Discussions about sexual violence often include terms like “victim blaming” and “rape culture.” But what is this culture, and how does it translate into danger for victims, especially women?
Amanda Brown, an LCCC Campus Health and Wellness Center counselor, defines rape culture as “when a social group normalizes or makes light of sexual discrimination, harassment, assault and abuse.” Brown also said that rape culture often includes victim blaming, which is to shame and blame survivors.
During the recent Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, several women came forward with accusations of sexual assault, including one woman who testified before the Senate, Christine Blasey Ford. Critics of her testimony, including President Trump, suggested that her testimony wasn’t credible because she didn’t file charges 30 years ago when the alleged assault first occurred and that some details of the night in question had faded over time. Brown said that efforts to discredit sexual assault survivors or even shift blame to victims is part of rape culture.
“Rape culture exists when we blame a survivor for the sexual assault occurrence by asking what they were wearing,” Brown said. “Or stating that ‘she was leading him on,’ rather than acknowledging that the perpetrator should never make an advance when consent is not given or is unclear.”
Some examples of victim blaming that Brown gave included phrases like “you know you want it” and calling women who report their assaults “career destroyers.”
Samantha Murphy, an LCCC paralegal studies major, said that blaming a victim for what they’re wearing really irritates her because she’s a survivor herself.
“I was wearing flannel pajamas, I mean, down to the floor covering my feet,” Murphy said. “I was dead asleep. I wasn’t doing anything, I was sleeping.”
Victim blaming goes far beyond social media, said Carla Thurin, executive director of Safehouse Services Cheyenne.
“We still have people in our community who try to blame the victim,” Thurin said. “So, in a lot of ways, when you’re talking the rape culture, we actually are working to stop victim blaming.”
Victim blaming can extend far past asking what a victim was wearing or telling the victim they were leading their attacker on. Sometimes, it’s nestled in the questions that are asked of victims.
Murphy said that her sister, who is a survivor as well, has received negative responses on social media because of her advocacy against sexual assault.
“They’ll comment on her (statuses) being like ‘well, why are you using your voice now, why didn’t you start when you were 16?’” Murphy said.
Murphy said that she finally worked up the courage to turn in her own abuser of three years a few weeks ago, and she said she is just waiting for questions similar in nature to those her sister received.
“What people don’t understand is when you are assaulted, you just become a shell of a person,” Murphy said. “It takes a while for you to build up enough courage, enough self esteem and you have to heal to a certain point to where you know for a fact or at least feel confident enough to come forward.”
Murphy said that a huge worry that ran through her mind when turning in her abuser was “am I going to be believed?”
The doubt that is cast on survivors has the potential to influence how other survivors handle reporting their own assaults.
“Rape culture silences the survivors and implies that they should feel shameful for holding the perpetrator accountable,” Brown said.
Approximately 63 percent of sexual assaults are not reported, according to a National Sexual Violence Resource Center report.
Tiffany Weber, an LCCC mass media major, said that she’s seen critics discredit a survivor’s story and that she understands exactly why some victims decide to not come forward because of the doubt that cast on them.
Weber said that social media has given people the opportunity to attack victims when they reveal that they’ve been assaulted.
“Everywhere you look nowadays, I swear, there’s something with social media,” Weber said. “Whether it’s from news stories about our president, who has plenty of his own rape situations out there floating in the news, or even just people you know in your daily life that try to come forward and tell their stories, everyone decides to just attack them.”
With all of the negativity that rape culture can create, there are some ways that it can be combated.
“I think the biggest thing we need to do is get the word out to everybody else that a woman can do whatever she wants to do,” Thurin said. “She can dress how she wants to dress or be where she wants to be. But in the same token, a woman needs to learn how to be firm, say ‘no’ and mean ‘no.’”
Thurin also said that understanding consent is important — how to give it and how to understand when it is or isn’t given.
“Girls believe they are or they aren’t giving consent and the messages that the young man is getting maybe isn’t clear and maybe they’re not understanding it and maybe they’re not accepting it,” Thurin said.
Brown offered the following list of other actions that can be taken to combat the effects of rape culture:
- Start to develop an awareness of your own beliefs and how they may perpetuate rape culture. For example, if a friend came to you and stated that they were at a party and were assaulted, what would be your initial thoughts?
- Challenge rape culture conversations by informing others about the impacts of victim-shaming language. Never blame a survivor for being a victim of criminal behavior.
- Respect emotional and physical boundaries.
- Drink responsibly and recognize that alcohol can impair judgment and decision-making.
- Intervene as a bystander if you see suspicious activity.
- Never shame a survivor for reporting, no matter when they report, but instead, acknowledge and support their courage.