‘Rape Culture’: Trivializing Trauma - Propaganda Week


By Nicole Stinson

Image courtesy of Neon Tommy

It is hard not to read the news without finding case after case of sexual assault. In the last few weeks, The Guardian reported a pupil being raped by their piano teacher, The New York Times covered a gang rape of an American student in Brazil and The Sydney Morning Herald described how a woman was abducted and raped for five days in Australia.

“One in four college women have experienced rape or attempted rape in their lifetime,” says John Foubert, founder of the non-profit, rape prevention organization, One in Four.

“People underestimate this figure all the time,” he tells BTR.“For men, about one in six have experienced sexual assault, much of this is child molestation.”

However, rape is still grossly under reported to legal authorities says Tanya Serisier, a criminology lecturer at the University of New South Wales.

“Rape has very low levels of reporting because victims distrust the response of the legal system, many survivors and particularly male survivors, who will never disclose their experience to anyone due to the ongoing stigma and taboo that surrounds this experience, especially for men,” she tells BTR.

So are we living in a society where rape is becoming a culture and dare it be said, accepted?

The Department of Women’s Studies at Marshall University defines rape culture as an environment in which rape and sexual violence against women is prevalent and normalized and even excused in the media and popular culture. Although, let us not forget that men can be victims of rape too.

“In entertainment it is more subtle but I am concerned by the increasing use of rape as a plotline in movies and television series,” says Serisier. “While this can indicate greater social awareness of rape it does run the risk of de-sensitizing us.”

Television series such as Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, Under the Dome and Veronica Mars have all included plotlines involving rape. Meanwhile movies such as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and A Clockwork Orange have shocked audiences with graphic scenes rape. Ironically, A Clockwork Orange, based on the book by the same name, is set in our dystopian future where rape and violence have been completely normalized.

The pornography industry even has a sub-genre called “rape porn”. Websites such as www.rapeporntube.com, www.rerape.com, and www.xvideos.com feature videos with titles such as School Girl Get Raped On The Bus After School and Blond Raped at Home. According to John Foubert the industry is becoming more common and is now entering into mainstream usage.

“It is teaching men that it is ok to rape,” says John Foubert.

“Rape culture comes from the dominant story of masculinity wherein men are expected to have sex, be aggressive, and take what they want,“ says Jared Watkins, the Development Coordinator at the non-profit, rape prevention organization, Men Can Stop Rape. “Because of this, rape becomes excused as an issue of “boys will be boys” and incorporated into the spectrum of “normal” sexual practices for men”.

Last year, US Republican Todd Atkins caused quite the scandal when defending his anti-abortion views, declared that “legitimate rape” does not lead to a woman becoming pregnant. The New York Times covered the backlash including President Obama’s response.

“Rape is rape, and the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of rape we are talking about doesn’t make sense to the American people and certainly doesn’t make sense to me,” the president told the press.

In Australia, prominent politicians such as former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and State Premier Kristina Kenneally have experienced the effects of ‘rape culture’.

“The kinds of sexist imagery that Julia Gillard was subjected to and the frequency of jokes that reduced her to her genitalia or even joked about rape were truly disturbing to me,” says Tanya Serisier. “Other women in the public sphere, such as Kristina Kenneally have talked about the large number of rape threats that they face on social media such as Twitter.”

The word ‘rape’ has also become a part of everyday language, according to John Foubert.

“Rape is trivialized and joked about,” he says. “People joke about it by saying things like “yeah, the cowboys got raped by the Broncos didn’t they?””

Our ‘rape culture’ is nothing new, says Tanya Serisier, “Our society has for a long time trivialized, eroticized and joked about rape.”

“What is different now I think is that while that continues it is also challenged and contested.”

Two organizations that are trying to counter this ‘rape culture’ are Men Can Stop Rape and One In Four.

At Men Can Stop Rape, says Watkins, “our work is focused on primary prevention of gender-based violence, and we work with boys and young men to teach them how to be strong without being violent.”

John Foubert says that One In Four also educates the media and general public about rape’s criminality and the suffering it causes.

The emergence of these non-profit organizations demonstrates a shift towards preventative measures and perhaps a move away from trivializing and normalizing rape.

Although we still have quite a way to go in eliminating the propagandist elements of rape culture and perceptions it has created, says Tanya Serisier.
Someday, rape will not be saturating our newspapers or providing drama in our favorite television shows or being mainstreamed into sexual fantasies; but that day is not today.

Every two minutes a girl is raped or sexually assaulted in America. Every year it is estimated that 32,000 American women experience a rape related pregnancy. ‘Rape Culture’ is still alive and thriving.