why high-profile rape cases have made it hard for victims to come forward
Recent cases have proven how far we have to go in tackling the pervasiveness of rape culture in society, especially in the age of trial by social media, where women can feel scared to talk out about their ordeals.
'Rape culture', a term originally coined by American feminists in the 70s to define the ways in which society blamed victims of sexual assault and normalised male violence, has become a common reference in mainstream discussions of gendered violence.
Claiming that we live in a 'rape culture' does not mean that we live in a culture that explicitly promotes rape, but rather it relates to the cultural practices that we commonly engage in as a society that excuse or tolerate sexual violence. It's the way we think, talk, disregard, make light of, normalise and joke about sexual assault and gendered violence.
It is blaming victims of rape for their rape rather than their rapist. It is not believing those who come forward about sexual assault and instead brushing them off as floozies who had regrettable sex and wish to absolve themselves of responsibility or as gold-diggers looking for their fifteen minutes of fame and a Hello! Magazine cheque.
It is Twitter hashtags that support accused rapists and hound their victims even once he has been sentenced. It is publicly defending celebrities accused of rape and denouncing their victims simply because their reputation and fall from grace is seen as more important than the effects their actions may have had on the women they assaulted - most notably this year in the handling of the allegations against Ian Connor and the measly sentence handed to Brock Turner.
The dialogue used to cover these stories often implies that these young men have had the bright futures ahead of them taken away by conniving women who dared to report a rape.
Although there has been an increase in conversation and understanding around rape in recent years, in many high profile cases the reputation of the rapist still seems to be more important than that of the victim. The dialogue used to cover these stories often implies that these young men have had the bright futures ahead of them taken away by conniving women who dared to report a rape. The media and public reactions to the Steubenville High School rape case perhaps detail this most clearly. Despite video evidence of an unconscious girl being repeatedly assaulted over the course of a night, it was the two boys convicted that the media seemed to feel sorry for rather than the victim. Following the trial, CNN's Poppy Harlow stated that it was "Incredibly difficult to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believed their lives fell apart when that sentence came down." No mention was made of the young girl's life they had changed forever. Even the assistant coach of the Steubenville football club also brushed off the 16 year old girl's rape as a conspiracy to engineer the downfall of the school's football programme.
We witnessed this again this year in the Stanford Rape case, in which Brock Turner was sentenced to a lenient six-month term on the basis that he was "young, previously high-achieving and intoxicated". Conversely, the fact that his victim was so intoxicated that she was unconscious as the rape took place was used as evidence against her. Turner's father even wrote a plea to the judge not to ruin his son's life over "20 minutes of action", in a letter that in its inability to even admit his son's actions amount to sexual assault epitomises what it means to live in a rape culture.
In a world in which social clout is often tied in with social media, there are now numerous men that believe they are owed sex simply by virtue of their popularity.
The way we talk about rape is important: it is the difference between the creation of a climate where victims are too afraid to provide statements because of the backlash they might face, and a climate in which they know they will be believed that in turn makes other women feel able to come forward and prevent further assaults. Perhaps particularly concerning is the fact that many men still do not seem to understand what rape is: a study conducted at an American University last year found that 31.7% of men participating in the study would force a woman to have sexual intercourse if there were no consequences, but when explicitly asked whether they would rape a woman if there were no consequences, only 13.6% of the participants said yes. These findings presents a deeply disturbed understanding of rape, and more widely point to an alarming culture of entitlement in regards to women, and this entitlement often grows with success, fame and money.
In a world in which social clout is often tied in with social media, there are now numerous men that believe they are owed sex simply by virtue of their popularity, who they know, or how many Instagram followers they have. Many defendants of A$AP and Kanye associate Connor pointed to his fame as proof of his innocence when allegations of rape surfaced against him earlier this year- surely this dude can have any woman he wants, why would he need to rape anyone? This is not how rape works. It is often about power as much as it is about sex.
Too many men still navigate sexual encounters with women with little to no understanding of consent.
Last month, following a public fight with Connor, Theophilus London took to Twitter to denounce Connor as a rapist, with other members of A$AP Mob following suit. While it is great that Connor is finally being called out by his peers, it is a shame that a personal hypermasculinity crisis was the catalyst. Ian Connor was accused of rape before and after he punched Theophilus London, but it was this fight that led to his crew putting him on blast for his crimes: prior to this, they had all stood by him and tweeted his innocence. If they hadn't fallen out over their own personal problems, it's possible that the narrative surrounding Connor's ever-growing list of victims - in an interview with The Daily Beast, Amber Rose claims that 21 women have reached out to her so far regarding the social media star - would have stayed the same.
Too many men still navigate sexual encounters with women with little to no understanding of consent, seeing a willingness to share a space such as a hotel room as an invitation to sex. They will happily factor in their own fame and following and status when it comes to lambasting rape victims as fame-hungry liars, but refuse to acknowledge its power in regards to pressuring young women into sex and how these imbalanced power structures can make it hard for girls to say no.
In an age where everything is so public, and stars can be created by virtue of their social media presence, it is incredibly important that we believe the women who are brave enough to come forward with their stories rather than branding them as liars looking for their 15 minutes of Twitter fame. What needs to be crystal clear is that underage girls cannot meaningfully consent. Women who are sleeping, scared, drunk, on drugs, unconscious, or pressured cannot meaningfully consent. Contrary to what rape apologists think, there is no rape survivor record deal waiting at the end of the road for these women, just a small hope that their attacker will be brought to justice and that other women will not have to experience what they did.
Text Nilofar Haidari
Photography Chase Carter