In May 2019, a video of an incident which took place at a restaurant in Gurgaon, India went viral on Facebook. In that video, a middle -aged woman was seen harassing a group of young girls and slut-shaming one of them because she was wearing a short skirt. The victim also stated that, the woman was asking the men present at the restaurant to rape her as she deserved that because of her ‘inappropriate’ clothing. This incident is a small glimpse of the consequences of deeply embedded rape culture within the society. Simply put, rape culture is a collection of values that excuses, normalizes and tolerates male sexual aggression and violence against women. Rape culture offers a framework that penalizes women for sexual assault rather than holding the perpetrator accountable.
Rape myth is one of the key features of rape culture. Kimberly A. Lonsway and Louise F. Fitzgerald defined rape myths as ‘attitudes and beliefs that are generally false but are widely and persistently held, and that deny and justify male sexual aggression against women’. Some of the common rape myth includes: ‘she asked for it’, ‘she didn’t resist’,’ drunk women are somewhat responsible for letting things get out of control’, ‘women who walk around in skimpy clothes should not be surprised if they get raped’, ‘usually women who sleep around a lot get raped’, ‘he’s not the type of person who rapes’, ‘he is being framed’ and so on. We can all agree that media plays a great role in bringing the victims out of the shadows and give them a platform to share their side of the incident.
But sometimes media also perpetuates rape myths and encourages the rape culture by the way it cover the news of rape incidents or portrays the victims of sexual violence. Routinely we find articles which describes the incident with the phrase ‘had sex with’ instead of using the term ‘rape’. This type of word choices diminish the severity of the incident for the readers. Oftentimes we read articles which imply a ‘sexual relationship’ between perpetrator and victim or include details which can revoke the credibility of the victim, for example, their outfit choices, how much makeup they had on or whether they were drunk at the time of the incident. Drawing attention to victims’ appearance and lifestyle ultimately signals to readers that these choices led to their attack.
Mainstream media also perpetuates rape culture by stereotypical portrayals of men and women in films, books, music videos and magazines. Men are usually shown as aggressive, dominant and receiving rewards for their ‘masculine’ achievements. On the other hand, women are usually portrayed as meek, sensitive and subordinate character.
The fact is that, rape has nothing to do with a woman’s clothing or her lifestyle. Rape is 100% the perpetrator’s fault. But unfortunately, the way rape has been trivialized by the perpetuation of rape culture are dissuading victims from coming forward and seeking justice.