Helping students to understand rape culture
The conversation of rape culture has been happening since the 1970s. In recent times, it has been brought up due to sexual assault allegations against celebrities like film producer Harvey Weinstein or actor Bill Cosby. Although prevalent, rape culture can often go unnoticed. For this reason, it is important to understand what rape culture is and how to recognize its many forms.
“Rape culture is a spectrum of behaviors that make it possible to excuse and tolerate sexual violence,” Sarah Aleshire, Minot State University assistant professor of English and Gender/Women’s Studies coordinator, said. “It might seem really innocent in an individual action like saying a negative comment, but it’s all illustrative of this bigger picture that we’ve normalized and found excuses for. Sexual violence in its physical form might be the extreme (on the spectrum) and a joke about what someone’s wearing might seem more innocent, but it’s all on the same line of rape culture.”
As Aleshire pointed out, there is a spectrum of offending behaviors that exist from a sexist joke to the physical act of rape. The larger acts of sexual violence like sexual harassment and rape are influenced by these seemingly smaller acts like using, “Boys will be boys,” to excuse sexist and entitled behavior.
“It (rape culture) shifts the blame of sexual assault from the perpetrator to the victim,” Jynette Larshus, associate professor of sociology, said. “It objectifies the victim. It says, ‘What did the victim do to make them be assaulted?’ versus ‘Why did the perpetrator assault them?’ It’s not just women, men can be sexually assaulted, too, but the rape and sexual culture objectifies women more than men.”
One of many ways rape culture manifests itself is by teaching women how not to get raped rather than teaching men not to rape. Often, women get blamed for the sexual violence that they experience because people believe that they didn’t take the necessary precautions in which to avoid the assault.
“People assume that promiscuous girls are the only ones who get raped. Research has demonstrated that often times the perpetrators are people that the victim knows: friends, boyfriends, and someone from class,” Lisa Dooley, Title IX coordinator, said.
Educating women on how to avoid being victimized should not leave the responsibility solely in their hands. Even if they wear revealing clothes, are in the wrong place at the wrong time, and are heavily under the influence, under no circumstances do they deserve to be violated.
“We can say if you park in a deserted parking lot with no headlights, you’re more likely to get victimized, but that doesn’t mean you should get victimized. There’s that fine line,” Larshus said.
When it comes to sexual harassment or assault, universities have a Title IX office to handle such cases. Title IX is an Education Amendment from 1972 that eliminates discrimination based on sex. If discrimination occurs on or off campus to a student, faculty, or staff member, the school has processes in place to address it. The Title IX office, with help from MSU groups like Step Up, the Student Social Work Club, and the Sexual Violence Advisory Council, have organized events or lectures to help educate the campus on this type of discrimination.
“Universities have a pretty good handle on the really clear-cut criminal offenses. It’s the non-criminal ones that are more pervasive and harder to see,” Aleshire said.
Society engaging in victim blaming, catcalling, rape jokes, calling men “girls” as an insult, and not taking male victims of rape seriously are all non-criminal offenses that allow rape culture to continue.
“There’s a whole cultural back log about rape and sexual culture and everything that we do is informed by that long train of events. Structures like that (Title IX) can be in place that challenge that, but if you don’t acknowledge that there are socialization patterns outside of those structures, they won’t be as effective,” Larshus said.
Awareness is one way to end rape culture.
“The goal going forward is to find more ways to bring it to the student level,” Aleshire said.
According to Dooley, MSU seeks to educate students on the effects of rape culture and on the resources available when students feel they have been aggrieved.
“We are going to do our best to prevent and eliminate sexual violence on this campus and make sure students are able to attend M free from discrimination. The more we educate, the more individuals are going to come forward and report … prohibited behaviors so that we can change the culture of this campus,” Dooley said.
Students may reach out to Title IX coordinators, MSU Student Health, or trusted faculty and staff to get help on this issue. Incident reports may be filed online through the Title IX page on the MSU website. For further information, contact Dooley at Lisa.Dooley@MinotStateU.edu.