, only 1,925 resulted in a conviction. That means that for all reported rapes, less than 3.5% rapists ever spent a day in prison. But why is this? Why don’t the perpetrators of such a damaging crime get convicted? It is easy to point blame to a worldwide broken justice system. Some say there is a lack of evidence. But that’s not necessarily true. There is a backlog of evidence processing. Hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits in America alone, even more worldwide. And why aren’t they tested? The Justice System won’t say. In fact, according to a CNN investigation, 25 law enforcement agencies in 14 American states were found to be destroying rape kits in cases that could still be prosecuted. “This was a routine process,” the agencies said, “done to make space in evidence rooms.” Rape kits are an invasive and traumatising procedure. From 3 to 5 hours of swabbing every part of your body, to hundreds of photos of wounds and your body, to blue dye being dropped to highlight tissue inside of you. For a victim to go through all of that so soon after their already traumatising experience and then for the kit to not be tested, possibly even destroyed is a travesty. An investigation of over a thousand cases in Minnesota found the following: in almost a quarter of the cases, records show police never assigned an investigator, in about 33% of them, the investigator never interviewed the victim, in 50% of cases, police failed to interview potential witnesses, about 75% of cases - including violent rapes by strangers - were never forwarded to prosecutors for criminal charges, and overall, fewer than one in 10 reported sexual assaults produced a conviction.

So if the highly invasive rape kits are not tested, people are not interviewed and officers are not assigned, can you really blame victims for not coming forward about their trauma in the first place? Rape culture normalises sexual violence and tells victims to be quiet about their experience and such prevalent lack of police effort only heightens this shaming of victims.

Rape culture is explicit in the rise of movements like the Me Too movement.

The Me Too movement was started to dismantle rape culture and our society’s glorification of violence against women. #MeToo was first used by Tarana Burke in 2006, but the movement did not gain traction until October 2017 when actor Alyssa Milano shared her story of sexual assault at the hands of producer Harvey Weinstein on Twitter. Milano’s story was spread across the globe as other Twitter users started sharing their own experiences with rape culture using the hashtag #MeToo. The hashtag was shared on Twitter 12 million times within the first day. The movement not only allows victims of sexual violence to connect and share their experiences, but it also has made the media, and the world as a whole aware of just how prevalent and dire this situation really is. Rape culture is not just made up for attention; it is a real and potentially life threatening plight faced by girls and women every day.

Protesters gather outside the Cape Town International Convention Centre to protest against gender based violence in Cape Town, South Africa. photo by Ashraf Hendricks/GroundUp

The movement has spread globally. Just months ago, in Cape Town, South Africa, 19 year old university student, Uyinene Mrwetyana went to the post office. All of the workers had left for the day but one man. He brought her inside, locked the door, and violently raped her. When she would not stop screaming, he beat her with a set of the post-office’s scales and brought her lifeless body into the boot of his car before burning and dumping it on the outskirts of the town. This story is not an anomaly in South Africa, nor anywhere else in the world, but it was the tipping point. The death of Mrwetyana lead to masses of protesters flooding the streets of South Africa to protest rape, gender inequality, and gender based violence. These protests were distinctly different to previous protests in South Africa. There were school children in attendance with signs asking, “Am I Next?” Mrwetyana’s death symbolised for many the failure of the government to protect women and children, and the prevalence of sexual violence and the glorification of rape culture.

The most recent protests that have swept the international community originated in Chile, a battle dance called "Un violador en tu camino” ("A rapist in your way”). The movement calls out gender based murder and violence that is a huge problem all cross the world.

It demands that the majority of men who have turned a blind eye to this, listen and act. It shames the governments and systems that allow rape to persist.

The original protesters were brought together via social media and called to action by “LasTesisSenior”, a branch of the Chilean feminist collective LasTesis. Thousands of women mobbed the National Stadium in Chile's capital on Wednesday for a flash denunciation of sexual violence – the latest performance of a battle-cry. Similar protests using a variation of the battle cry erupted in cities such as Barcelona, Paris, Brasilia and Mexico City. As Magdelena Serrano, director of a municipal development corporation in the township of Independencia in Santiago says: “There’s a global awakening and people are starting to say what they feel. Women have a lot to say about gender violence and inequality.”

The victims of rape culture deserve justice. They deserve to feel safe walking down the street. Rape culture is an issue that needs immediate action. The Me Too Movement, as effective as it is, is not enough. Aspen Matis in her memoir wrote “I'd been given stacks of reasons to blame myself for an act of violence committed by another. I had blamed my flirting for his subsequent felony. My college taught me: my rape was my shame. Everyone I'd trusted asked only what I might have done to let it happen. In my gut, I’d always believed I’d caused it. I finally questioned it”. This quote sums up the experience of victims perfectly. The society of victim blaming and sexual violence makes victims blame themselves for the violence inflicted upon them. What the Me Too movement is doing is influencing women to question what society has told them. It is giving them the power to stand up for themselves. Radical change needs to occur for society to dismantle rape culture in all its forms.

This Chilean Anti-Rape Song Is Now a Viral Feminist Anthem

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Woke magazine.


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