Rape myths and rape culture underpin violence against women
On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, let's look at how rape myths are a root of rape culture and gender-based violence.
Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. A world without gender-based violence is possible. To wave it off as some fantasy or as a theory beyond the bounds of possibility is to justify and exonerate gender-based violence and label it as normal. It’s not normal. It’s not justified. We can, and must, eradicate it.
In order to eliminate gender-based violence, we need to address it at the roots. This means we must uproot rape culture and rape myths from our society.
How society treats sexual assault, as well its treatment of assailants versus victims, is steeped in history. Many of the ways society reacts to rape accusations is rooted in popular ‘rape myths.’ Rape myths are prejudicial, stereotyped and false beliefs about rape, rape victims and rapists. Rape myth acceptance includes the cognitive, affective and behavioral effects of beliefs that ultimately blame the victim and exonerate the perpetrator. Rape myths blame the victim for their rape; express disbelief in claims of rape; exonerate the perpetrator; and allude that only certain types of women are raped.
That’s not a real rape.
She was drinking.
She wanted it.
She has a sexual past.
She asked for it.
What did she do to confuse him
You cannot rape a resisting woman.
No means yes.
Men risk being falsely accused of rape.
Rape is not common.
Rape is only committed by a crazed fringe.
These are a few example of common rape myths. I’d be surprised to find a person who has not heard all of these statements. They are relentlessly recited when rape is mentioned.
Rape myths enable our society to place sexual violence in a framework that is recognized by others and thereby justify it. It also acts to withdraw legitimacy away from victims or others who wish to contest it. To be blunt, rape myths justify rape.
Here are some elongated examples of how rape myths justify rape, blame the victim, and exonerate the perpetrator:
She has a sexual history, she’s a slut, therefore of course he thought he could fuck her.
She must have wanted it and changed her mind now that she feels bad, it wasn’t a real rape.
She was drinking, it’s her fault.
She was wearing something slutty, she asked for it.
She only said no to preserve her virtue, she didn’t mean it.
She agreed to go out with him, she flirted with him, she gave him the wrong idea.
He’s a good guy, he wouldn’t do anything like that. Rapists are a crazed fringe.
All of this ultimately works to shift blame away from perpetrators onto the shoulders of victims, and therefore exonerate perpetrators of violence against women and continue to feed into rape culture.
A huge part of rape myths is the stereotyped representation of not only rape, but also the rapist and the victim. The rapist is depicted as exclusively a crazed man on the fringe of society. This has done devastating damage.
So has the stereotyped representation that the only true victim is a good girl, a fair maiden, who couldn’t possibly be blamed for violence against her. If a victim is to be believed, she is depicted as an innocent girl. The moment there is something “unideal” about her, the victim is no longer to be trusted, and furthermore, she is often blamed. Look through the list of rape myths and how many of them are targeted at the victim, aiming to chip away at her, to represent her as “unideal,” and justify her rape. She was drinking, she has had sex before, she was out late, she was wearing a skirt, she was alone, she agreed to the date, she went home with him, she asked for it.
The concept of an ideal victim is one of the biggest rape myths. For don’t we all deserve the exclusive right to our own bodies? Do I not have a right to live, to go out, to stay home, to be free, to wear what I want, without being raped? According to rape myths, no.
Only in cases of rape is the burden of innocence placed on victims.
I will be discussing rape myths this Saturday, Nov. 27, at the first annual Women of the World Shameless Festival in London, alongside author of Rape, Professor Joanna Bourke; author of Rough Rachel Thompson; and critic, producer and host Sarah Ozo-Irabor. We will be exploring rape myths and untruths about sexual assault that have become foundations in our society, discuss their real-life consequences, and shatter some of the worst rape myths.