Denial Is The Fuel That Feeds Rape Culture
Written, directed, and edited by Cynthia Kao, this video entitled, “If a Robbery Report Were Treated Like a Rape Report” does a great job of demonstrating the kind of victim blaming that discourages survivors from reaching out for help.
We were talking about sexual violence and higher education in class recently. Each of the readings and materials in some way highlighted the prevalence of denial and privilege and how their use can serve to perpetuate rape culture and sexual violence.
In Alfred Day’s 2015 talk on Comic Con and the issue of the hypersexualization and objectification of women’s bodies in comic books and video games, Day mentioned that Comic Con had no sexual harassment policy; citing the reason as being that to establish a sexual assault policy would mean implying that sexual harassment takes place at comic con, “which it doesn’t”. Refraining from establishing a sexual harassment policy because you don’t think it happens is an organizational decision that is firmly rooted in denial.
In terms of perceptions of the institutional responses to sexual assault, a comment I read in the article “Columbia University Student Will Drag Her Mattress Around Until Her Rapist Is Gone“ stated that
“Universities have a vested interest in not aggressively reporting or punishing rapists. They don’t want the parent$ to know how many $tudent$ are sexually assaulted on their campus, lest these troublesome facts hinder enrollment.”
That the letter s was changed into a dollar sign in the quote above when mentioning parents and students speaks to broader concerns that some universities choose dollars over justice when dealing with sexual assault on their campuses. Reading a 2014 article from Mother Jones which reported data from a national survey saying that 40% of colleges had not investigated a single case of sexual assault in the last 5 years at the time is harsh evidence for that assertion.
Denial is the Fuel that Feeds Rape Culture
Did you know that according to the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), approximately 4 out of 5 assaults are committed by someone known to the victim, and that 47% of people who rape are a friend or acquaintance?
What was reinforced the most with me from those statistics were my own experiences in how I often hear conversations about sexual assault being framed. I often hear warnings about “stranger danger”; that people will be assaulted by a random stranger who does not know them. While this does happen, what the data also suggests is that people who rape are people we know.
Focusing solely on “strangers” can actually enable denial about the fact that we need to be talking to people we know about rape culture, misogyny, toxic masculinity and other forms of sexism. In our materials Keith Edwards has talked about the importance of focusing on prevention, saying
“Even if colleges and universities were perfect at adjudication, they would always be doing response and adjudication. Until we get good at the prevention, we’re never going to stop the sexual violence from happening in the first place.”
Focusing on prevention means admitting that we have a problem. It means that we actually have to talk to people we know, and in my case, talking to other men in particular about challenging toxic forms of masculinity and how that toxicity contributes to the devaluing of women, homophobia, transphobia, etc.
This is not to say that sexual assault does not happen to men, but knowing that men are more often than not the perpetrators of sexual violence means that we need to address it with men directly.
College presidents should be at the forefront of this issue. It needs to be clear in words and in deeds (including funding, policies, programs, and practices) that rape culture is recognized as a social institutional problem, and that the leadership is clearly dedicated to not only the proper investigation and adjudication of cases, but that they are dedicated to prevention as a means to transform the elements of the university culture from ones that accept and even reward sexual violence and rape culture to one that seeks to undermine it and eliminate it.
Also see from The United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights:
From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins-Jones, MSW, LLMSW