The term ‘rape culture’ refers to the various ways in which the severity of the act of rape is being belittled within our society, from its actual promotion on banter sites like unilad.co.uk and in the inane patter of self-styled celebrity wannabes like Dapper Laughs, to the porn industry and the myth perpetuating newsprint media. Headlines such as ‘Six footballers jailed over gang rape of 12-year-old girls in midnight park orgy’ (Daily Mail) damage the perspective of readers through language that serves a patriarchal agenda. We need to realise that by equating rape to ‘surprise sex’ by way of a joke, or describing vile acts of paedophilia as an ‘orgy’, we are normalising behaviour that should on no level be tolerated. Firstly, I think a simple change in the law could make a huge difference. By filtering down into the education system, understanding of this law could challenge the dangerous cultural attitudes being bred into our youth:
Some of you reading this may not be familiar with the term ‘affirmative consent’. In relation to sexual encounters, it means making sure you actively get a ‘yes’ from your partner/s rather than proceeding because you haven’t heard the word ‘no’. At the moment, in cases of rape and sexual violence, the law in England & Wales calls for the jury to have reasonable belief that the defendant didn’t believe the complainant was consenting. In other words, there must be reasonable belief that the victim said or strongly implied ‘no’. Obviously, asking a group of strangers (the jury) to make judgements about reported body language and ambiguous conversations is problematic when it comes to making convictions.
Importantly, the current law doesn’t take into account that ‘Freezing’ is the most common response to a perceived sexual attack. This is not an act of submission, but the physiological response of ‘shutting down’ when under threat: being unable to speak or move whilst the body conserves energy for an opportunity to escape. Not saying no / not putting up a physical fight does not mean consent has been given. Surely this common biology and psychology should be taught clearly in schools in order to make sense of why it is so vital to communicate in a non-forceful, non-threatening way when instigating sex.
Here, I am focussing on rape and sexual assault by men against women because this is a gendered crime. Of an estimated 95,000 cases yearly in the UK, 85,000 of the victims are women. It is easy to see how our culture promotes this abhorrent and unacceptable behaviour in men. In addition to our patriarchy-perpetuating media who still relentlessly imply that the onus is on women to dress less provocatively, not put themselves at risk by getting drunk, not walk home alone at night (the misguided angle also taken by Sussex Police in a recent anti-rape campaign that focussed on instilling fear into women whilst ignoring the fact that the responsibility not to rape lies with the men who do it) there is the porn industry to contend with.
Not all pornography degrades its female subjects, but let’s be honest, the vast majority of it does. If for one millisecond you doubt this, forget your usual go-to Internet titillation and start again. Try googling ‘free porn’ and clicking on any link at random (first remembering to make sure your virus software is up to date). What have you found? Let me guess: a gang-bang facial, an ‘eighteen year-old school-girl’ undergoing a very physical biology examination from some ugly old geezer with a grey ponytail, or maybe a selection of surgically altered ‘housewives’ bent over washing machines by ‘building contractors’ who keep saying the words ‘bitch’ and ‘whore’ whilst attempting anal penetration. Now I’m not saying that adults shouldn’t enjoy watching sexual scenarios where there is a clear imbalance of power or the inclusion of consensual degradation / humiliation.
In real life, if these acts are not practiced with full consent they are simply immoral, illegal sexual violence. Perhaps then, pornographers should be required to portray consent within their material. I know for most people it would be about as arousing as the fated moment of pulling out a packet of condoms, but perhaps as equally necessary and responsible. Certainly it would be a step in the right direction, as opposed the recent laws imposed on the British porn industry that effectively spunk all over notions of equality by banning the portrayal of female ejaculation i.e. an expression of women’s pleasure, and face-sitting i.e. females enjoying a position of dominance. (Of course male ejaculation and fellatio in any goddamn position one can logistically bend into are still permitted.)
Portraying male pleasure as paramount only serves to perpetuate the myth that women should not / do not enjoy sex as much as men and therefore their role is to serve men’s desires. It is not much of a leap then to see how men could become socialised to be unconcerned with / unsure about whether or not the woman appears to be enjoying and consenting in personal encounters. Which is exactly why they should seek affirmation.
If we in society were educated to conduct ourselves this way as a matter of course, imagine how many cases of sexual assault might be prevented where the perpetrator would otherwise have been unsure about where they should have drawn the line, how many victims would be much clearer about not wrongly blaming themselves in some way for what has happened to them, and how many more convictions would be made.
Adapting the way we behave in sexual encounters is more than just individuals taking self-responsibility; it is the key to changing detrimental societal norms. Readers, I implore you: become eloquent and always ask, shun mindlessly degrading pornography, and when your mates make throw-away comments that deride the seriousness of acts of sexual violence against women, always challenge them on what they are saying. Page 3 is dead, now let’s kill off the porn sites and lads mags that promote the idea of women as objects to be used and abused, by ignoring them and making them irrelevant. We have the power to effect greater gender equality through our conduct. We can set an example to our peers and the youth that look up to us.
The Council of Europe Human Rights Organisation has been putting into place initiatives towards protecting women from violence since the 1990’s. On August 1st 2014, The Istanbul Convention proposing a number of positive changes to the law went into force:
Follow this petition link to make your voice heard with regards to approaching our government to make the necessary changes in law:
By Rachel James