What Is Rape Culture Anyway?

In this second in the series, Emily defines rape culture. If the dream is to end it, we need to know what it is we’re ending.

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In the first of my mini-essays I shared my dream of ending rape culture within a generation. Because rape is a choice, and so it could end tomorrow, if people would just choose not to rape. This dream does presuppose that we are living in a rape culture, and that living in one means it needs ending – so understanding what the enemy is, what it is we’re working to end, will help us to identify it when it rears its head, and develop strategies to defeat it.

Rape culture as a term has been around since the 1970s, it’s not new. Wikipedia (the fountain of ALL knowledge now the Encyclopaedia Britannia is no more; tongue-in-cheek alert) defines rape culture as, “a setting in which rape is pervasive and normalised due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality.”

It goes on to say, “there is disagreement over what defines rape culture and as to whether any societies currently meet the criteria for a rape culture.”

In this second in the series, I will give my definition of rape culture, and assert that the criteria are being met – that we are living in a rape culture.

Let’s look at the first part of the Wikipedia definition: “rape is pervasive.”

The facts are that this is true. The WHO asserts that 1 in 3 women will be raped in their lifetime, worldwide – and does not include rape as a weapon of war in that number. In the UK, Rape Crisis asserts that 1 in 5 women experience rape or sexual assault; in the US, RAINN asserts that 1 in 6 women have been raped. The UK Office of National Statistics estimates there are 85,000 rapes of women in England & Wales every year – meaning that a woman is raped every 6 minutes. In the US, RAINN estimates it to be one every two minutes. 54% of female rape victims were younger than 18 when they first experienced rape or attempted rape.

I submit to you that this is evidence that rape is pervasive.

The second part of the Wikipedia definition, the normalisation of rape due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality is perhaps more difficult to pin down, and it’s where my definition of rape culture starts to diverge from the Wikipedia one.

It is my belief that the experience of rape is ‘normal’, in the sense it happens to the many. It is not my belief that society thinks it is normal, I think the majority in society think that rape is rare – and that is part of the problem. In fact, only a decade ago, in an Amnesty International survey, only 4% of respondents thought that the number of rapes in the UK exceeded 10,000! This is hardly surprising, as it’s not something we tend to go around shouting to the world about (if you’re not me). 29% of rape victims tell no-one, not even friends or family. Only 15% will report and become part of the official statistics. Rape is not treated as ‘normal’ in the media, which only prints stories of famous people, or false allegations.

What is ‘normal’ is that rape is not a crime for which the perpetrator pays. Less than 1% of rapists do time for their rape. Far from the fear that many seem to have, that to be accused of rape is the WORST THING EVER! (disregarding the idea that being raped might not be a walk in the park – and often happens in parks) there are countless examples that prove that being accused of rape, or sexual violence, or doing time for either, will have ABSOLUTELY NO IMPACT on their careers. See, Johnny Depp (domestic violence, starring in the Sauvage perfume ads this Christmas), Mike Tyson (convicted rapist, no impact on professional boxing career and still endorsing products and appearing in film), Ched Evans (convicted, then acquitted, rapist, playing football for Chesterfield), and the President-Elect of the United States, Donald Trump (still won the election despite several allegations, including one of a 13 year old child).

(As an aside, this fear of being accused of rape is not only not-career ending, it’s also incredibly unlikely. A man is 82,000 times more likely to be raped than falsely accused of rape).

What is ‘normal’ is that those who accuse men of rape will be shamed, blamed and told they are lying. Look at the treatment of the Ched Evans accuser on social media, who has been outed several times, and needed to move home many times over the period (and I hope finally finding peace). Look at how the media treated Amber Heard, calling her a gold-digger – despite being independently very wealthy before her marriage and taking not a penny from Johnny Depp. Look at what Piers Morgan decided to tweet about Lady Gaga and Madonna only this weekend (and I wrote about here).

My definition of rape culture is a culture (society) where it is common to be raped, common to be disbelieved, common for the perpetrator to get away with it. When it is no longer common to be raped, no longer common to be disbelieved, no longer common for the perpetrator to get away with it; then we will have ended rape culture.

(Other definitions of rape culture can be found here. And here).

The Wikipedia definition includes the societal attitudes about gender and sexuality which to my mind lead to rapists raping and getting away with it. They are the cause, rape is the effect. These societal attitudes about gender and sexuality give legitimacy to disbelieving complainants, and believing perpetrators, allowing them to rape with impunity.

It is these attitudes that we must identify, challenge and change if we are to end rape culture. More on what these are, how they manifest themselves, and what we can do about it, next time.

Emily Jacob

Founder, ReConnected Life Ltd.

Emily is the founder of ReConnected Life. She helps women who’ve been raped to go from surviving, coping one day at a time, living a half-life, to living a full and whole reconnected life. She is a survivor, and a coach and NLP master practitioner using her skills, knowledge and experience to pioneer a new, whole-body/mind/soul approach to recovery after rape. Emily is a fierce advocate of survivors and is using her voice to break the silence and speak for survivors on issues relating to both recovery and societal attitudes and myths – as such she is a regular blogger for Psychologies Life Labs, Metro and Huffington Post. She has also advocated for survivors on TV and radio in the UK, on BBC Breakfast, Radio 5 Live and London Live TV. Emily has a strong vision of ending rape culture within a generation by empowering the rest of society to stand up for survivors whenever they are presented with misogyny and ignorance and is the upcoming author of ReConnected: A Survivor’s Guide to Life After Rape. You can find out more about her work and the services she offers here: http://reconnected.life/


Go to the profile of Sara Price
almost 5 years ago
Fascinating. I agree with your definition - but I think you are right, we are in a minority of people who understand just how common and pervasive rape and sexual assault have become. Is step one, to raise awareness of the extent of rape?
Go to the profile of Thea Jolly
almost 5 years ago
I can't believe those stats! Truly shocking. It seems we do sadly live in a society where rape culture is sanctioned, which means that rape is also sanctioned. That is soul-destroyingly upsetting. Glad you (and Lady Gaga and Madonna) are speaking up about it, and leading the way.