The Pervasiveness of Rape Culture in the 21st Century

With a close 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court made a monumental decision that changed the game for sexual assault rulings. In the 2013 case, Maryland v. King, the Roberts Court determined that state and local law enforcement were permitted to collect DNA samples from people who were arrested for any committed or attempted crimes of violence. This gave rape victims a sizable advantage in their pursuit of justice that they previously did not have. While this case did make a difference for rape victims, it did not change the mentality that many Americans hold when it comes to sexual assault. Though awareness of rape culture in the U.S has grown throughout the years, there are still debates about what counts as rape, whose fault it really is when a person is sexually violated, and how wrong sexual assault truly is. Men are constantly being forgiven for their actions without receiving any consequences. Victims are not receiving the justice they deserve and abusers are being let free. For a society that praises themselves for their progressive mindset, not enough change has occurred.

The biggest hypocrisy in society when it comes to rape is the complete lack of accountability men receive. Women are told from a young age to “be careful, stay safe, watch out.” Young girls are taught how to protect themselves from sexual assaults, and what to do if they are assaulted. Still, the unimaginable happens much too often: one out of every six American women have been a victim of sexual assault. To expand on this statistic, since 1998, an estimated 17.7 million American women have experienced sexual assault in the U.S. It happens every day – every 98 seconds, in fact – according to RAINN’s statistics on rape. Girls are raised to be cautious of rape, but boys are not taught not to rape. As a society, we do not teach young boys how to respect women. As a result, the burden of rape is put on the victim instead of the assailant.

The sheer lack of responsibility put on the rapists and the pressure put on a victim lead to many cases being unreported. A study performed by the Justice Department reveals that 67% of rapes do not get reported. An even more discerning study shows that 80% of campus rape cases remain unheard of by university authorities. Many victims tend to avoid reporting their rapists because they do not trust that they will truly be helped. Students are often deterred from reporting their assault in fear of being forced through a grueling criminal justice process that could take years, only to have their assailants eventually walk away without charges. It is hard to believe in fighting for justice when 994 out of every 1000 rapists walk free.

However, there is still hope for change. There have been important developments regarding the visibility of rape. One is the acknowledgment that a rapist can be anyone, and so can the victim. In recent years, new campaigns have been put out to create awareness of the fact that men too can experience sexual assault. People are starting to acknowledge that a woman can commit an act of rape against a man, not to mention that rape does occur in same-sex relationships. Within the last ten years, we have experienced especially important progress. In 2012, the Federal Government expanded its official definition of rape and sexual assault: a male could now be considered a victim of rape. The definition of forcible rape was also expanded to include both forced oral sex and anal penetration. The preceding definition of rape, which has been the same since the 1920s, was limited to only vaginal penetration.

There often seems to be confusion about the definition of “rape culture”. Rape culture is men making jokes about rape and then getting upset when women don’t find it funny. Rape culture is blaming the victim for their outfit choice while stating that a man could not help himself because “boys will be boys.” Rape culture is forcing toxic standards of masculinity, such as the idea that men must be dominant and sexually aggressive, onto young boys. Rape culture is the tolerance and compliance with everyday sexual harassment. It is an unacceptable social phenomenon which, sadly, occurs every day. There have been significant advances in the prevention of sexual assault and the prosecution of attackers, but we still have a long way to go. This is no time to be apathetic. As a society, we must keep progressing.

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