Featured image courtesy Women’s Media Centre
Warning: This post discusses sexual abuse and rape. If you are experiencing trauma as a result of sexual abuse, the hotline for Women In Need is 011-4718585.
Throughout time, humanity has been challenged by the spread of prejudice. One such concept that has plagued humanity is prejudice, as well as discrimination and stereotyping, inflicted on the basis of the gender. The term “sexism” was coined to identify this phenomenon. However, due to the nature of the societal attitude towards females, sexism primarily identifies with the discrimination of women. Nonetheless, sexism is multi-faceted. One such embodiment of sexism is “Rape Culture”. Rape Culture refers to the communal attitude towards rape that normalises rape and sexual abuse. The term “Rape Culture” was coined by the second wave of feminists, who used it to describe behaviour such as victim blaming, trivialising or normalising rape or sexual abuse and objectification.
The mere fact that rape has been given enough social importance to have coined the term “Rape – Culture” in itself reflects the decadence of society. To my understanding, what we seem to dismiss in terms of “Rape Culture” is the fact that by the standards of this term, rape essentially is not a gendered issue but a social problem that is in fact societies own doing (as with any other social problem). But we speak of “them”, the “others” who victimise those who have been sexually abused as if they are aliens and we have not contributed to this atrocity.
As such, society has always trivialised rape and exercised victim-blaming vigorously. Even though academic and non-academic discourse regarding this issue assumes prominence from time to time, it is still a very real problem. The gravity of the problem has been minimised by the reluctance of victims to speak up, owing to this victim blaming, bringing the issue to a disheartening full-circle.
To my understanding, what is needed in terms of mitigating the problem is a shift in societal attitudes . “Rape” has to be rebranded as a social problem and not a gendered issue. The fact of the matter remains that sexual abuse is not inflicted based on gender. The perpetrators, who essentially can’t distinguish between “yes” and “no” do not have the capability of distinguishing between gender, age, social status or any other form of categorisation.
My argument regarding the shifting of gendered perceptions on rape to a more societal perception is twofold. First and foremost, the culturally imposed taboo on the mere discussion of “Sex” has created a void of information that could only be filled by unorthodox (and mostly illegal and unethical) means. While this argument extends the blame to a more holistic and societal front, it is imperative to state that the intention is by no means to justify the rapist or the act of rape.
Secondly, the act of victim blaming, as stated above, essentially endorses rape.
Elaborating on the first argument; growing up the only information passed on to us by the adults and the high-priests of the society was, “sex is bad”. Beyond this piece of allegedly vital information, no other knowledge regarding sex – the should do’s, the shouldn’t do’s, the rights and responsibilities – were disclosed. The education system brushed through the “reproductive system” in a very anatomy- based understanding of sex which was also skipped during lessons in schools because, “don’t have sex” just about summed it all up. The curious thirteen year olds were at the mercy of the Internet, the sixteen year olds ‘knocked-up’ by their high-school sweethearts, and eighteen year olds curiously drawn to the red-lights. Somewhere down the road, at the age of twenty, “yes” meant “no” and “no” meant “yes” and we became victims of your trivialisation. “Raped” was word used to describe a game, “sex-scandals” were headlines, and “sex-tapes” made celebrities. It’s the age old story of the spider and the web. Like a spider weaves the web to catch its prey, you spun illusions to keep us safe. And just like in the spider’s story, you and I got caught in the same web – the predator and prey alike, caught in our own lies, packed and ordained, “social norms“.
By this argument, what I’m trying to highlight is that there is a severe case of what economists conceptualise as “imperfect information”, that is a situation where one party engaged in a transaction is worse-off because of the upper-hand on information the other party involved has. This, when applied in the context of sex-education, translates in to how worse off curious minded youngsters are due to the reluctance of educators to disclose information. Just as it’s identified as a negative externality in economics, so the same effect is created in society. Therefore, the culturally superimposed stigma in terms of the mere use of the term s-e-x, should be mitigated.
The second argument, is that victim-blaming endorses Rape. The tragedy of our society is that it seeks refuge behind the comfort of apathy. As Dante Alighieri states in his work of art, The Inferno, “The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.” The depth of the social parasite that is rape, is reinstated when one channels the blame on to the victim, disregarding the perpetrator. The social stigma that is associated with rape has escalated the issue to the point where rape and sexual abuse remains the most underreported act of crime with only one in six cases being reported. To my understanding, this second attack in terms of pushing the victims to self imposed exile of silent suffering is more than half the percentile of the problems surrounding this heinous act of physical violence. Statistically, sixty-six percent of the victims of sexual abuse are concerned about being blamed and convinced they are at fault. That is sixty-six percent who suffer through a second attack due to you and I. This leads to a horrifying thirty-three percent of rape or sexual abuse victims entertaining suicidal thoughts, while thirteen percent of victims’ attempt suicide. In addition, victims of sexual abuse are considered six-percent more likely to have mental health conditions such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in comparison to victims of any other crimes.
It is imperative that discourses regarding rape and sexual abuse are depoliticised, moving away from an individual approach to a society-level approach. Essentially, many victims who tell others about their assault must endure a ‘second assault’ in the form of negative reactions, such as victim blaming and disbelief. One third to two thirds of victims may experience such reactions, which have negative mental and physical health effects on the victims. These aftereffects are essentially inflicted by society due to the reluctance to look at the menace of rape as a social problem or sometimes even acknowledge it at all.
As such, it is essential the “rape” is looked at as a social problem and not a gendered issue, in order to mitigate the menace. It is imperative that we assume responsibility for our part in nurturing this toxic rhetoric. I hope we do our part, by way of maintaining honest conversations and steering clear from harmful practices such as ‘casual rape jokes’.
Editor’s Note: Also read, “Of rape, killings, impunity and our collective amnesia” and “Rape and domestic violence in Sri Lanka: Triggered by a mindset?“