Prevention Corner: Addressing Rape Culture in Prevention Programming

Aug 22nd, 1970

By Rachel Yehoda, Program Coordinator (Prevention and Education)

“He was asking for it.”

“She was drinking too much.”

“She shouldn’t have been alone with him.”

Sentiments like these are all too common in our society when survivors come forward after being sexually assaulted. Victim-blaming thoughts and attitudes have become accepted as the norm in our culture, exacerbated by a media that echoes these attitudes back at us.  One of the biggest obstacles we face when it comes to preventing sexual violence is combating these misperceived norms and addressing the issue of rape culture.

What is rape culture?

Rape culture refers to how our society often minimizes the severity of the problem of sexual violence and normalizes rape-supportive thoughts and attitudes. Rape culture can take many different forms.  It can be a simple comment or remark blaming a victim of sexual assault for drinking too much at a party or for wearing a certain item of clothing. Rape culture can also be more overt, such as someone wearing a t-shirt that displays a statement that reflects rape-supportive attitudes.  The unfortunate truth is that rape culture is pervasive throughout our society.  We are constantly exposed to examples of rape culture in our everyday lives through television, film, music, advertisements, and social media. We see rape culture at play when we read news stories covering cases of sexual assault that occur on college campuses. Consider the example of Brock Turner and the way the media highlighted his athletic abilities rather than focusing on the fact that he sexually assaulted an unconscious woman. We see it in the way that people take to social media in response to reports of sexual assault, and blame the victim. We hear it in the rape jokes that are told in our high schools, on our college campuses, and in our workplaces. The examples of rape culture are endless. It is an unfortunate reality that rape culture continues to be the norm in our society. It is essential that we do not turn a blind eye to rape culture and that we work to dismantle the norms that support it. As a part of our prevention efforts, it is important to address rape culture by raising awareness of what rape culture is, how it manifests in our daily lives, and what we can do to stop it.

Addressing rape culture in our prevention work

Taking on the task of addressing rape culture in our prevention efforts can seem daunting.  We might ask ourselves: How can we address the problem of rape culture when it is so embedded in our society’s framework? What role do we play as prevention practitioners, advocates, and individuals who work tirelessly to end sexual violence in challenging the notions of rape culture?

The first step in addressing the problem of rape culture in our community is to recognize it. In order to do this, it is important to start by educating our students and members of our community on what rape culture is and what it looks like.  Below are tips on how to integrate discussions of rape culture into our prevention, education, and awareness efforts:

1. Dedicate a program session on the topic of rape culture: In prevention programming, it is important to focus on a variety of topics and to have several program sessions in order for participants to exhibit knowledge, attitude, and behavior change. For example, say you are planning prevention-focused workshops targeting college students. One way to address rape culture in these efforts could be holding a workshop solely focused on this issue. Different components of the program could include providing explanations of what rape culture is, presenting examples of rape culture from social media, TV, or music, and facilitating a discussion among the students identifying rape culture in our society. By adding discussions of rape culture to other prevention strategies, we can take a more comprehensive approach to creating both individual- and community-level change.

2. Use social media to raise awareness and educate others about rape culture: Social media is a great way to disseminate your message to a wide audience and raise awareness of the issue of rape culture. One of the many ways that social media can be used as a tool to address rape culture is creating an innovative hashtag to spread the message. A real-life example of a hashtag that recently trended on Twitter is #RapeCultureIsWhen; people used this hashtag to raise awareness of what rape culture looks like in their daily lives. To learn more about this hashtag, click here.

3. Promote positive bystander behaviors: This is a key aspect of addressing the problem of rape culture. By giving individuals the confidence and skills necessary to speak up and intervene when they witness rape culture happening, we can begin to break down rape culture and work towards preventing sexual violence. For example, if you overhear one of your peers telling a rape joke, you can intervene by starting up a conversation about the implications of the joke and how it perpetuates rape culture.

Change begins with each individual having these important conversations and exhibiting the skills necessary to intervene. Taking small steps to address the issue of rape culture in our everyday lives can make a significant difference. By making a commitment to address rape culture in our prevention work, we can move towards a society free of rape-supportive beliefs and attitudes.

Resources and Organizations:

Local Rape Crisis and Recovery Centers (RCCs): Local RCCs act as an essential resource for survivors and provide important services such as crisis intervention, counseling, referrals, outreach, and education.  To find out more information about the RCCs located in the state of Maryland, click here.

FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture is a survivor-led advocacy organization based in Baltimore, Maryland that strives to “upset the culture of rape and promote a culture of consent.”  Most notably, FORCE is known for their public art projects that raise sexual violence awareness and start a dialogue about the problem. Some of their current projects include The Monument Quilt, Hike for Healing, and the Gather Together collective.  To learn more about how FORCE is actively working to end rape culture, click here.

Language and Rape Culture: Kayce Singletary and Alexis Stratton at TEDxColumbiaSC. In this TED talk, Kayce Singletary and Alexis Stratton from Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands unpack the power of words and language and how rape culture is often reflected in our everyday language. They provide examples of how rape culture is expressed in our language and break down some of the factors that perpetuate rape culture in our society. To watch this TED talk, click here.  

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