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Is Rape Culture Real? Let’s Take a Look at the Evidence

By August 12, 2019 August 13th, 2019 No Comments
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Cover image retrieved from PBS.org. 10-minute read.
TRIGGER WARNING

Disclaimer: This is an issue that involves everyone—both men and women can be porn consumers, and both men and women can be victims of sexual violence. By sharing these studies and stats, we are not saying that every porn consumer will develop into a violent abuser.

“Rape culture.” It’s a term many of us hear on a regular basis, but do all of us actually know what it is?

Rape Culture is commonly defined as a “social environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.” Note that rape culture also applies to male victims of rape and sexual assault.

Basically, rape culture is a culture in which sexual violence is treated as the norm and victims are often blamed for their own assaults. Vox clarifies that it’s not just about sexual violence itself, but about cultural norms and institutions that protect rapists, promote impunity, shame victims, and demand that women, especially, make unreasonable sacrifices to avoid sexual assault (like not going out at night).

Keep in mind that rape culture is not claiming that every man is a rapist, or every woman is a victim. It’s simply defining and pointing out the prevalent rhetoric that exists around rape and sexual assault.

Still, that’s a lot of heavy information, so let’s break it down point by point and see if there are relevant examples of each of these things to prove or disprove that this is a real thing.

Rape culture is…
1. …An environment in which rape is prevalent…

Rape is a very serious crime. Sometimes, people use “sexual assault” to describe rape and/or other sexually abusive behaviors because it covers a broader scope of what can happen rather than saying “rape.” For this piece, we’ll use sexual assault to describe sexually violent behaviors that also include rape.

Unchanged since 1927, according to the United States Department of Justice, “forcible rape” was legally defined as “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will” and only included forcible male penile penetration of a female vagina. As of 2012, the new definition is:

“The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

According to the DOJ, for the first time ever, the new definition includes any gender of victim and perpetrator, not just women being raped by men. It also recognizes that rape with an object can be as traumatic as penile/vaginal rape. This definition also includes instances in which the victim is unable to give consent because of temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity. Furthermore, because many rapes are facilitated by drugs or alcohol, the new definition recognizes that a victim can be incapacitated and thus unable to consent because of ingestion of drugs or alcohol. Similarly, a victim may be legally incapable of consent because of age. The ability of the victim to give consent must be determined in accordance with individual state statutes. Physical resistance is not required on the part of the victim to demonstrate lack of consent.

All of that taken into consideration, how common is rape?

This may come as a surprise to you, but there is an average of 293,066 victims ages 12 or older of rape and sexual assault each year in the U.S. This means 1 sexual assault occurs every 107 seconds. [1] A 2010 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control found that around 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men (an additional 1 in 21 men were ‘made to penetrate’ someone else) had experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. [2]

Of these, studies show that only 230 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police. That means about 3 out of 4 go unreported. [3]

But keep in mind victims of sexual assault and rape are not only women. A 2005 study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, on San Diego Kaiser Permanente HMO members, reported that 16% of males were sexually abused by the age of 18. [4] Almost 15 years later, that number has likely risen.

Whenever these high rates of assault are reported, we often see comments from people discrediting the stats by inflating the number of false reports. Here’s one tweet we found in response to someone mentioning that false reports are not common:

But the reality is, only 2-8% of rapes are falsely reported, the same percentage as for other felonies. [5] That’s about the same rate as false reports of robbery or stolen cars. Put another way, we are much more likely to disbelieve someone if they say they were raped than if they say they were robbed.

So, seeing that rape culture needs to include an environment in which rape and sexual assault are prevalent, do we have enough evidence? Unfortunately, we do. Check.

2. …An environment in which sexual violence is normalized/excused…

Seeing as sexual violence is such a serious offense, how could we possibly be living in a society where any part of it is normalized or excused?

It’s very common and sometimes very subtle, but this is where victim-blaming comes in. Ever heard any of these common victim-blaming tactics?

-Wearing revealing clothing, behaving provocatively, or drinking a lot means someone was “asking for it.”

-“You walked through a dangerous neighborhood, what did you expect?”

-“Once consent is given to sexual contact it cannot be withdrawn.”

Any time someone defaults to questioning what a victim could have done differently to prevent a crime, he or she is participating, to some degree, in the culture of victim-blaming. Instead of holding the perpetrator in full responsibility for their actions—sexual violence, in this case—this behavior excuses or minimizes the assault because the victim was ultimately to blame.

Click here to read more common rape myths from Rape Victim Advocates, a nonprofit dedicated to helping empower survivors of sexual assault.

In addition to this excusing culture, rape jokes are pretty common, too, and they only serve to normalize sexual violence. Here’s a very simple example of this.

The original tweet says “sco pa tu manaa,” which comes from a Zambian phrase meaning, “What do you think about this?” Look at this top response:


Ever heard jokes like this before? We have, too.

Here are a few more examples of rape jokes that normalize, excuse, or trivialize the seriousness of sexual assault and rape.

So, rape culture being an environment where sexual violence is normalized and excused? Unfortunately, that checks out, too.

3. …Fueled by the role of media and popular culture…

For this point, we don’t have to look any further than the mainstream porn industry to see where sexual violence against women is normalized and excused.

Consider the titles of popular porn videos that can be found with a simple Google search: “Stupid wh— taught to listen as she is f— in the a—,” 2.9M views. “Drunk s— degraded and gets what she deserves.” “Wh— raped and humiliated.” These are just the start of easily accessible porn videos with millions of views that fetishize, normalize, and even celebrate sexual violence against women, selling it as a fantasy instead of the real nightmare that it is.

Not only porn, but popular rom-coms and many popular songs also use language that normalizes sexual assault and other forms of harassment or violence. “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke, anyone?

So, do media and pop culture fuel the normalization and excuse of sexual assault, further fueling rape culture? Check. Unfortunately, they do.

4. …Perpetuated through misogynistic language…

Misogynistic language is defined as language that shows a dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women. Even though men are often the ones using this kind of language, women have been found to use it, too.

Misogynistic language can also be found in the forms of joking about rape or nonconsensual sexual encounters, turning nonconsensual or painful sexual encounters for women into the punchline of a joke. This is an infamous chant from a well-known Ivy League fraternity:


Porn, especially, is a huge source of misogynistic language.

Consider that, in popular porn videos, verbal attacks and verbal abuse during sex acts are very prevalent. A few years ago, a team of researchers looked at 50 of the most popular porn films. [6] Of the 304 scenes the movies contained, 88% contained physical violence and 49% contained verbal aggression. On average, only one scene in 10 didn’t contain any aggression, and the typical scene averaged 12 verbal attacks or physical acts of violence. The amount of violence shown in porn is astonishing but equally disturbing is the reaction of the victims. In the study, 95% of the victims (almost all of them women) either were neutral to the abuse or appeared to respond with pleasure. [7]

But this misogynistic language marketed as sexual entertainment and sexual fantasy is often mirrored by actual convicted rapists.

According to another recent study, psychologists from Middlesex University and the University of Surrey found that when presented with descriptions of women taken from men’s magazines, and comments about women made by convicted rapists, most people who took part in the study could not correctly guess who said what.

Even worse, when men involved with the study were asked which quotes they agreed with, they were actually more likely to agree with the rapist quotes.

Why does any of this matter? Because language is often reflexive of inner beliefs. So when the normalization or trivialization of rape or sexual assault—or abusive attitudes toward women in general—through misogynistic language are packaged and sold as scintillating sexual fantasies to countless consumers, these toxic ideas about women are further ingrained and accepted.

So with the definition of rape culture being an environment that normalizes sexual violence that is perpetuated by misogynistic language? These examples only confirm that.

Normalizing Abuse Isnt Normal

5. …Perpetuated through the objectification of women’s bodies…

Look no further than the porn industry and pop culture to see the normalization or celebration of sexual violence perpetuated through female objectification.

Porn reinforces the idea that women are just sex objects to be used and discarded. After all, objects can’t have feelings or respond—since they are, by definition, objects. Porn has been shown to fuel and legitimize this kind of violence, specifically against women, through the medium of sexual objectification.

But what does sexual objectification look like for the average person?

A study by Princeton psychologists showed a group of men pictures of male and females, some barely clothed and some not. During the study, the psychologists monitored their medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), which is involved in recognizing human faces and distinguishing one person from another. For the most part, the mPFC was activated with each picture. However, when the men viewed the pictures of sexually dressed women, it was not activated. Basically, the automatic reaction in the men’s brains suggests that they didn’t perceive the women as a fully human person. Just as a body.

And looking at other research, these lessons in objectification start young.

A 2013 study on the effect of access and exposure to porn on young people “found compelling evidence that too many boys believe they have an absolute entitlement to sex at any time, in any place, in any way and with whomever they wish. Equally worryingly, we heard that too often girls feel they have no alternative but to submit to boys demands, regardless of their own wishes.” Clearly, porn’s messages of objectification sink in early.

But it isn’t just hardcore porn that sells objectifying messages.

2016 study published in The Journal of Sex Research found that sexually objectifying portrayals of women occur all too frequently in mainstream media—raising critical questions about how exposure to this content can impact others impressions of women and women’s views of themselves.

“A total of 109 publications that contained 135 studies were reviewed,” the researchers said. “The findings provided consistent evidence that regular, everyday exposure to this content is directly associated with a range of consequences, including higher levels of body dissatisfaction, greater self-objectification, greater support of sexist beliefs and of adversarial sexual beliefs, and greater tolerance of sexual violence toward women…Exposure to this content leads both women and men to have a diminished view of women’s competence, morality, and humanity.”

Objectifying, whether for men or women, is clearly a problematic issue that perpetuates rape culture mentalities. Check.

People Are Not Products - White

6. …Perpetuated through glamorization of sexual violence…

We can probably think of a movie, show, book, or meme that paints sexual violence in a glorifying or glamorizing way. A very simple example of this is the best-selling erotica series, Fifty Shades of Grey. Even though it normalizes an abusive relationship, the fan base is largely made up of women.

As a recap, or for those who aren’t familiar, the “Fifty Shades” story centers around a controlling and sadistic millionaire CEO named Christian Grey with a tormented past who seduces a sweet, inexperienced college girl into his selfish world of painful bondage sex. E. L. James, the author, wrote the Fifty Shades trilogy very loosely based on bondage and discipline (B&D), dominance and submission (D&S), and sadism & masochism (S&M) practices, or BDSM for short. But it’s important to note that those within the BDSM community absolutely do not accept Christian’s behavior as being representative of what happens during “scenes,” or encounters between BDSMers. Instead of a sexual interest, they too call it abuse. Many scenes from the books can’t be distinguished between actual #MeToo stories—just take our quiz to see for yourself.

Even still, this sexually violent relationship dressed up as a love story has grown to a staggering $1.225 billion franchise, worldwide.

But Fifty Shades is tame compared to what else is out there. A comment left on one of the articles about violent porn shared on our Facebook page:
It’s no secret that rape porn is one of the most popular genres on mainstream sites right now.

Sometimes, it’s marketed under terms like “painal,” which means painful “surprise” anal, but sometimes, it’s just marketed as what it is. Even if these fantasized scenarios are just actors playing out a scene and none of it is real, the more “authentic” the scene feels, the more sexy it’s viewed to be. And even if some of these videos are scripted, we know for a fact that some of these are actual rapes caught on tape.

And sometimes, porn consumption escalates to the point that fantasy scenarios aren’t enough anymore.

Consider the fact that our site, FightTheNewDrug.org, receives thousands of visitors every year from people who are trying to find real rape videos through Google. Here’s just a small sample of the keywords internet users have typed in before they ended up on our site:


These were just a few of the searches and the number of clicks we received in the last 12 months alone. Consider all of the people who were searching for rape porn but didn’t end up on our site—this is likely just a small sampling of porn consumers seeking out rape porn.

So, rape culture being perpetuated through the glamorization of sexual violence? Unfortunately, this one checks out, too, big time.

7. …A society that disregards women’s rights and safety.

In a society where rape culture prevalent, victims of rape and sexual assault are seen as responsible for their assaults. Instead of asking why rapists rape, it instead asks what victims did to cause it, or what extraordinary measures women can take to avoid getting assaulted.


In one study, fraternity men who consumed mainstream pornography expressed a greater intent to commit rape if they knew they would not be caught than those who did not consume pornography.

Those who consumed sadomasochistic pornography expressed significantly less willingness to intervene in situations of sexual violence, greater belief in rape myths, and greater intent to commit rape. Among those who consumed rape-themed pornography, the researchers described “serious effects” including less bystander willingness to intervene, greater belief in rape myth, and greater intent to commit rape. In other words, there was no type of pornography that did not result in a greater intent to commit rape by a user if they knew they would not be caught. [8]

And yet, we still live in a world where porn is largely celebrated, and even encouraged as a means of sexual release, despite its negative effects.

This part definitely checks out.

Here are a few more examples of rape culture in our pornified world

1. Examples of rape culture include lenient or nonexistent sentences for convicted rapists because of the belief that their assault “was not that bad.” The normalization of sexual assault in our culture that dismisses the severity of its effects on victims is another way of excusing this behavior.

2. Another example of rape culture is clothing, car, or fragrance companies using ads featuring overpowered or bound women to sell their products. This glamorizes sexual assault, and sells all the wrong messages about the importance of safety and consent. Consider this popular Dolce & Gabbana ad from a few years ago:

3. In sports and gaming culture, the word “rape” is sometimes used interchangeably with “defeat.” For example, at times, gamers will talk about how the other player/team “raped them” and racked up more points, kills, etc. This trivializes the seriousness of rape and sexual assault, which is a part of rape culture.

4. Sometimes, even well-meaning anti-porn advocates fall into the rape culture trap of excusing or normalizing assault of porn performers by blaming victims. This was a comment under one of our articles about the sexual trauma that performers often endure.


This thought process that leaves victims responsible for their own abuse negates all of the force, fraud, and coercion that exists in the porn industry. Also, consider that performers who seek out careers the industry do not know about the prevalence of sexual assault on and off set—this is part of the reason why we educate about abuse in the industry. Performer or not, no one deserves to be assaulted. We all deserve to know the facts to make educated decisions on porn.

5. It is dismissive of sexual assault survivors to claim that their abuse wasn’t truly terrible if they don’t report it to police.


Consider how sexual assault is one of the most degrading, traumatizing, and shame-inducing things that can happen to a person. Often, survivors avoid reporting because they are afraid they won’t be believed, they don’t want to be re-traumatized by talking about their abuse, and many survivors blame themselves for their assaults. Not reporting sexual assault does not erase that it happened. Click here to read more about why survivors do not always report their assault.

6. Part of rape culture is not believing that men can be assaulted, too. A couple of years ago, when the #MeToo movement started gaining steam, actor, activist and Fighter Terry Crews spoke out about his own sexual assault experience.

He was met by support and love, but also with a few who mocked his vulnerability in sharing.

7. Another example of rape culture is the fact that porn plotlines often sound like real stories of sexual assault. Check out this blog to see what we’re talking about.

What this all means

Given all of this information, how can it be said that rape culture is fabricated?

The irony is that, often, claims that rape culture doesn’t exist only further confirm that it does—the denial of rape culture often accompanies victim-blaming, normalizing assault, minimizing rates of assault, and inflating false reports. These things are all part of rape culture itself.

As an anti-porn, pro-love organization, it all comes back to how porn fuels this phenomenon.

Not surprisingly, research shows the more violent the porn someone consumes, the more likely they will be to support violence and act out violently. [9] In fact, one study found that those with higher exposure to violent porn were six times more likely to have raped someone than those who had low past exposure. [10]

Of course, not every porn consumer is a rapist or is going to turn into a rapist.

That doesn’t change the fact that pornography is hitting us with a tidal wave of dehumanizing violence. It makes no sense for our society to accept the messages of porn, while at the same time calling for full gender equality and an end of sexual assault. A large portion of the porn consumed by millions of people every day is reinforcing the message that humiliation and violence are normal parts of what sex is supposed to be. [11]

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By sharing this info, we simply want to help you re-evaluate what you think you know about porn. Our goal as an organization is to shine a light on the facts and spark conversations that are based in research, instead of what you might read on magazine covers or hear around school or work. Porn isn’t healthy, it isn’t cool, and it doesn’t help us to be better partners or friends. Porn, violence, and rape are all more closely connected than you might realize, and it’s our time to raise awareness on these important facts.

We can change this. Starting today, we can do better. Each of us can choose to combat rape culture by educating others on the realities of rape and how porn perpetuates a culture that discredits victims and normalizes assaults. When you hear rape jokes, speak up. If you notice victim-blaming language, kindly correct. Each of us has a part to play in combatting a culture that trivializes rape and disbelieves survivors.

Join us in fighting for love and cultivating a culture that upholds respect for all humans, including sexual assault survivors.

Citations

[1] U.S. Department of Justice. National Crime Victimization Survey. 2009-2013.
[2] The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Summary Report (Report). Centers for Disease Control. November 2011. p. 1.
[3] i. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey, 2010-2016 (2017);
ii. Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Incident-Based Reporting System, 2012-2016 (2017);
iii. Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Incident-Based Reporting System, 2012-2016 (2017);
iv. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Felony Defendants in Large Urban Counties, 2009 (2013).
(This statistic combines information from several federal government reports. Because it combines data from studies with different methodologies, it is an approximation, not a scientific estimate. Please see the original sources for more detailed information. These statistics are updated annually and as new information is published.)
[4] Dube, S.R., Anda, R.F., Whitfield, C.L., et al. (2005). Long-term consequences of childhood sexual abuse by gender of victim. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 28, 430-438.
[5] Lonsway, K., Archambault, J., & Lisak, D. (2009). False Reports: Moving Beyond the Issue to Successfully Investigate and Prosecute NonStranger Sexual Assault. The Voice, 3(1).
[6] Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Sun, C. & Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women, 16(10), 1065–1085. doi:10.1177/1077801210382866
[7] Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Sun, C. & Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women, 16(10), 1065–1085. doi:10.1177/1077801210382866. See also Whisnant, R. (2016). Pornography, Humiliation, and Consent. Sexualization, Media, & Society, 2(3), 1-7. doi:10.1177/2374623816662876
[8] John D. Foubert, Matthew W. Brosi & R. Sean Bannon (2011) Pornography Viewing among Fraternity Men: Effects on Bystander Intervention, Rape Myth Acceptance and Behavioral Intent to Commit Sexual Assault, Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 18:4, 212-231, doi: 10.1080/10720162.2011.625552
[9] Hald, G. M., Malamuth, N. M., and Yuen, C. (2010). Pornography and Attitudes Supporting Violence Against Women: Revisiting the Relationship in Nonexperimental Studies. Aggression and Behavior 36(1), 14–20. doi:10.1002/ab.20328.; Allen, M., Emmers, T., Gebhardt, L., & Giery, M. A. (1995). Exposure to Pornography and Acceptance of the Rape Myth. Journal of Communication, 45(1), 5–26. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.1995.tb00711.x
[10] Boeringer, S. B. (1994). Pornography and Sexual Aggression: Associations of Violent and Nonviolent Depictions with Rape and Rape Proclivity. Deviant Behavior 15(3), 289–304. doi:10.1080/01639625.1994.9967974
[11] Bridges, A. J. (2010). Pornography’s Effect on Interpersonal Relationships. In J. Stoner & D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 89-110). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books; Layden, M. A. (2004). Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Subcommittee on Science and Space, U.S. Senate, Hearing on the Brain Science Behind Pornography Addiction, November 18.

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