Criminology, Feminism, Politics, Sex

Are Liberal Democracies ‘Rape Cultures’?

What are we to make of the claim that we inhabit a ‘rape culture’? Those making this claim seldom make it clear if they are being descriptive or expressive. A descriptive claim purports to tell us that something is or is not the case (“The exam is over”) while an expressive claim conveys subjectivity and sentiment (“That exam was torture!”). If the claim that we live in a rape culture is descriptive—that our culture condones or promotes rape—those making the claim must support it with adequate evidence. If they are not being descriptive, then the expressive meaning of the claim is not entirely clear.

Let’s begin by considering a passage from an article by Alyn Pearson entitled “Rape Culture: It’s All Around Us,” which appeared in the (now defunct) feminist publication Off Our Backs in 2000:

Rape is the common cold of society. […] We have assimilated rape into our everyday culture much as we have the cold. […] There is a silence surrounding the recognition that we live in a cultural environment where rape is endemic, but it is true. The rape culture is much like the poor sanitation conditions which led to typhoid—it provides an environment in which acts of rape are fostered. Look through any supposed women’s publication and notice the ads that display women at the mercy of a man or at the mercy of the male gaze. Notice the articles that emphasize dependence and passivity and avoid portraying independence and strength in women. […] Rape is part of the natural flora of our society and our world.1

Here Pearson makes two key claims. First, that our culture—those Western nations commonly referred to as liberal democracies—”fosters” rape. Second, that this process appears to be the product of pervasive features of the culture (“look through any”) rather than localized elements. The problem with this kind of descriptive claim is that it doesn’t seriously consider what counts as a culture and the kind of evidence required to demonstrate that such a culture exists.

So what do we mean when we talk about ‘culture’? Culture usually refers to the shared attitudes, behaviours, and norms of a society. Western nations, for example, are omnivorous cultures, although almost all of them also have vegetarian subcultures.2 The culture is characterized by the dominant public behaviour and expectations while the subculture represents a minority set of divergent ones. Vegetarianism is a subculture rather than a counterculture because it is largely compatible with rather than hostile to the parent culture.

Both the culture and the subculture are identifiable because they possess at least four key features: models, artefacts, rhetoric, and training. This list is not exhaustive, but these are the salient characteristics which allow us to identify, study, and compare cultures. ‘Rape culture’ possesses none of them.

Models

A culture’s models may be heroes or villains, but they focus shared attitudes and beliefs, and also guide and inspire action. A community valorizes a hero to signal what it admires, while villains are identified to signal disapproval. The martial culture of Sparta, for instance, lionized men like Brasidas and American martial culture has lionized men like George Patton. Conversely, traitors such as Ephialtes and Benedict Arnold are denounced and vilified. Models or anti-models can be fictional, such as the heroes and villains of a culture’s literature (Achilles, Jane Eyre, or Lancelot), and they can even be symbolic and anonymous (the Unknown Soldier represents all the unnamed combatants).

Those who claim that we inhabit a ‘rape culture’ must identify this culture’s heroes and villains. Who is widely celebrated within Western democracies because he is or was an accomplished rapist? And who are the villains despised for exposing such crimes? To the contrary, the reputational ruin of public figures like Bill Cosby and Jimmy Saville and the Pulitzer Prize awarded to the journalist who helped to break the Harvey Weinstein story are evidence of a culture that considers rape reprehensible.

Artefacts

Cultural artefacts are works by artists and craftsmen which provide important insights into what members of a particular community value and what they abhor. Greek amphora and American movies tell us something about the respective cultures from which they emerged. Naturally, there is an overlap between models and artefacts, since the former often figure as the subjects of the latter. But even in the absence of individual heroes or villains, artefacts tell us something about the culture. A television series can help us to understand the prestige of various professions by showing us how characters are treated relative to their social roles. By the same token, comedy can help us identify the prevailing attitudes in a society by indicating who and what is ridiculed and why.

In short, if a particular behaviour is common or important to a community we should find a proportionate body of artefacts celebrating this fact. So what are the representative cultural artefacts that condone or promote rape? In a ‘rape culture,’ the literary canon, movies, and wider popular culture should be replete with sympathetic portrayals of rape and rapists. Instead, we find the opposite. The rape of Lucretia discredited the Tarquins and the Roman monarchy, and artistic portrayals of the incident reflect this attitude. More recently, in graphic and harrowing films like Irréversible or a television series like Game of Thrones, rape is offered as evidence of a character’s moral depravity. Furthermore, an act of rape usually sets a character up for just deserts. In a ‘rape culture,’ vigilante and rape-revenge stories would be unintelligible as a sub-genre of exploitation cinema, because the retribution could not deliver the cathartic sense of justice these films invite their audiences to crave.

This is not to say that there are no counter-cultural artefacts that celebrate or appear to celebrate rape. But it is extremely hard to think of celebrated and culturally representative works of art that do so. The moral lessons communicated by films like To Kill a Mockingbird or Schindler’s List are obvious. Which works of art or entertainment condone or promote rape in the same way? The messages in such works must be similarly unambiguous because cultures are not giant exercises in deception. Public attitudes towards the monarchy are not hidden in Britain, Americans are aware of their sports culture, and the French are not oblivious to the revolutionary symbolism in their politics. If a culture of rape existed in Western nations, it would be easy to identify that culture’s God Save the Queen or La Liberté Guidant le Peuple.

Rhetoric

All cultures produce rhetoric held to be laudable and corresponding forms of taboo speech that are proscribed. Cultural conventions establish times and places in which it is appropriate to say certain things and avoid saying others. When we attend the events that structure public life—graduations, marriages, funerals, elections, and public holidays—we have a good idea of the kind of thing we are expected to say. What is prescribed and proscribed under such circumstances is revealing of mores. Concession speeches in democracies signal that the contest is between adversaries but not enemies; the gratitude expressed during graduations reminds us that individual success is also a collective effort, and so on.

Under what set of circumstances are we expected to praise rape? There are none. There is never a time and place when we come together to praise rape or rapists. It might be objected that ‘victim-blaming’ or a skeptical response to allegations of rape are a form of apologism, but there are at least two problems with this kind of argument in this context.

First, if rape were considered either morally neutral or praiseworthy, there would be no need to shift blame because there would be no reason for blame to be assigned in the first place. Condemning a victim of rape is always unjust, but the misattribution of blame nevertheless concedes that a violation has occurred for which someone must be held responsible.

Second, when consent is contested, it is usually an attempt to show that no rape occurred. Why deny something that is tolerated or promoted? Likewise, the requirement that victims of rape provide evidence of assault is not a way of encouraging or tolerating the crime. Indeed, the very seriousness of the accusation and the likely consequences for the accused are precisely why convincing evidence is demanded.

Training

The perpetuation of a culture’s prevailing attitudes, beliefs, and practices requires training and transmission. Athletic and military training are examples of formal training, while family life and religious education are more informal. In both formal and informal environments, the ‘trainers’ explain what they are doing and why. The pupils generally understand the process, and there are discussions about best practices and objectives.

In Western societies, we can find plenty of self-defence and safety-awareness classes designed to help women (and men) protect themselves from attack. But where are the rape academies and credentialed instructors? If we are to believe Alyn Pearson, ‘training’ occurs via “any women’s magazine” or other elements of mass culture, in which males are shown as dominant and females as subservient. This is unserious. No culture transmits its salient values in this oblique manner. A culture without a functional means of transmitting its most important values is either dying or illusory.

*     *     *

So, ‘rape culture’ lacks each of the key features of an ordinary culture. It has no known and shared models, it produces no identifiable body of artefacts, it has no prescribed public rhetoric, and it has no formal or informal training programmes. Either ‘rape culture’ functions like no other known culture or it is not a culture at all.

But if ‘rape culture’ is inadequate as a descriptive claim, we are left with mystery. What does it mean? Elsewhere in her Off Our Backs essay, Alyn Pearson makes the following assertion:

To be a young woman today means to live with the rape culture in all its subtleties. It means to fluctuate body weight to please the day’s fashion archetype. Being a young woman today means to be unhappy if men don’t like the way you look. I have cried many a night because of my big shoulders and my skinny, white legs, and I still struggle to find my own definition of what is sexy.”3

Complaints like these reflect an important shift in debates about rape culture. Instead of an explanatory account and supporting evidence for claims about culture and transmission, we are provided with a list of grievances.

This is ‘rape culture’ as an expressive rather than a descriptive claim. Pearson makes no attempt to show how beauty standards correlate with rape. Nor is there an inquiry into the best methods by which to distinguish true allegations from falsehoods. Instead, the conversation becomes a series of calls for reform, justified by an explicit but unsupported claim that various attitudes and standards promote rape. There is no effort to establish causality, because making an expressive claim does not demand it.

The problem is that the expressive use of the term ‘rape culture’ is hyperbolic and possibly dangerous. Exaggerating for effect may not produce the desired result. George Orwell warned that misuse of the term ‘fascism’ would rob meaningful accusations of their power. Loose talk about rape and blanket indictments of democratic and egalitarian societies are hardly likely to contribute to serious debate and consensus-building. Bullying rhetoric is not an honourable or reliable way of addressing the problem of rape or encouraging efforts to stamp it out.

Undoubtedly, democratic societies are not above reproach. No one should feel harassed the moment they enter public space. Bodies are not public resources and we are not entitled to help ourselves. Cat-calling, verbal humiliation, groping, and workplace harassment of employees by employers are all real and serious problems. These issues deserve careful thought and consideration. But there are degrees of sexual misconduct and misbehaviour and conflating them all with rape in order to silence and shame interlocutors can only be counter-productive.

It might be objected that ‘rape culture’ is not a hyperbolic term because the problem is massive and widespread. We might not promote rape but it is ubiquitous nonetheless, so an expressive term like ‘rape culture’ is commensurate with the scale of the problem. In 2013, the FBI registered 79,770 reported cases of rape.4 Do such numbers justify use of a term like ‘rape culture’? Troubling as these numbers are, this is not persuasive. For the same year, the FBI also reported 345,041 robberies.5 By this measure, there is a better case that the United States is a culture of thieves than a culture of rapists. But no considered judgment of the United States could conclude that its public culture devalues property rights.

Finally, one might object that ‘rape culture’ is an adequate expression of the difficulty in prosecuting rape, and a reflection of low conviction rates. But the problem here is not the nature of our culture but the nature of the crime itself. Rape leaves little material evidence. Sex is not a crime, but sex obtained by force or coercion is. Proving that consent in a private act was denied or withdrawn can be notoriously difficult, especially if an assault is not immediately reported. Allegations often require a jury to weigh one person’s testimony or recollection against another’s and this can make it harder to establish the standard of guilt required for a successful prosecution.

The claim that we inhabit a ‘rape culture’ is not an adequate or good faith attempt to analyze and explain our attitudes, beliefs, and practices. More plausibly, ‘rape culture’ is a hyperbolic term used to leverage more general reform. This is counter-productive to the very goals anti-rape activists are dedicated to pursuing. The victims of rape deserve justice and the perpetrators deserve punishment. Neither of these goals is advanced by unserious claims about the character of Western societies or by grossly exaggerating their shortcomings for political effect.

 

The author is a PhD candidate at a Canadian university in the final stages of his thesis. ‘Antonin Foucaux’ is a pseudonymn. 

References:

1 Pearson, Alyn, ‘Rape Culture: It’s all around us’, Off Our Backs, Volume 30, Number 8, 2000, pp.12-14
2 Vegetarians and vegans only make up 2% of the American population. See ‘Study of Current and Former Vegetarians and Vegans’, Humane Research Council, 2014
3 Pearson, p.13
4The FBI’s statistics and definition can consulted at the following sites https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2013/crime-in-the-u.s.-2013/violent-crime/rape and https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2013/crime-in-the-u.s.-2013/rape-addendum/rape_addendum_final
5 The FBI statistics on robberies cited can be consulted at https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2013/crime-in-the-u.s.-2013/violent-crime/robbery-topic-page

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60 Comments

  1. Lesley says

    I think the meaning of a “rape culture” is pretty clear. If we live in a culture where 1. a majority of women and girls who have been raped don’t report rapes because of shame, hopelessness, or anxiety, 2. a majority of rapists are never prosecuted, and 3. a majority of the ones who are prosecuted are not meaningfully punished, you can say we live in a society permissive of rape, that is a rape culture.

    Now, we can debate all day long about what the actual data pertaining to the above is and means, critique the methodology used to gather it, etc., but if the above is the case, I think you can say we do in fact live in a rape culture.

    • Lesley says

      A followup. If the above scenario exists largely because rape is he said/she said, then it becomes important to analyze other kinds of crime that entertain he said/she said, eye witness accounts as evidence. Is eye witness testimony consistently regarded as meaningful *despite* the fact it’s flawed in prosecutions of other kinds of crimes? At what rates? How meaningful is it treated in the absence of physical evidence in those cases? If it’s treated as meaningful there, but disproportionately disregarded in cases of rape, it leaves the glaring question “why”?

      I am not positing any actual data here because I don’t even know if any studies like this have been done. However, if we err on the side of “innocent until proven guilty” at a higher rate for alleged rapists than would-be murderers, thieves, and the like, you can certainly make the case that we
      culturally value the possible innocence of rapists more than the possible innocence of murderers and thieves. What would you call that?

      • X. Citoyen says

        You missed the implication of the piece: One cannot claim a culture exists without cultural artifacts. If what you’re proposing were true, it would be culturally manifest. Consider marijuana. Long before it was legal anywhere, its use showed up in pop culture (Cheech and Chong, the stoner/pothead character in books and films). There were also advocacy groups and non-users who publicly argued for its legalization. Who’s portraying rape positively in pop culture? Where are the pro-rape advocacy groups? Where are the non-raping defenders of rape?

        I add, too, that people who claim there’s a culture of rape seem to be oblivious to the fact that men have mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters they care about—and some even have common decency! Shocking, yes, but a true and salient fact that militates against the cultural acceptance of rape.

        • Lesley says

          How is what we choose to make illegal, what illegalities we actually choose to prosecute, and how severe we punish offenders not a reflection of culture? It certainly says something about our value system, and culture is one of the chief institutions of value propagation. It is how a society transfers it’s system of moral judgements and values from one generation to the next. Call it a system of societal norms if my usage of culture here isn’t sufficiently academic for you.

      • ga gamba says

        However, if we err on the side of “innocent until proven guilty” at a higher rate for alleged rapists than would-be murderers, thieves, and the like, you can certainly make the case that we culturally value the possible innocence of rapists more than the possible innocence of murderers and thieves.

        Lesley constructs a false narrative.

        Whether one is accused of shoplifting or murder, the law views all innocent until proven guilty. The measure is exactly the same for all those accused of any crime: beyond a reasonable doubt.

        Some crimes are easier to prosecute that others. Drug offences such as trafficking and dealing are very successful prosecutions because, iirc, 95% arrested were caught red handed. It should go without saying the more evidence to support the case (eyewitness testimony, video recording, forensic, etc.) the greater the likelihood of prosecution and conviction.

        Digging into US crime figures is tough because there are 52 jurisdictions (each state, DC, and federal). Each year there are about 12 million arrests and millions more non-arrest infractions such as parking tickets, moving violations, and even minor drugs possession. The judicial and correctional system are in no way equipped to handle such a large number. Prosecutors may decide to drop the charges or quickly resolve the case with a plea agreement resulting in fine, probation, community sentence, or an administrative process. In case disposition about 90% result in a plea of guilt, 2 – 3% the bench/jury finds the defendant guilty, and the remainder the bench dismisses the charges or the defendant is found not guilty by the bench/jury. All the trials you see on TV and film rarely happen in real life.

        For the federal system in 2014 see tables 2, 14 and 17. There were 3,447 arrests and 3,268 prosecutions for sex offences (presumably a part of “rape culture”) – 94.8% arrested were prosecuted. For aggravated (violent) assault there were 3,082 arrests and 1,850 prosecuted – 60% arrested were prosecuted. The conviction rate for sex offences was 93.6%, which was more successful than aggravated assault at 91.8%. Of those convicted of a sex offence 95.7% were sentenced to prison, which was the highest rate imprisoned, and the median sentence was 90 months, was the longest median sentence. Now, you may wonder “Only 3,268 prosecutions for sex offences. What’s going on?!” This is federal. You need to look at each state.

        For California in 2014 see tables 5 and 15; there were 91,681 aggravated assaults and 9,397 rapes/attempted rapes reported. Of these, 51,470 aggravated assaults and 3,921 rapes were cleared, which means a suspect was identified, arrested, and charged. The clearance rate was about 58% and 42%, respectively. Rape’s clearance rate was higher than armed robbery and all property crimes. Want to know how these cases were disposed? Hahaha. The report doesn’t break these down by type of crime – see tables 37 and 38. The report aggregates all the crime and proves a tally of release, denied, acquitted/dismissed, and convicted. Your tax at work. Someone ought to ask Kamala Harris what’s she hiding.

        For a general overview of national clearance rate see this chart. Keep in mind that clearance rate is not conviction rate.

        What I found in researching this is finding the conviction rate of those charged is more difficult than it ought to be, especially for recent data of the past 5 – 10 years. The government and media prefer to report the rate of reported rape and conviction, which is a much lower success rate. I can easily find the number of reported drapes, and I can find the clearance rate, but the conviction rate is gone. This report structure is a recent phenomenon. Going back to 2006’s data I can find 88% charged with sexual assault and 84% charged with rape pled guilty. Those charged with murder were most likely to contest the charge – only 61% pled guilty. For almost all other felony crimes the plea rate was over 90 percent – felony drugs possession was 98%. It appears when a prosecutor files a felony case the likelihood of success not just good, it’s enormous. One would think this would encourage victims to report crime and aid the prosecutors. Instead we get stories about the terror one experiences when facing one’s attacker and cross examination. Yet, very few people give testimony in court because the defendants accept pleas.

        This phenomenon is not unique to the US.

        Persistent claims that only six per cent of rapes end in conviction was seen as a useful “campaigning tool ” by some but was “extremely unhelpful”, warned Baroness Stern, the cross-bench peer who carried out a six month review in to tackling rape.

        She said it has dominated the debate “without explanation, analysis and context” to the “detriment of public understanding” over the rape issues. . . . The Government has constantly used the six per cent figure to argue rape has appalling prosecution rates and more action is needed. . . .
        “There is anecdotal evidence that it may well have discouraged some victims from reporting.” . . . “found it misleading and deeply unhelpful in building confidence in victims and increasing the number of cases reported to the police that could possibly go forward to a prosecution.”
        www(dot)telegraph(dot)co(dot)uk/news/uknews/crime/7442785/Rape-conviction-rate-figures-misleading.html

        Is bamboozling the public to manipulate it the proper conduct for government officials? Sure, if you want to keep repeating misadventures such as the war on drugs, the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, and the invasion of Iraq. I keep finding the women’s movement is abusing women with misleading narratives seemingly intended to instill anxiety, shatter confidence, and worse. I reckon fearful people are easier to exploit.

        As for whether a “rape culture” exists, I think the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), one of the most active and important organizations in the US fighting sexual violence, stated it well:

        “In the last few years, there has been an unfortunate trend towards blaming “rape culture” for the extensive problem of sexual violence on campuses. While it is helpful to point out the systemic barriers to addressing the problem, it is important to not lose sight of a simple fact: Rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime.”
        www(dot)rainn(dot)org/news/rainn-urges-white-house-task-force-overhaul-colleges%E2%80%99-treatment-rape

        • TarsTarkas says

          You cannot prove a negative. You cannot change the mind of someone who is convinced that we live in a rape culture because they will insist that you must provide proof that we don’t. And the statistics you provided won’t be proof to them because they believe that the majority (if not the vast majority) of rapes and assaults are never reported due to societal shaming. That is how you get the claim that one in five (or maybe now it is one in four) women on college campuses are raped sometime during academic careers there.

          However there are rape subcultures alive and well within Western culture, especially American Society. One of them is criminal, which includes gangs such as MS-13, where rape is frequently considered to be part and parcel of approved activities if not a badge of honor. Another and much more important one is Hollywood. They may have been ashamed of Weinstein’s behavior, but most of that community either ignored or tactically accepted his activities and over a period of decades. It also shows in the moves they produce. I don’t see any wide condemnation of the rapes and assaults depicted n the movie ‘Red Sparrow’. I may be wrong, but it appears to me that rapes and assaults in movies and television shows occur at a frequency many times in excess of that committed by the target audiences of that media. It may say something about the hidden desires and morals of that audience, but I think it says a lot more about the creators of those depicted despicable acts of violence and humiliation. If culture flows downhill, the makers of such products are guilty of violence against social norms.

      • ga gamba says

        However, if we err on the side of “innocent until proven guilty” at a higher rate for alleged rapists than would-be murderers, thieves, and the like, you can certainly make the case that we culturally value the possible innocence of rapists more than the possible innocence of murderers and thieves.

        Lesley constructs a false narrative. In her defence, it’s understandable how she was duped.

        Whether one is accused of shoplifting or murder, the law views all innocent until proven guilty. The measure is exactly the same for all those accused of any crime: beyond a reasonable doubt.

        Some crimes are easier to prosecute that others. Drug offences such as trafficking and dealing are very successful prosecutions because, iirc, 95% arrested were caught red handed. It should go without saying the more evidence to support the case (eyewitness testimony, video recording, forensic, etc.) the greater the likelihood of prosecution and conviction.

        Digging into US crime figures is tough because there are 52 jurisdictions (each state, DC, and federal). Each year there are about 12 million arrests and millions more non-arrest infractions such as parking tickets, moving violations, and even minor drugs possession. The judicial and correctional system are in no way equipped to handle such a large number. Prosecutors may decide to drop the charges or quickly resolve the case with a plea agreement resulting in fine, probation, community sentence, or an administrative process. In case disposition about 90% result in a plea of guilt, 2 – 3% the bench/jury finds the defendant guilty, and the remainder the bench dismisses the charges or the defendant is found not guilty by the bench/jury. All the trials you see on TV and film rarely happen in real life.

        For the federal system in 2014 see tables 2, 14 and 17 of www(dot)bjs(dot)gov/content/pub/pdf/fjs1314.pdf. There were 3,447 arrests and 3,268 prosecutions for sex offences (presumably a part of “rape culture”) – 94.8% arrested were prosecuted. For aggravated (violent) assault there were 3,082 arrests and 1,850 prosecuted – 60% arrested were prosecuted. The conviction rate for sex offences was 93.6%, which was more successful than aggravated assault at 91.8%. Of those convicted of a sex offence 95.7% were sentenced to prison, which was the highest rate imprisoned, and the median sentence was 90 months, was the longest median sentence. Now, you may wonder “Only 3,268 prosecutions for sex offences. What’s going on?!” This is federal. You need to look at each state.

        For California in 2014 see tables 5 and 15 of www(dot)oag(dot)ca(dot)gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/cjsc/publications/candd/cd15/cd15.pdf; there were 91,681 aggravated assaults and 9,397 rapes/attempted rapes reported. Of these, 51,470 aggravated assaults and 3,921 rapes were cleared, which means a suspect was identified, arrested, and charged. The clearance rate was about 58% and 42%, respectively. Rape’s clearance rate was higher than armed robbery and all property crimes. Want to know how these cases were disposed? Hahaha. The report doesn’t break these down by type of crime for that – see tables 37 and 38. The report aggregates all the crime and proves a tally of release, denied, acquitted/dismissed, and convicted. Your tax at work. Someone ought to ask Kamala Harris what’s she hiding.

        For a general overview of national clearance rate see this chart, www(dot)statista(dot)com/statistics/194213/crime-clearance-rate-by-type-in-the-us/. Keep in mind that clearance rate is not conviction rate.

        What I found in researching this is finding the conviction rate of those charged is more difficult than it ought to be, especially for recent data of the past 5 – 10 years. The government and media prefer to report the rate of reported rape and conviction, which is a much lower success rate. I can easily find the number of reported rapes, and I can find the clearance rate, but the conviction rate is gone. This report structure is a recent phenomenon. Going back to 2006’s data I can find 88% charged with sexual assault and 84% charged with rape pled guilty. Those charged with murder were most likely to contest the charge – only 61% pled guilty. For almost all other felony crimes the plea rate was over 90 percent – felony drugs possession was 98%. It appears when a prosecutor files a felony case the likelihood of success is not just good, it’s enormous. One would think this would encourage victims to report crime and aid the prosecutors. Instead we get stories about the terror one experiences when facing one’s attacker and cross examination. Yet, very few people give testimony in court because the defendants accept pleas. There’s something fishy going on.

        This phenomenon is not unique to the US.

        Persistent claims that only six per cent of rapes end in conviction was seen as a useful “campaigning tool ” by some but was “extremely unhelpful”, warned Baroness Stern, the cross-bench peer who carried out a six month review in to tackling rape.

        She said it has dominated the debate “without explanation, analysis and context” to the “detriment of public understanding” over the rape issues. . . . The Government has constantly used the six per cent figure to argue rape has appalling prosecution rates and more action is needed. . . .
        “There is anecdotal evidence that it may well have discouraged some victims from reporting.” . . . “found it misleading and deeply unhelpful in building confidence in victims and increasing the number of cases reported to the police that could possibly go forward to a prosecution.”
        www(dot)telegraph(dot)co(dot)uk/news/uknews/crime/7442785/Rape-conviction-rate-figures-misleading.html

        Is bamboozling the public to manipulate it the proper conduct for government officials? Sure, if you want to keep repeating misadventures such as the war on drugs, the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, and the invasion of Iraq. I keep finding the women’s movement is abusing women with misleading narratives seemingly intended to instill anxiety, shatter confidence, and worse. I reckon fearful people are easier to exploit. Lesley, take heed.

        As for whether a “rape culture” exists, I think the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), one of the most active and important organizations in the US fighting sexual violence, stated it well:

        “In the last few years, there has been an unfortunate trend towards blaming “rape culture” for the extensive problem of sexual violence on campuses. While it is helpful to point out the systemic barriers to addressing the problem, it is important to not lose sight of a simple fact: Rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime.”
        www(dot)rainn(dot)org/news/rainn-urges-white-house-task-force-overhaul-colleges%E2%80%99-treatment-rape

        • Lesley says

          “Whether one is accused of shoplifting or murder, the law views all innocent until proven guilty. The measure is exactly the same for all those accused of any crime: beyond a reasonable doubt.”

          This is how the system works on paper, how it’s supposed to work. I’m not arguing to the contrary. I’m saying humans are biased and that they will find ways to impose that bias even in systems that are trying to be impartial. How that bias manifests can reveal things about what we value and what we consider moreless permissible. What we choose to make illegal in the first place is also a reflection of our value system and culture.

          As to the stats on clearance rates, these unfortunately don’t tell us much about the circumstances under which prosecutors actually proceed. It could mean that they are amazingly efficient at producing results in most circumstances. It could also mean that they only move forward when they are almost guaranteed to win.

          • eric winters says

            But you have a bias to see “Rape Culture” everywhere in my observation. When the only tool you have is a hammer (rape culture), every problem looks like a nail. YMMV.

    • Sorry Lesley, but your comments do little to advance your thesis, for two reasons.

      1. Nothing you identified can be qualified as a ‘culture’ in any way, shape or form, literally or figuratively. There is no rape ‘culture’
      2. To claim that because some women don’t prosecute rape because of shame, hopelessness and anxiety is proof of the ‘permisiveness’ of rape is utterly absurd and a non-sequitur. The conclusion simply doesn’t follow from the argument. This is only proof that some people are unable to prosecute evil-doers. Thus, your entire argument doesn’t work.

      Once again, we’re left with a dubious term; rape culture, that offers no justification for itself, no evidence it exists in any form. No, a lack of prosecuting rapists is not due to the permisiveness of rape, it is due to the fact that some people just don’t prosecute their wrong-doers. This is true of rape, this is true of robbery (even more true, in fact, since victims of robbery prosecute the wrong-doer even less than the victim of rape). No robbery culture, no rape culture.

    • Burlats de Montaigne says

      Additionally, if women consistently choose to weaponise sexual encounters by using the accusation of rape to settle scores and exact revenge when spurned in love then, yes, we are living in a rape culture. It has become ‘currency’.

      • Alex Russell says

        False accusations of rape and sexual assault do happen, but they are fairly rare. They certainly are not something that “women consistently choose”.

    • Stuart Chambers says

      Lesley, when you say, “if the above is the case,” that either tells me you do not have statistics or perhaps you are unsure.” How do we know that the majority of women/girls have been raped? I would just like to see the data–any data in any area (i.e., university setting, college setting, workplace setting, etc).

  2. ga gamba says

    For the same year, the FBI also reported 345,041 robberies. By this measure, there is a better case that the United States is a culture of thieves than a culture of rapists.

    There is a better argument for theft culture. Look at the average annual number and the per cent not reported. (PDF)

    Violent Robbery: 297,100; 41%
    Burglary: 1,584,700; 45%
    Theft: 8,821,900; 67%
    Motor vehicle theft: 140,600; 17%
    Personal larceny: 69,200; 41%

    Why were these crimes not reported? For each type more than a third of victims stated they believed police would not or could not help. Only 13% of victims of rape/sexual assault stated they believed police would not or could not help, which was the lowest of all crimes surveyed, indicating these victims find police supportive. Of all crime including rape and sexual assault, victims of theft were the least likely to report crime, 67% vice 65% for the former.

    But no considered judgment of the United States could conclude that its public culture devalues property rights.

    Perhaps public awareness of this isn’t at the level it ought to be. This is about 11 million crimes unreported annually. I suspect public officials understand the prohibitive costs to be incurred to increase policing, conduct investigations, prosecute perpetrators, and incarcerate or supervise them administratively. Clearly this type of crime is tolerated because there is little effort by officials and activists to greatly reduce the numbers by heightening public awareness. Conversely, we actually see activists and more public officials calling for reduced policing, prosecutions, and sentencing of these types of crimes. Some activists state crimes cannot be committed against property. If Americans think they have a mass incarceration problem presently, imagine the outcome if the public reported these crimes and demanded arrests and prosecutions.

    • X. Citoyen says

      You’re on to something. There is a growing social tolerance of theft and petty crime, though it only seems to show up among those least affected by it. I’m starting to think it’s connected to the increasing social divide between the elite and those who have to live with their decisions.

  3. Phoenix Darkdirk says

    I’d call it a consequence of the nature of the crime in question (rape) having little evidence, or evidence indistinguishable from that of consentual sex, as compared to murder or battery.

    Evidence of theft (“that guy has my stuff”) is often indistinguishable from evidence of gift giving. And people get away with it all the time. As they say, possession is nine tenths of the law. Unless there’s evidence of forced entry or some kind of struggle, thieves and rapists, especially those who are close to their victims, often do get away with their crimes, because of the presumption of innocence.

    That’s a big “if” equating eyewitness accounts of rape with theft. As for equating it to murder, that’s a flawed analogy to begin with as I imagine a crime being committed at all, by someone, is apparent in the majority of murder cases, making it a question of whodunnit. With alleged rape or theft there may very well have been no crime in the first place, and so they become easier to dismiss.

    • Phoenix Darkdirk says

      The above was meant to be a reply to Lesley’s 2nd post. Sorry for any confusion.

  4. David says

    There are a couple of aspects that make me uncomfortable to dismiss the suggested “rape culture” rhetoric so readily.

    From an evolutionary perspective, there are indicators that rape has evolved to be extremely traumatic for females. This same evolutionary perspective can be used to explain apparent victim blaming.

    From a legal perspective the qualitative data indicates that rape prosecution in an adversarial court system is equally traumatic for the victim.

    The reporting rate for rape to authorities is low….. the conviction rate equally low.

    It is obvious there is currently a moral sexual assault panic occurring. Media reporting tends to conflate statistics of sexual harassment with sexual assault and rape, thereby perpetuating the panic.

    I lean towards the fact that in regards to rape, we have a legal system problem with no easy solutions.

    However, I am uncomfortable with a couple of indicators that as a society we can tend to minimise rape allegations and move on too quickly. As example, the allegations against Bill Clinton seem quite credible, yet are largely ignored by the justice system and the rest of society.

    Currently there are 400,000 rape kits sitting untested in the US, some going back decades.

    The rape allegation against Trump by his ex is a non-issue in his suitability to be President.

    We can argue semantics as to whether to call it rape culture or something else, however there does seem to be a pervasive unaddressed issue which needs to find solutions.

    I’m fairly certain that blaming everyone via “rape culture” is not the answer.

    I’m equally certain that slut walks are not the answer as well.

    Two last points that I find curious…. the FBI only started reporting on male rape as a crime in 2015. Before that no males could be victims of rape.

    And lastly, the author chose to publish under a pseudonymn…..

    curiouser and curiouser…..

    • The author published under a pseudonym because of what often happens to people who cross with the left. Evergreen, Middlebury. We know what happens.

      The problems of the justice system are not evidence of rape. They are just reflective of the nature of the evidence in situations like these — demonstrating before a court that a rape occurred is difficult. That’s not proof of a ‘rape culture’, a term that cannot be justified as the author of this post has shown. There is a low prosecution rate for rape — an even lower one for robbery, for similar reasons mentioned above. Since there are more robberies than rapes, and a lower robbery prosecution rate than a rape prosecution rape, is there robbery culture? Of course not. We can’t let these absurd terms like ‘rape culture’ be given any validity. Liberal democracies are not rape cultures. Period.

      • David says

        You seem so certain in your false equivalencies that I even wonder if you believe that rape is a crime worth addressing?

        For the uninformed, including the author of this article, statistics gathered from the FBI and policing agencies are a measure of policing, not crime. You would do well to read up on the “Dark figure of crime” and victim report surveys. The provided stats do not provide accurate and meaningful data in cases where the vast majority of the incidences are not reported.

        Robbery offenses get reported at a much greater rate since there is often an insurance claim which necessitates the reporting to authorities.

        Firstly, we know that rapes occur.

        We also know that most rapists are not held accountable.

        One could conclude that our current system of justice is not equipped to address this issue at a higher than current rate.

        So what to do?

        We can argue semantics about what to call it, or focus on solutions to address the issue.

        But first you need to accept that there is an issue.

        Liberal democracies may not be rape cultures, but liberal democracies do have an issue with the reporting, apprehension and prosecution of offenders for the act identified as rape.

        But, then again, if you want to argue semantics…… Liberal democracies seem to be “ignorance of rape” cultures.

        • Gonout Backson says

          As compared to which cultures ?

        • David, you assert that “we know that most rapists are not held accountable.” How do we know this?

          • David says

            When you look at the data on rape reporting and conviction rates, and compare it with Victimization and self-report survey data it is apparent that rape is one of the most under-reported offenses.

        • Gonout Backson says

          @David
          I’m still waiting for an answer.
          You say : “Liberal democracies seem to be “ignorance of rape” cultures.”
          I ask again : compared to what, when and where ?

  5. Al says

    Lesley – “Finally, one might object that ‘rape culture’ is an adequate expression of the difficulty in prosecuting rape, and a reflection of low conviction rates. But the problem here is not the nature of our culture but the nature of the crime itself. Rape leaves little material evidence. Sex is not a crime, but sex obtained by force or coercion is. Proving that consent in a private act was denied or withdrawn can be notoriously difficult, especially if an assault is not immediately reported. Allegations often require a jury to weigh one person’s testimony or recollection against another’s and this can make it harder to establish the standard of guilt required for a successful prosecution.”

    Did you just decide to skip this passage?

  6. Has anyone considered this whole ‘rape culture’ thing is a hysterical overreaction by feminists? They’re undesirable women, so they take that situation and spew hate back on us because they feel bad. Female incels.

    • LAW says

      That’s what it feels like much of the time. The UVA case? A female incel making up someone raping her to get attention. If you watched that unfold, it really uncovered a dark underbelly of feminists who will go to any length to harm men. They destroyed the college experience of dozens of young men and almost destroyed the professional career of multiple UVA administrators. And when it was all exposed the reaction was “oh, that one case might not be real, but it really brought proper attention to ‘rape culture’ on campus!” Um, no it didn’t – it was all a lie!

      Anyway, I don’t know a single person who thinks rape is OK. This idea that there is a “culture” around it is absurd. It is something promoted disproportionately by women who ironically look like they were last offered sex 10 years ago.

      • David says

        Just an observation, but part of the issue might be to do with the fact that the media and public dissect the rarer cases of false accusations with greater vigor than they do the proven cases.

        I live in Australia and yet hear all about false allegation cases like UVA and Duke Lacrosse….. yet rarely is the same spotlight shone on the multitude of cases that are real.

        If one were to see the world through gender tinted glasses, one could interpret this as a culture that is more concerned with the well being of men, than with the prosecution of rapists, ergo victimised females.

        • Gonout Backson says

          @David
          You say : “one could interpret this as a culture that is more concerned with the well being of men, than with the prosecution of rapists, ergo victimised females.”
          Compared to what, when and where ?

          • David says

            @Gonout, why do you need to have a comparison culture? Would you prefer I state “Society” or “Species”?

            Again simply arguing semantics will not sole a problem which is looking for redress.

            As I stated in my first comment to this article, the behaviour and responses to rape have evolutionary roots. This is an inate human species issue.

            The fact that rape is minimised and accepted by our species/society/culture….

            If you wish to argue semantics I am certain there are others here willing to engage in that conversation. I just find it banal and ignorant.

  7. Daianto says

    What is always missing in such debates is the rate of false allegations. A Canadian reporter, Christie Blatchford, indicated in an item her contacts in the Metro Toronto police reported a rate of 54 percent. Kanin’s study put it at about 40. The issue of false allegations goes without mention by the proponents of rape culture.

    • David says

      From my recollection (from studying criminology), false reporting is around 2% of overall reports.

      There is the obvious challenge of getting accurate data on this, however many of the attempts to quantify it suffer from very small sample sizes, which aren’t representative of the wider population of rape accusations. One study even suggested a false report rate of 90%.

      Additionally there is the issue of definition of “false”. One police department may label something a false report when there is no verifiable “evidence” of the incident. And as has already been commented on, evidence of a “he said, she said” crime often lacks tangible evidence.

      • Fluffy Buffalo says

        From what I remember, the 2% number is the lowest estimate of the rape cases that go to trial and then are shown conclusively to be false accusations.
        It does not take into account the cases that are dismissed at an earlier stage and the cases that do not lead to convictions because of inconclusive evidence. Nor does it count cases where the legal system is not involved, and accusations are spread informally among friends and acquaintances.
        And of course, it’s philosophically impossible to tell what percentage of accusations is false until the all-knowing God decides to let us have a look at his records.
        But just from the existing evidence, 2% seems like a ridiculously number in an age of media and activists willing to “always believe the victims”.

        • David says

          I am more concerned with the number of rapes that are not being reported. Lets say for arguments sake that every reported rape is false. Since reported rapes represent only 25% of rapes, there are still 3 times as many rapes occurring that are not reported.

          This is one of the reasons why this topic seems to be such a political polarising issue.

          Feminists bleet about rape culture and rape myths, MRA’s counter with what about prison rapes and false reports?

          You know that you can still be anti-SJW and yet believe that the way rape is dealt with is inadequate.

          • Daianto says

            I am more concerned about the number of false allegations which go unrecorded. For the police to say unfounded simply means they could not find adequate grounds for charges. As we saw in the Ghomeshi trial in Ontario the accusers were found to have colluded and perjured themselves yet no charges were laid against them, hence no false allegation record.

            It is to be suspected that this item in San Francisco is indicative of how effective false allegations are by women to use as a tool against men. http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2018/06/08/woman-who-falsely-accused-men-of-abuse-before-robbing-homes-arrested

            And then we have Alison Saunders, formerly Director of Public Prosecutions in Great Britain. Due to a number of instances where police were either incompetent or deliberately withheld evidence a number of men were falsely charged with some imprisoned. Ms. Saunders was forced to resign and all sexual assault cases during her watch are under review. I call that systemic feminist bias. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-43614793

            As for your 2% figure, another feminist myth. In his book the Myth of Male Power Farrell reveals a study done for the United States Navy. When the researchers came up with a figure of 60% false they assumed a statistical error. On redoing the math found it was to be correct. Given such results the police in three adjoining states were contacted and figures of 40 to 50 percent false were revealed.

            Just how deeply rooted in deceit modern feminism is and the lack of will to punish such women may be best served by the falsification of data by several women at Statistics Canada. The doctoral thesis of Dr. Reena Sommers on domestic violence was altered by these women. Dr. Sommers found DV was about equal between men and women. The ‘official’ StatsCan figures were altered to leave out assaults on men by women. Despite this being raised in the Canadian House of Commons, these women were not disciplined.

            Unfortunately MSM chooses not to look at those falsely accused and the horror false allegations cause. I have lost two friends to allegations. While cleared in the courts the financial and emotional toll saw them take their own lives. This is the heavy price of #believeallwomen.

  8. Actually, there are two cultural instances where rape is often present, and in the first case even praised: one is hip-hop music, the other is Muslim attitude toward western women. In the former, rape is viewed as a way to assert a man’s power or success; in the latter, rape is a just punishment for behavior not compliant with religious norms.
    In both cases the problem is set aside in our liberal culture because it collides with other “values” which, evidently, have more weight: that is, minority status trumps rape danger; we can infer that the real meaning of the “rape culture” charge is in fact part a wider effort to gain cultural power by denouncing a (pre)selected culprit: Christian or conservative white people.

  9. Today’s women can and do in fact experience anxiety in relation to their sexual life, but that’s not due to the alleged rape culture; instead, what’s existentially unsettling is the sex culture commonly proposed: everything is over-sexualized, while young (and not young) people feel a social pressure to have sex early and freely, without commitment, as a way to “be liberated and be themselves”. Think about the hookup culture on campus, which is exactly the place where the “rape culture” allegation comes from.
    Our traditional culture, with its romanticism, commitment, and modesty knew – albeit often unconsciously – how to approach sex in wiser and more constructive ways: modesty, in particular, is a cultural attitude which carries lessons learned in thousands of years, but all of that has been largely wiped out as a relic of the “patriarchy”, leaving a vacuum where many boys and girls remain totally disoriented. Many girls, I’m sure, during their years at school have sexual experiences which are deeply unfulfilling and even humiliating, and that can feel as an internal rape: but that is a consequence of the hookup culture which extols this kind of behavior as liberating. Liberals, and also libertarians, don’t want to acknowledge the contradictions implicit in their worldview, mainly stemming from the refusal to accept traits proper to men and, respectively, women as natural.

    • John A says

      Paolo – Yours is a rosey, naïve view of the past, typical of conservatives. The “wisdom” of modesty and a tortuously ignorant view of sex (actually no view at all other than a prurient fear based on ignorance and societal and familial control) may well have had some merit given the sheer consequence of sex in extremely difficult and intolerant times. In more enlightened times, where we have to some extent overcome the taboos around sex, have the ability to separate sex from pregnancy (though, of course, not necessarily from love – in fact it can massively enhance our ability to associate sex with love), and don’t have to suffer a much lengthened life with the first object of our emotional hijacking during the Shakespeare’s third age of man.

      The challenge now, hinted at in this article and mangled by the Off Our Backs author quoted (“I have cried many a night because of my big shoulders and my skinny, white legs, and I still struggle to find my own definition of what is sexy”) is to develop a wiser attitude to our liberation. Wiser in our use of sexuality in commercialism, and wiser in our view of the statistical differences between typically male and female attitudes to sex (inevitable due to the massively asymmetric consequence of sex to males or females over our evolutionary history). The answer to our new difficulties is not to wind the clock back to a time when our culture was built on an ignorant subservience to our worst instincts.

      • Gonout Backson says

        @John A
        “ignorant subservience to our worst instincts”
        Could you specify ? What do you call “instinct” ?

  10. It’s worth bearing in mind how strong a claim ‘rape culture’ represents. Saying a country has a sporting culture, for example, means that people regularly and openly engage in sport, that sport is praised and encouraged by the powers that be, and so on and so forth. People who claim rape culture is a thing need to show that it’s popular, widely practiced, and sanctioned by cultural and political elites. Why they would make such a demanding claim is beyond me, since it doesn’t help establishing what most people believe anyway, that rape is horrific and we should try to stop it happening.

    But even if you think that the rate of false rape accusations is as low as 2% (most studies say it’s higher); even if you think that the conviction rate is unusually low (it’s 58% in the UK, higher than for most violent crimes); even if you think that we don’t punish rape harshly (it’s subject to some of the harshest penalties in our legal systems); even if you believe all that, all that would really show is that we have a problem with our legal system as it applies to rape. It wouldn’t establish the much more ambitious claim that we have a whole culture of rape.

    And that claim (which is going mainstream) is harmful, because it gives women the impression that men (even society as a whole!) are in some kind of conspiracy to rape them and to excuse rape, when it fact it’s a relatively rare crime that’s viewed with horror by the vast majority of people (men included). Ladies, believe me: I’ve been in a lot of rugby changing rooms in my time, and even in our most ‘toxically masculine’ conversations about sex, I’ve never in my life heard a man express a desire to rape a woman. And that would be a bit strange if I lived in a culture of rape.

  11. Shenme Shihou says

    This is just a quick aside because it just came to me. I agree that we dont have a rape culture. What we do have, however, is a skeptical-of -women-being-trustworthy culture. See for instance the stories such as To Kill A Mockingbird and The Crucible that feature female dishonesty as a main point.

    I think we do have a culture of questioning the motives of women. Wheather or not you think thats justified is up to you.

  12. Darren, Nottingham says

    I think we have a masturbation culture, which possibly explains why feminists think about rape so much.

    • J.N. Clark says

      “I think we have a masturbation culture”

      Exactly. Ours is a porn-saturated, sex-obsessed culture, in which transactional, meaningless sex is, unfortunately, a readily available commodity – that is, unless one is a basement dwelling incel who feels undeservedly entitled to such sex. Of course, such a culture is not innate to our “patriarchy” but is a consequence of the sexual revolution of decades past which, ironically, also heralded the feminist moment.

      We now appear to be reverting to a more puritanical, moralistic culture. However, this new moralism is not based on religiously-infused, deeply rooted values of decency and virtuous behavior but is rather being achieved through a denial of human nature in favor of coercive government intervention and control with the aim of shaming and demonizing half the population and driving people apart.

      • Darren, Nottingham says

        Feminists today behave exactly like women who haven’t had the shags they’ve been promised.
        Shagging would sort this problem out. We need a shag culture. In the 70s we had that – just listened to the songs in the charts. Ooo oo oo afternoon delight

  13. J.N. Clark says

    It seems to me that the term “rape culture” is merely a feminist ploy to characterize all normal heterosexual behavior between men and women as rape.

    From a broad feminist perspective, all aspects of a sexual encounter between a man and a woman, from the “male gaze” to seduction to the act itself, can be deemed rape, since everything the man does by his nature (particularly in regards to women) is deemed to be violent and coercive; therefore, no woman can or would ever truly consent to this behavior, that is, if there existed a “just” anti-patriarchal society that reflected women’s true feelings and aspirations. The overall goal for the inception of this anti-patriarchy appears to be the social and/or legal designation of all men as potential rapists and the sheltering of vulnerable, defenseless women from these fiends through forced isolation of the sexes and the strict regulation or, perhaps, even criminalization of the sexual act iself.

  14. Northern Observer says

    The article is spot on. Rape Culture is not grounded in reality, it is grounded in ideology, where it acts as a blanket defamation of the status quo to justify the inherent moral correctness of the revolutionary impulse. It is The Big Lie of revolutionary feminism.
    And the secondary point of the article is well proven. That the idea of Rape Culture itself has blinded social leaders to the emergence of actual rape cultures in society because these actual rape cultures existence are not useful to The Revolution so they have no relevance or import (prison rape) or they are embarrassments (Muslim immigrant grooming gangs) because they contradict other revolutionary narratives such as the inherent righteousness of mass immigration and open borders.

    It is to laugh but not with mirth more likely with bitter anger and determination to shine a light on all dishonest things.

  15. Tim says

    Is our “prison rape” meme a cultural artifact? It tends to not show up in formal / public things, but in-person discussions and informal online chat seem to show (1) an expectation of prisoners getting raped, and (2) a sense that it’s deserved, especially for some offenses. There’s no valorization, because the perpetrator is elided.

  16. Eric says

    I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that we do have examples of cultural artefacts that one could argue are fostering of or sympathetic to rape culture. Seeing as I’m playing devil’s advocate feel free to burn me at the stake if you think I’m missing something.

    1) A Streetcar Named Desire
    2) Last Tango In Paris
    3) Once Upon A Time In America
    4) Straw Dogs

    And if we expand our definition of rape culture to specifically include violence against women, we could throw something like Oleanna into the mix too. I know A LOT of people who were cheering for Carol’s beating by the end of that play. Maybe I’m hanging out with the wrong kind of people!

    Now, I’m not sure any of the characters in these artefacts could be counted as models under the author’s definition. That said, two of my examples are Brando roles. I think he’d qualify as a model in the eyes of some. So, if you can take a cultural model like Brando, and in two separate narratives, equate him with a role that presents rape in a somewhat controversial or even excusatory light….

    • Antonin Foucaux says

      Your comment and the previous one raise interesting examples. I believe that they do not quite succeed, but explaining why is, I think, interesting.

      I have not seen all of the films you cite. Yet, I know that Once Upon a Time in America caused a stir with its rape scene.

      “We move on to one of the film’s controversial scenes, in which Deborah is raped by Noodles on the back seat of a car. It’s a scene which caused considerable outrage at the time of the film’s release (1984) and which remains, as so it should, shocking.”

      https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/elizabeth-mcgovern-de-niro-and-me-109588.html

      Perhaps the reaction was not the same for all the films cited – I believe that Straw Dogs was in part controversial for the rape scene – but the controversy and anger is revealing. No one in ancient Athens would have been shocked by work of art depicting Zeus’s behaviour. So these films are more examples of mainstream works that include rape, but the reception of these works is more complicated than ‘these are great and or important films’.

      Or think of it this way. It is far easier to vilify than to romanticize a character by portraying them as a rapist. This strong asymmetry is very telling, even if some exceptions to the rule might exist.

      The point about rape in prison is interesting, but unconvincing I fear.

      First, rape in prison is, as we imagine it, almost always male on male. This provides very weak evidence or no evidence at all for the male on female paradigm inherent to ‘rape culture’.

      Second, it is certainly true that prison rape is neither praise or valued. It is therefore very hard to present this meme or joke or trope – whatever it is – as being something we are condoning or promoting.

      Third, it is certainly true – as Tim notes – that the target of prison rape is seen as somehow deserving his fate. The general sense that the rape occurs to someone who somehow deserves less than the full care and protection afforded to ordinary members of society indicates that we are not dealing with the social norm.

      • Eric says

        Thanks for the reply! I’ve never commented on a Quillette article before. This is fun!

        You’ve got a great point there that it’s easier to vilify a rapist than romanticize one. I would hope most people would find this obvious but stating it does a good job of showing the asymmetry you’ve described. And I’d have to agree: most of the time, portraying a character as a rapist is a great way to ensure your audience will despise him. But there are some exceptions, and I think if we want to be serious we have to consider them as valid examples of rape culture artefacts.

        Regarding Once Upon A Time In America, the scene with Noodles and Deborah is the one that most people write about, but there’s another one as well, during the bank robbery scene. That scene–along with the one in Straw Dogs–share a common problem insofar as the women in them appear to enjoy the rape at various points. To me this flies right past absurdity and lands itself smack in the middle of dangerous and irresponsible.

        Last Tango In Paris is perhaps the weakest example, because it’s clear that what’s taking place is rape and Paul’s violation is not up for discussion. I also concede that it’s not like Brando’s character is a “hero” by any stretch, but rather, a troubled and self-destructive man.

        Which brings us to Streetcar. It’d be great if you could see or read it sometime because I think it’s the strongest example I could think of (also a great play). To me this is a damning example of rape culture as it seems to suggest not that rape is evil, but instead, that rape can, given some circumstances, be seen as a kind of vigilante justice, or can be framed as a “she had it coming” kind of thing. Granted I have a hard time sympathizing with Blanche because she’s also a statutory rapist (a lot of people miss this: she lost her job as a teacher for sleeping with a student, and it’s never made clear if the relationship was consensual).

        To self-criticize, most of the characters I’ve mentioned couldn’t really be codified as Models under your definition. I’ve never seen a kid dress up as Stanley Kowalski for Halloween. I do think, however, a weaker mind could thread together the man (Brando) and his roles and confuse the two.

        Final thought: there are “worse” crimes (murder) that are often celebrated in film as moral acts of retribution, revenge, necessary evils, etc. That said, I am still undecided as to whether abject violence in film is a great idea for culture building. I wouldn’t say that we live in a “murder culture,” but according to your definitions, if one were to make a case for “murder culture” having artefacts, models, rhetoric, and training, I would have to concede a point. In the same vein, though I don’t think we live in a “rape culture,” I can’t necessarily agree that there are no “rape artefacts.” And it’s possible that if I thought on it, I may come up with examples of models, rhetoric, or training as well.

        • Antonin Foucaux says

          A quick reply…

          When you find it hard to see Stanley Kowalski as a hero or even a casual model (Halloween), you are on the right track. Compare. In the film Braveheart – great cinema, terrible history – rape is an uncontroversial way to establish the English as evil. Killing is not enough – his wife has to be violated in an intimate way to show the utter depravity of the enemy.
          Wallace does engage in vigilante justice, or something close to it, but this would all be tarnished if he raped too. He can kill, maim or imprison, but if he rapes, then he is truly beyond the pale. He is like them.
          Consider how hard it is to make a rapist heroic and how easily killing – murder is a loaded term – can be justified. You can kill in self-defense or in defense or a third party or for a political cause or for the security of your nation or for your religion. It is relatively easy to lionize such men and the best evidence is how often it has been done successfully.

          So again, the presence of rape in some artifacts is compatible with my view. The point is can you find a) a large, representative body of artifacts which b) clearly condones or c) clearly promotes rape and that d) is well-received as such?
          Almost all of the films you cite are well-received except for the rape scene(s). It is also the case that they do not represent your average weekly or monthly release. As you rightly noted, Brando’s character is no hero. Any reasonable viewer knows this as well. The film presents rape, but it does not endorse it and still there is controversy.
          Again, think of a Greek amphora – who would be shocked by Zeus doing what he does in ancient Athens? The lack of scandal or controversy is quite different from the reception of Straw Dogs or A last tango in Paris.

          I hope this helps.

    • TarsTarkas says

      As I may have forgotten to emphasize in an earlier comment on this thread, it is Hollywood that has glamorized acts of rape and violence against women, not the culture it entertains. So what does that say about the mores (and perhaps the personal lives) of the theatrical community?

  17. Kirsten Kramar says

    It is such a pleasure to read an analysis that evaluates uninterrogated claims in relation to our established definitions of culture. Beautifully executed critique of the expressive/descriptive claims made about rape culture. What does it say though, that a Canadian academic who is so clearly well-trained and clear thinking must publish what should be an entirely non-controversial analysis, under a pseudonym?

  18. derek says

    The best response to this question is to define rape.

    If the definition are photos on the front page of magazines, then it is best to find someone rational.

  19. I think *some* activists go wrong when they claim, as the article argues, that Western democracies are rape cultures. Those activists would be way more convincing if they simply left it at the existence of culture that slut-shames, victim-blames, etc. Which is obviously not the culture in general.

  20. Steve says

    I agree with most of the article, but positive descriptions of rape and rapists aren’t nearly as rare in popular culture as it suggests. Romance is by far the most popular literary genre and traditionally it has been chock full of this stuff. The term “bodice-ripper” was invented for a reason. Plots where the main female character is raped by the main male character (who is depicted quite sympathetically overall) and then falls in love with him were extremely common and still are pretty popular even today in the romance genre.

    • Antonin Foucaux says

      This is probably the best point to push back on the production of artifacts. I would have to look into the issue more to say anything intelligent.

  21. Martin28 says

    Rape in itself is a cultural artifact, in that there is no concept of rape in other animals. It follows there was no concept of rape for a long long time in humans, but it developed with other civilizing ideas to protect women from the most violent tendencies of males in the drive to sexually reproduce. But this always had to be balanced by the much more important need of reproduction itself. That is why there always had to be safe ways for males to experiment with and express their sexuality. But now we are expanding the definition of rape to the point that never would have been acceptable throughout most of history. There is rape inside of marriage, if both parties are inebriated, without affirmative yes from the woman, within certain age constraints beyond puberty regardless of circumstances, etc. They weren’t considered rape throughout most of human history, and the narrative now is that this was and is merely oppression. But this was survival, and probably we would not be alive if our forefathers and foremothers had not balanced the need for reproduction and protection against rape. It is this balance that is now being defined as the culture of rape.

    • David says

      There are many instances of rape in the animal kingdom. 40% of orangutan births are from rape. In fact there is even a documented case of a woman being raped by an orangutan.

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