The term “rape culture” first emerged in the United States, and was used for the first time in a work by the New York Radical Feminists collective published in 1974, Rape: The First Sourcebook for Women. It has now spread worldwide, particularly since 2017 thanks to the #MeToo movement. It is a sociological concept referring to all behaviours that minimise, justify or even encourage gender-based and sexual violence, or turn it into entertainment. The expression “rape culture” reflects the desire to understand gender-based and sexual violence as a systemic phenomenon perpetuated by society and its institutions, rather than as an inevitability resulting from a number of isolated cases.
A phenomenon rooted in society
Rape culture is advertising that objectifies women or places men in a position of domination over them. In the private sphere, it can be seen in sexist “jokes” that are rarely reported, and in the neglect of the notion of consent towards one’s partner.
Rape culture means questioning a complaint of sexual assault by questioning the victim’s dress or possible lack of caution. It is the tendency, when a case gets media coverage, to worry more about the future of the attacker’s career than the future of the victim, who is often accused of lying and opportunism.
Rape culture means justifying the fact that 98% of rapes are committed by men by the idea that their sexuality is more impulsive and uncontrollable than that of women. It is thinking that we can be partly responsible for the sexual violence we have suffered. It means believing that rapes are committed by strangers, when in the majority of cases the victim knew her attacker.
Rape culture is French President Emmanuel Macron saying that French actor Gérard Depardieu makes France proud, even though Depardieu has been accused of rape and sexual assault by several women and a television documentary shows his sexist and even child pornographic comments about a child on horseback. It is the maintenance of an atmosphere in which the guilty feel like victims, defended by tribunes, and the victims seen as guilty, liars, profiteers.
In short, rape culture is about euphemising sexual violence, eroticizing it in music and film, and taking responsibility away from the perpetrators. There will be almost 72,000 complaints recorded by the police and gendarmerie in 2021 for sexual offences committed outside the family. This figure is all the more frightening given that it has risen by 77% in five years, and that less than ten percent of victims of sexual offences lodge a complaint in France, according to a study published in 2020.
Combating rape culture
Combating rape culture means combating the stereotypes that perpetuate it. Recognising these preconceived ideas about sexual violence and knowing how to define them accurately is the first step. It then requires the justice system and all the institutions to support victims, to provide them with better assistance when they lodge a complaint, and to put an end to the impunity of aggressors. It also means admitting that there is no such thing as marital duty. Ultimately, it is about replacing the culture of rape with the culture of consent.
Translated by Marie Chapot