Trigger Warning: Discussions of rape, rape culture and sexual assault
Every once in a while, someone like Todd Akin says something outrageous and suddenly the media is buzzing with the words “rape” and “rape culture.”
“What is legitimate rape?”
“What is rape culture? What is rape?”
“Apparently one in every six women is raped in her lifetime, and one in every four college-aged women is sexually assaulted on a college campus—that seems a little high don’t you think?”
“Did you know that most rape survivors don’t even report their rape? That seems weird. I wonder why that is.”
The conversation continues—it is everything from absurd and ignorant to enlightening and refreshing. For those of us who are all too familiar with shocking rape statistics, it is a relief that somewhere, some guy who clicked on a New York Times or Salon headline in his inbox is taking a moment to read about rape culture.
But there reaches a point where the media is tired of Todd Akin. After all, the news cycle is very short. In an era where most content consumers prefer Buzz Feed over lengthy analytical pieces, it makes unfortunate sense that rape culture critique’s moment in the popular culture spotlight is fleeting. After this, anti-rape activists, journalists and citizens have to wait until the next ridiculous comment to try and squeeze everything we need to say about rape culture into the tiny cultural space that we are allowed until the news cycle turns its focus towards Other Things.
It shouldn’t be like this. We shouldn’t have to wait to talk about rape culture.
Rape isn’t something that happens in bursts every time a politician says something ridiculous or a comedian makes an offensive joke. Rape is something that happens to women every two minutes in the United States. Rape is common and constant—our conversation to combat and destroy it needs to also be common and constant.
I scoffed when Todd Akin said “legitimate rape”—but I knew what he meant. He meant a stranger-in-the-bushes rape, the kind that we always here about but seem to be mysteriously rare. Still, these are the rapes that are easiest to report—it is much harder to report an otherwise nice guy at a party as a rapist to be held accountable. It is hard to report anyone as a rapist because most of the time rape survivors are focused on getting as far away as possible and making sense of what happened to them take the intimate assessment of their assailant necessary to bring him to justice.
The few social programs designed to help rape survivors depend on the rape being a reported—or “legitimate” rape. But most women don’t report rape. Many women don’t realize that they were raped or assaulted until days, weeks, months and sometimes years later. By the time the feelings of fear and violation transform into an awareness of rape or assault, it’s too late for a rape kit or a morning after pill.
This is rape culture. It is knit into our social institutions, prioritizing and labeling a tiny fraction of rapes as “legitimate rape” and other instances of rape as simply non-consensual violent sex. It creates a social space where rapists can rape without being held accountable and women simply have to deal with it.
It makes the terrible statistics make sense.
It has to stop now.