Thursday, April 11, 2013

What Is Rape Culture?

Rape culture, according to the blog article "So you're tired of hearing about 'rape culture'?" is an environment in which the rape of females by males is, not exactly encouraged, but only disparaged with a wink-wink, nudge-nudge. This article, prompted by a conviction of rape against high school athletes, as well as others on the subject, evoke a perpetuation of the good-ole-boys’ club where the little woman is kept barefoot and pregnant and, if she knows what’s good for her, quiet, by gosh.

Okay, time out here for a bit of a disclaimer. I do not disagree with much that Lauren Nelson, writer of the above-referenced blog, and the writers of similar pieces, have to say. Rape is abhorrent. Cover-ups and “handling the situation internally; no need to involve the police” have and continue to occur and are deplorable. Blaming the victim has a long and dishonorable history and still, to some extent, continues. Rapists should be prosecuted, and victims of forced rape should never be made to feel responsible.

I see rape, however, not as a separate “culture,” but as part of a whole, a piece of a terrible puzzle, with the whole being that we, as a society, have come a long way down the path of losing our ability to show compassion and feel empathy and are rapidly approaching the demonic goal of seeing how cruel and vicious we can be to our fellow human beings. I think back to the cruelty imagined by Ray Bradbury in the futuristic Fahrenheit 451, where teenagers in fast cars found sport in trying to run down senior citizens crossing the street, laughing with joy when they succeeded, and that seems almost benign in the face of teen boys joking about a rape and filming, then posting online, the assault of an intoxicated young girl.

Surely the rape of a male, perhaps never fully understood before the film Deliverance, is part of this whole, yet it is not included in the rape culture paradigm. Although it is acknowledged—barely—as occurring, every article, including Nelson’s, found in a search of the topic deals with the dominance and arrogance of males and the domination/victimization/subjugation/belittling/ objectification/controlling of females. The only attempt found at treating the rape of males as worthy of even a consideration as part of rape culture is in an article about prison rape.

In like manner, there is apparently no place either for the issue of false claims of rape and sexual assault and the part it plays in our society’s march toward total self-interest and the resulting lack of empathy for anyone else. According to Nelson, it isn’t even a discussion worth having because, you see, there really isn’t any such thing as false rape claims or false accusations of sexual assault or wrongful convictions or coerced pleas, or at least not enough to be “significant.” Apparently the attempt was made to interject this discussion into the comment board of her original blog because this appears at the end of that piece: "UPDATEI will no longer be publishing comments which caveat the discussion of rape culture with false rape accusation concerns. There is a reason for this, which you can read here.”

Her defense of her position is unequivocal; “First off, the idea that false accusations are a significant problem in rape is patently untrue” (emphasis hers). Using some mathematical formula, which she prefaces by labeling hypothetical and conjecture, she whittles the instances of actual false reports from the FBI’s estimate of 8%--which she admits would be significant--down to 1%. Many experts put it higher than 8%. The reason it is said to be so high, she claims, is a function of—you got it—rape culture.  And then, in a cutesy attempt to portray the reactions she will get from those who don’t agree with her, she wrote, “But wait, wait, wait! You might say. What about that one report with the DNA thing?”

One report? The DNA thing? One case overturned on DNA and other legitimate evidence? One recantation by false accusers, some ignored for years by prosecutors while innocent men languished in prison?

I posted a link on her blog to the Brian Banks story that by now has aired on television. * It wasn’t printed. I posted a link to Innocence Project reports; it wasn’t printed. ** I wrote her an email politely asking that she consider some actual dialogue on the issue.  I had long given up hope of a response—almost three weeks—when I received a reply, friendly and congenial, apologizing for the delay and agreeing it was an issue that she would revisit. I look forward to the result.

It may be true that we live in a culture that tolerates rape. It is also true that we live in a culture with examples on every side of man’s inhumanity to man. And we certainly live in a time and a place when all a woman or a child need do to virtually assure an assumption of guilt and a guilty verdict is point a finger and say, “He touched me,” or, “He raped me.”

I am reminded of another well-known literary work, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, set in Alabama in the 1930’s. During the trial of Tom, a black man falsely accused of rape by Mayella, a young white woman, in an attempt to stave off her father’s fury at her interest in Tom, the young daughter of Tom’s attorney ruminated to herself that even though her father Atticus had proven Mayella had lied and that Tom could not have done what she claimed, that Tom didn’t have a chance with the jury, that Tom was as good as dead the second Mayella opened her mouth and screamed.

Maybe, baby, we haven’t come a long way after all.


False accusations….just a few:


  1. Thank you for this blog. False accusations are indeed a problem, especially since not all false accusations can be proved using DNA. Some false accusations are made for touching or other such behavior and it is nearly impossible to prove. Such accusations are, as you stated, more a function of a "me" culture than a rape culture.
    True accusations do, of course, occur, but to subject a person to a lifetime of sex offender registry to get out of trouble, to get back at someone for something else, to get financial gain, or to keep from being embarrassed is a big problem, if for no other reason than that you have ruined an entire family's life for your own purposes which have nothing to do with such actions.
    Thanks for the opportunity to express my thoughts.

  2. And the uniformed debate became a bill in Congress. Fortunately, S. 2692: Campus Accountability and Safety Act, co-sponsored by Virginia's Senator Mark Warner, is now listed by GovTrack as having a 0% chance of passage. Wendy McElroy wrote in The Hill on August 13, 2014, "A simple solution exists to what critics call an hysterical and politically motivated campaign about sexual violence on campus. Sexual assault is a crime. Leave it to the police. Unless, of course, the campaign is hysterical and politically motivated. Then the pile-on of regulations and federal power makes sense." Rape is serious, false accusations equally so.


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Thank you.