Ever wanted to know the basics around sexualized violence and rape culture? Well look no further.
What is sexual assault?
The term “sexual assault” can be used to reference any forced or coerced sexual activity, ranging from unwanted kissing or touching to forced sexual intercourse.
Sexual assault is an act of power and control in which the survivor may be coerced or forced to engage is sexualized activities through violent actions or words.
For many people, sexual assault and rape mean the same thing—but the reality is that sexual assault includes many forms of sexualized violence.
It doesn’t matter if the survivor was drinking, using substances, or what they were wearing. It also doesn’t matter if the survivor was flirting or accepted an invitation to have dinner.
Sexual assault is a crime of power and control, and in the same way that no one “asks” to have their house burglarized, no one “asks” to be sexually assaulted.
But sexual assault is about sex, right?
Wrong. All forms of sexualized violence are about feelings of entitlement, power, and control being expressed in a sexualized way. There is no such thing as “non-consensual sex”. There is either consensual sexual activity or sexual assault.
Saying that sex and sexualized violence belong to the same category of activities is like saying that tasting food and choking on it are the same.
But it’s not like this will happen to me. I can protect myself by locking my door and being careful when I’m out at night?
Wrong again. People mistakenly assume that most sexual violence is perpetrated by strangers. In reality, survivors often know their perpetrator. They could be a spouse, a date, a classmate, colleague or other acquaintance.
Well, there are a lot of mixed signals out there and it’s not always easy to tell if someone is into it—right?
Nope. There are a lot of ways to figure out if your partner(s) is into whatever sexual activity you’re engaged in, and the easiest way to be sure is to ASK—which means: get consent.
So… is sexualized violence a systemic problem? How is it tied to rape culture?
Absolutely! Sexualized violence is promoted and supported by rape culture.
Rape culture is the images, language, laws and other phenomena that we see and hear every day that validate and perpetuate sexualized violence, like victim-blaming, “locker room talk”, and jokes based around gender-based violence (and most of the questions asked above).
The #MeToo movement has exposed the prevalence of rape culture in the entertainment industry, making it safer for survivors to speak their truths and use their voices. This impact has certainly trickled down into everyday society, giving countless survivors the opportunity to share their stories. This article gives further information on rape culture and cultural examples.
Force: Upsetting Rape Culture explains that rape culture includes jokes, TV, music, advertising, legal jargon, laws, words and imagery, that make sexualized and gender-based violence seem so normal that people believe sexualized violence is inevitable, and often blame the victim instead of the perpetrator. Rather than seeing this as a problem to fix, people who perpetuate rape culture believe that sexualized violence is just a result of “the way things are.”
So how does this system affect survivors of sexualized violence?
When survivors come forward and share their story, they are often blamed for what happened to them. For a variety of reasons, society sees the assault as something the survivor could have prevented by making a different choice.
These victim-blaming thoughts often sound like this: “If you had only ______, this wouldn’t have happened to you.” Victim-blaming is uncommon in almost every other crime, and is also a part of rape culture.
But surely people don’t think this way?
Unfortunately, we’ve lived within the rape culture framework for a long time—not everyone is educated (or cares to be educated) about the realities of sexualized violence or understands how rape myths affect our thinking.
What is a rape myth?
We’re glad you asked. Rape myths are false beliefs about sexualized violence that work to excuse sexualized violence and create hostility toward survivors. There are so many of them, and they are so prevalent in our society, that it’s easy to accept this misinformation as truth. We have a whole page of examples of rape myths!
Is there anything I can do to help end sexualized violence or change rape culture?
Definitely! There are lots of ways to help—we’ve made a list.