Letter to the editor

This was a letter written by Matthew Ward, Assistant Professor of Sociology.
A recent Printz ‘Rape Prevention’ article suggested the onus was on potential victims to prevent sexual violence. But, why not flip the script and advocate the following: don’t drug women, leave women alone when they are out walking by themselves, listen when a woman says no (her clothing isn’t ‘asking for’ anything), and don’t have sexual relations with women when they are asleep or unconscious.

And just focusing on individuals doesn’t help us fully understand why we see so much sexual violence targeted at women in our society. Individual acts of sexual violence form larger patterns of sexual violence, which are themselves expressions of cultural scripts about how men should act, what they deserve and can lay claim to and how women should be viewed.

One reason rape against women is so prevalent in the U.S. is because we are enveloped by a culture that promotes the degradation and objectification of women. We tell men that part of what it means to be masculine is to be powerful. One way this power is exercised is through sexual conquest (going on the ‘prowl’) which simultaneously terrorizes and oppresses an entire class of individuals (not simply those that are raped).

Females are urged to limit their own freedom and behavior because of potential threats of sexual assault. They must regularly decide when and where to go and not to go (and what they should arm themselves with). Are men encouraged to do the same, to such a degree?

Most men never consider that they might be raped or sexually assaulted, whereas many women are forced to consider such things regularly. And that is precisely how rape functions as non-obvious yet powerful means through which females are held in a subordinate position in our society.

Even though many men do not rape and many women are never victims of rape, nonetheless there is a lingering fear and potential-victim-mentality that women, in particular, are forced to cope with regularly. Yet it does not have to be this way.

What I have described is a rape culture—a culture in which violence against women is normalized, excused and even glamorized; a culture in which victims are blamed and asked to prevent violence and rape.

Contrast this to a culture in which the onus is placed on the perpetrator, where we teach boys from a young age to respect females as equals, not solely as sexual objects, and—most obviously—that they should not rape.

Any rape prevention strategy which places the onus on potential victims to not get raped is largely ignoring an entire pool of individuals in our society (mostly men) that also need to be reminded how to conduct themselves. It is everyone’s responsibility to prevent rape, and two important ways we can do that include talking to men (statistically, the perpetrators of rape) about what is and is not acceptable behavior (rather than telling women how to protect themselves) and critiquing a seemingly benign culture that helps fuel sexual violence.