There are few things in this world about which feminists from all sides actually agree, but the idea that the West is afflicted by a “culture” of rape seems to be one of the exceptions. It is a topic that is mentioned time and time again, so much so that we have reached a point where it would be safe to say that at least the term “rape culture” has become part of Western culture. However, as usual, a belief that is universally agreed upon is often the kind that is no longer considered, and that’s a bad thing. Because perhaps rape culture isn’t so straightforward after all.
Judging from the reactions to a previous article with a similar title, bar one important addition, I realise that this is a sensitive topic, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Knowledge and truth are necessary if we truly want to get rid of sexism and inequality, so even though I spoke in defence of feminism last week, today I will go back to criticising it, because a critical attitude is the only way we can make the movement improve.
So… why would rape culture not exist? At first sight, it sounds ridiculous. Just in the UK, over 200 women are raped every day, and in the US, it is estimated that 1 in 6 women have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lives. Even worse, by a broader (and admittedly contested) definition, more than a quarter of college-aged women reported having experienced an instance of rape. Those statistics are staggering, and they show that rape is still an enormous problem and that we still have a very, very long way to go.
However, that does not mean that we live in a rape culture. If anything, rape culture, at least in the West, has never been as powerless as it is today. We live in a culture in which there is near-unanimous agreement that rape is wrong, and even though definitions of what that rape actually is greatly differ, that is an incredibly important step. In fact, things like having sex with a drunk person are now being equated with rape, which is certainly not something that would happen in a rape culture. Sure, most people still disagree with it, but it is progress. Never before have we made as much headway towards a society without rape as we have today.
On top of that, something that is often ignored is that the amount of rapes in Western countries actually seem to be decreasing, according to one particular study by as much as 85% since 1980. Whether that figure is completely reliable is debatable, because the definitions and methods used in surveys can have a big effect on the outcome, but the fact that the amount of rapes is decreasing remains clear.
So does that mean that rape is not an issue anymore? Of course not. Rape is and always will remain an important societal issue that needs attention and that needs to be fought against. Right now, only 5% of reported rape perpetrators spend even one day in jail, and that is awful. But it isn’t rape culture that is causing it. It is the fact that ever since the sixth century, when Emperor Justinian compiled the Digest, the West has believed that a suspect is innocent until proven guilty, which makes it extremely difficult to convict someone for a crime that is only discernible from humanity’s most natural act by the communication that preceded it.
Ultimately, rape remains an important societal issue across the globe. Countries like India are afflicted with a culture of rape, with people truly believing that it can be justified, but in the West, that is different. Whether you live in the UK, the US, Sweden, France or Australia, you live in a culture that condemns rape. That fights against it. And that is the culture we need. Rape culture has been defeated. Now we just need to defeat rape itself.
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Statistics for this post can be found here. It is not the most distinguished source, but I tried to track the initial sources down for each figure I mentioned. It wouldn’t hold in a scientific paper, but for something like this, all we need are approximations.
See you next Monday!
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