rape: noun. [to abduct or seize] Sexual intercourse forced on a person without his or her permission. Rape may involve physical force, the threat of force, or it may be done against someone who is unable to give consent. Sexual intercourse (penetration, no matter how slight) may be vaginal, anal, or oral, and may involve the use of a body part or an object.
Rape Culture: An environment in which sexual violence is normalized, excused and perpetuated through misogynistic language, objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence in social constructs such as pop culture, myths and perceptions, media, and laws that trivialize it.
Current trends suggest 1 in 3 American women will be sexually assaulted at some time in their lives. While informative and most certainly alarming, statistics like this one reinforce what some experts call Rape Culture.
Even though most males don’t rape and most females are never victims, as girls and women, to some degree, we are all taught to live in fear of rape.
Some experts believe the Rape Culture is kept intact and functioning generation after generation by a series of erroneous beliefs that supports the degradation of women (and other individuals of either sex perceived as being "weak") and justifies the violation of their bodies.
These false beliefs, known as rape myths, are often-heard “explanations” that give cover to the assailant while blaming the victim.
“Anytime we shift the blame from the perpetrator onto the victim, that’s dangerous ground” said Sandra Henriquez, Executive Director California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA), a statewide organization working closely with 85 rape crisis centers and rape prevention programs.
When one woman suffers the degradation and terror of rape, it hurts us all. Rape serves as a means of placing limits on women. Rather than teaching males to respect females as equals and not to rape, society teaches females how to avoid rape by limiting their behavior.
If one day she is sexually abused, the rape myth tells us she wasn’t careful enough. Somehow it’s her fault.
Some, like Missouri Congressman Todd Akin, would have us believe if a pregnancy occurs from this violent act, it wasn’t really rape after all.
In a Rape Culture, females are conditioned to stay away from certain areas and at certain times, as if simply employing a self-imposed curfew will keep us safe. The fact is, more than half of victims are raped at home.
We are told dressing or acting in a certain way “invites” trouble. In this social context, rape serves as a powerful tool by which the whole female population is held in a subordinate position to the whole male population.
We are taught “boys will be boys” which gives a pass to males assuming they have uncontrollable needs and desires. In this culture, sexual misconduct is to be expected and tolerated, if not admired.
Rape is trivialized in jokes, music and movies that pretend it’s nothing more than a hubris act of machismo, or raises excuses that a victim deserved it, or perhaps worse, secretly desired it.
In reality, rape is an act of violence. While it involves sex, rape is not about love, or passion, one’s appearance, or getting "sexual relief" or achieving sexual gratification.
Rather, rape is an act of anger, gaining power and control by the perpetrator.
During rape, a victims’ right to be self-empowered and sexually self-determined is completely denied. Rape is meant to hurt, humiliate and intimidate the victim by using sex as a weapon.
Henriquez said that during her 27 years of working with rape crisis centers, she has seen how rape myths leave victims in the position of not only dealing with sexual trauma, but also feeling isolated, angry, guilty, and full of shame.
This happens, she says, because rape myths and the prejudices they breed invalidate victims and de-legitimize their suffering.
Accepting rape myths as truth keeps victims from reporting the crimes perpetuated against them, seeking help and support and reclaiming what was stolen from them — the power and control of their bodies, Henriquez said.
“We’ve all been raised with these myths and as a result, it’s extremely common for victims to believe they’re to blame,” Henriquez said.
“Victims say, ‘if only I hadn’t walked home alone that night’; ‘if I hadn’t accepted a drink’; ‘if only I hadn’t wore a particular dress’ ... if, if, if. The blame belongs to the rapist and it’s the rapist’s alone. Self-guilt only makes healing more difficult.”
If you are a victim of sexual assault who’s suffering and you are looking for counseling, support, and recovery, you need to know that a fully confidential 24-hour rape crisis hotline is just a phone call or text message away. Rape crisis centers are located in communities across the country. You can also contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.
Lynette Summerill is an award-winning writer and Scuba enthusiast living in San Diego, CA with her husband and two beach loving dogs. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues for EmpowHER, her work has been seen in newspapers and magazines around the world.
Sources and Reader Information:
Interview with Sandra Henriquez, Executive Director, California Coalition Against Sexual Assault. 5 September 2012.
Rape (sexual assault) overview. National Institute of Health. 27 Aug 2012. Accessed at Medline plus:
Rape Culture. Marshall University Women’s Center. Accessed 5 Sept. 2012 at:
Orange County Rape Crisis Center, Chapel Hill, NC. 24-hour hotline:1-866-WE- LISTEN. More information at:
List of Rape Myths: Sociology of Rape. University of Minnesota Duluth. Accessed 4 September 2012 at:
Reviewed Sept. 6, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg
Edited by Jody Smith
Add a Comment3 Comments
"When one woman suffers the degradation and terror of rape, it hurts us all. Rape serves as a means of placing limits on women. Rather than teaching males to respect females as equals and not to rape, society teaches females how to avoid rape by limiting their behavior.
If one day she is sexually abused, the rape myth tells us she wasn’t careful enough."
Wow. I'm nearly 40 years old, female, and still this fact hit me along with the realizations of the information I was always fed. I was told, by trusted women and men even, rape is wrong. And also, 'she shouldn't have gone over there alone. She knew what would happen.' Or, 'why would you--- you could have been raped'. Rape culture is alive and well here, and "date rape" still plagues college campuses. What are some talk tracks, if any, we can use with our daughters and sons to help keep them safer or be more aware? We don't want to blame women, but we do want them safe. Help us learn the right way.October 2, 2018 - 5:50am
Excellent article! My grandmother was 84 years old when she was beaten, raped repeatedly and other things which I can't even mention in print. The man nearly killed her and love had absolutely nothing to do with it. She knew her attacker - a young man who'd done work for my family and who had been in her home before. Her response was it's-my-fault-because-I-opened-the-door. What does this say about us as a society when an 84 year old woman, 4' 11 inches, weighing 90 pounds, who was left for dead thinks she is even remotely to blame.
She eventually overcame the physical and emotional trauma of the attack and did not let this horrible event control her life. She continued to live life on her own terms until she passed away at almost 101.
While she was the victim, the event changed all of us who loved her.
Thank you again - excellent article.September 10, 2012 - 8:25pm
Thank you for your comments Mary, and for sharing the story of your grandmother. She sounds like an incredibly strong and brave woman. Overcoming a traumatic and brutal attack isn't easy to do by any stretch of the imagination.
I agree with you that for far too long victims have been blaming themselves and it's time to change that societal perception and put the blame where it belongs, on the attacker. Until society can talk openly and honestly about rape and sexual abuse, victims, like your grandmother, will continue to feel shame and guilt they neither need or deserve. Let's hope we are helping to spur that conversation.September 11, 2012 - 8:52am