Against the Grain – Rape culture is…

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By Akola Thompson
IN the past, I would hear of the phrase “rape culture” and wonder why it is termed “culture.” I would see the term get swept under the rug as persons began talking of “sorority girl culture,” and how girls should protect themselves from getting raped by not acting lewd or by being scantily clad.I would wonder what that had to do with anything, and why women were being made to feel as if their bodies were not their own. Questioning why men were given so many free passes merely because the woman they targeted was viewed as a “slut,” or was out when she should have been home.

It was later on that I learnt that the phrase “rape culture” describes how we collectively
think of rape. It is how we excuse, tolerate and encourage sexual violence by trivialising, ignoring and normalising rape. The rape culture is the thing that not many want to talk about, because many are of the belief that it is non-existent and not thriving.

Last week, due to the Port-of-Spain,Trinidad mayor’s statements on the death of Asami Nagakiya, I was once again reminded of the reach of “rape culture” and how far it has rooted itself into the very veins of different societies. Everywhere I go, I am bombarded with evidence of it. I have seen the way in which it has wormed its way into communities on not only one-on-one levels, but in institutionalised and structured ones.

While we may not realise it, simple things such as “cat-calling” and the teaching of supposed gender roles perpetuate and further cement this dangerous idea that victims are to be blamed.

Too many times when we hear of a rape we seek to tell other women what to do and how to behave, so as to avoid being the next headline in the newspapers. What we fail to do is hold our men accountable and we fail to teach our boys how to respect and treat women.

These ideas are further perpetuated by those who are in a position to protect us. In recent years, senior members of the police force such as Courtney Ramsay, Kevin Adonis and Clifton Hicken suggested that the occurrence of rape depends upon the way in which a woman acts, dresses and the activities in which she participates. While we hardly ever hear such comments now as feminists and other advocates would most likely ask for their heads, it does not mean it is not happening; and even if it is not said outwardly, it does not mean they do not believe it.

This is seen in the way police officers often deal with rape cases, in that rape has unfortunately become a “buy-off crime.” Rape victims are often deterred from filing reports because they know that the likelihood of the police taking their case seriously and the assailant being put away is extremely small. Even when they do muster the courage to report rape cases, they are asked supposedly meaningful questions relating to their sobriety, actions and amount of garments worn. These questions can often be more painful than the violent act itself, as victims are led to believe that they are responsible for what has happened to them. We have heard about some of these cases in our local media, but imagine the cases that are not being told. Imagine the cases in far- flung communities in which victims are blamed and ostracised for something beyond their control.

Then of course, there is the irresponsibility of the media in reporting rape cases, which further perpetuates the normalisation of rape. Often whenever a rape is being covered they substitute the word sex for rape, as if the two are one and the same. This is particularly seen in newspapers such as Stabroek, Kaieteur, Chronicle and Guyana Times and many of the online media sites. Another disturbing factor particularly seen is the media’s tendency to refer to those guilty of statutory rape as being the person’s lover.

It is here that I refer to one of Ryhaan Shah’s letter to the editor. While I do not agree with the ideology held by her, I do believe she was spot on when she wrote, “I would say that we have a rape culture in Guyana and it is not just errant or misguided policemen who subscribe to it.”

Too often, people view rape as just someone trying to taint the name of someone else. I understand where this comes from as there have been many such cases. However, when we start treating all cases as false and we make genuine victims feel further assaulted, we may likely be letting feelings of past wrongs cloud our judgment of what may be a legitimate case of rape.

What I have come to believe is that we don’t really hate rapists, what we hate is the idea of them. We hate the monsters waiting to pounce from the alleyways, the demons that break into our homes and force themselves inside of us. Not often do we link these monsters to actual rapists. When I say actual rapists, I mean the persons who hide under guises of heroes, celebrities, politicians, friends, fathers and boyfriends. We don’t despise them, because we have successfully made rape into something that only happens to other people. We have made the perpetrators of rape into creatures outside our humanity, which causes us to protect the very same men who commit these acts.

A high-profile example of this was seen in the case of Bill Cosby. Cosby was well known as a family man due to his popular TV show which was the first to break racial stereotypes. Because of this TV representation of Cosby, many went to his defence, claiming the alleged victims were opportunistic women seeking to destroy his reputation.

It is unfortunate that so many people do not understand what is “rape culture” and believe that it seeks to brand all men as rapists. Too many do not realise the urgent need in tackling it, so we encourage it through our thoughts, actions and words.

So what is “rape culture?” “Rape culture” is having your husband repeatedly force you into sex because he believes it is his right. “Rape culture” is school uniform policies and government and public facilities having dress codes so as to not distract males. Rape culture is staying quiet about your rape experience, because you are afraid of being called a liar because you’re not the “right kind of victim.” Rape culture is asking a young girl why she got drunk instead of asking a man why he raped her. Rape culture is believing that there is no such thing as “rape culture.”