Women and men in prisons across the United States are subjected to sexual abuse by prison guards or other inmates. The Bureau of Justice estimates that 200,000 people are sexually abused behind bars in a single year (NOW-NYCl). Prisons are dangerous areas. One form of violence that is generally attributed to prisons is sexual victimization which includes a range of behaviors such as abusive conduct or nonconsensual sexual assault. Rape in prisons can lead to a variety of public health consequences due to sexually transmitted diseases an HIV infection rates being high in prisons. Furthermore, the victim of the violence can harm others in the future as a results of their own personal experience, become depressed, as well as harm themselves through drug use or suicidal gestures. While statistical evidence proves that almost half of prisoners are victims of sexual harassment, no serious action is taken so that prisons can be more safe and human for all prisoners. People in prison are exposed to and experience sexual violence inside prisons, further exposing them to communicable diseases and trauma.
Sexual victimization in the military is a common occurrence in which women are assaulted by fellow officers. A servicewoman was nearly 180 times more likely to have become a victim of military sexual assault in the past year than to have died while deployed during the last 11 years of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan (NOW-NYCl). In order to deal with the societal issue of sexual assault in the military effective, the phenomenon must first be understood through knowing how many assaults occur and if they are being reported. In the case of the United States, both males and females are the victims of sexual assault, with males generally being the perpetrators. Women in the military are more likely to be sexually assaulted and suffer from trauma by other military personnel than be killed in combat. (Ellison 2011). The greatest problem is that there is a clear discrepancy in the number of assaults that occur and the number that is being reported. Sexual assaults must be reported so that future sexual violence incidents can be prevented, victims of it can be provided with help, and actions can be taken to address the problem and put solutions in place. The military is not a place that is excluded from the cultural and social norms that exist outside of it such as rape culture and because of this military leadership must create an environment that has a zero tolerance policy for sexual assault.
Rape culture in the United States is perpetuated by a culture of rape that fosters male sexual aggression and encourages men to act according to the “masculine mystique”. Beliefs that are generally false but are widely and persistently held, and serve to justify male sexual aggression against women, are known as rape myths and are engrained within society and results in women not disclosing rape or abuse. “Research examining why women from South Asian communities, in particular, tend not to disclose rape or sexual abuse have revealed three key explanatory factors. The first factor suggests that the women tend to feel ‘betrayed’ by the male perpetrators of these acts. These men are often well known to their victims as members of the same community. The second factor suggests that some women do not report sexual violence because they believe that the assault is not violent enough to constitute rape. Rape myth acceptance influences the victims’ responses to rape and determines whether they will even label what has happened to them as rape. The third key factor is that these women often fear that they will not be believed, especially since the criminal justice system does not usually prosecute in cases where the only evidence is the victim’s testimony. Researchers have recognized that a major cause of this widening ‘justice gap’ are pervasive beliefs about rape, or rape myths. The proportion of rapes reported to the police is notoriously low, and within those relatively few cases that are reported, conviction rates have been declining”(Temkin, Krahe, 2008). Culture plays a huge role in rape culture due to its beliefs that objectify women and create an environment that encourages men to be dominant of women. In social or cultural setting, the meaning of being of a man or women is associated with the experiences and feelings of power. Paternalistic views encourage that men are supposed to be the protectors of women and that women are incapable of protecting themselves. Ideas such as these condone sexual violence by men and contribute to the United State’s rape culture. Women are often legitimate objects of sexual aggression. Rape can be viewed as the logical extension of a cultural perspective that defines men as possessors of women.
Many myths surround the crime of rape, but perhaps the most common fallacy is blaming the victim for her own victimization. “She was asking for it” is the classic way a rapist shifts the burden of blame from himself to his victim. The popularity of the belief that a woman seduces a man into rape or precipitates a rape by incautious behavior, is part of the smoke screen that men throw up to obscure their action. The insecurity of women runs so deep that many, possibly most, rape victims agonize afterward in an effort to uncover what it was in their behavior, their manner, their dress that triggered this awful act against them” (Posluszny). Victim blaming has its roots in the advent of American history and is part of a larger rape culture that accepts violence towards women. Rape culture, victim blaming, and the criminal justice system are all inherently related and they all allow rape survivors to be re-victimized in court because they themselves are accused and not the perpetrator. Most victims do not report crimes because they blame themselves because of the behavior that they engaged in before they were victimized. Victims typically blame themselves due to miseducation about rape, the rape myths that surround them, and those around them that say the victim was to blame. Media is one of the main sociocultural factors that influence the reason for people false perceptions of the victim of the sexual assault. The notion of shifting the blame from the perpetrator to the victim is the result of this nation’s rape culture.
Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence in the media, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety. “(‘Law and Order’) constantly reaffirms the ideas that are so damaging in rape culture that victims somehow caused the attacks against them and that they did so by being any number of adjectives (like) ‘stupid’ or ‘careless’ or ‘drunk’ or ‘slutty.’ Juries and defense attorneys and judges regularly blame the victims for their assaults, this also acts as a deterrent for victims to come forward,” (Madden). For many people, media is the only source of their information and media has the ability to shape the way that people think about social problems. Due to a lack of alternative information, individuals only obtain and believe information that they see on the media even if it may be false. Depictions of rape are very common on television, in movies, or in music which desensitizes viewers about this social harm and facilitates rape. The media portrays females as liars and is where victim blaming occurs most frequently because they are accused of provoking the abuse. Ideas such as these are evident in the language of media due to women being depicted as flirtatious and pretty and that women “ask for it”. Analyzing how the media affects the way society perceives sexual violence is important, and it is especially important to do so through a feminist lens because the way media affects thinking also influences the way violence against women is treated in the justice system.
Since the problem lies in a culture that encourages hegemonic masculinity and degrading images of women, the solution is to look at the symptoms of rape culture and solve it holistically. Media influence is one of the most important factors in solving rape culture. “Human behavior has often been explained in terms of unidirectional causation, in which behavior is depicted as either being shaped and controlled by environmental influences or drives by internal dispositions.” Television has been used effectively in South Africa and Zimbabwe. The South African prime-time television series Soul City informs viewers about various health and social issues that people face everyday. In Zimbabwe, the nongovernmental organization Musasa has produced awareness-raising initiatives using theatre, public meetings and debates, as well as a television series where survivors of violence described their experiences (Bandura 1986); (Njovana 1996). Social media can change norms that contribute to rape culture by diffusing ideas, myths, and perceptions among an entire population of people. The voices of survivors of the violence and even the perpetrators can be heard due to social media creating safer places where people can share their own stories and address societal norms that foster sexual violence. More people need to join in this movement to end media’s flawed portrayal of women, so that the current attitudes that contribute rape culture can be changed. Work via social media and campaigns will foster conversations that can change societal norms and false perceptions about women and ultimately prevent the occurrence of sexual assault.
Moreover, people should educate others about rape culture through campaigns. Jaclyn Friedman, a feminist writer and activist, discusses this method of education in her article “Combating the Campus Rape Crisis”. She writes: “Schools would stop telling girls to mind their liquor so they don’t “get themselves” raped and start teaching young men that alcohol is never an excuse to “get away” with anything. They would offer bystander training, so that all students on campus know what it looks like when someone’s sexual boundaries are being violated and what to do if they see that happening. They would teach students that the only real consent is the kind that’s freely and enthusiastically given, removing the “she didn’t exactly say no” excuse that too many rapists hide behind” (Friedman 2009). Given that rape culture is so rampant it is important that people are properly educated through campaigns because maybe misinformed. Online campaigns or programs in schools where everyone works to help solve problems in the community, school, or in the justice system so that sexual violence can be dealt with seriously. This will also allow people to be more comfortable reporting any incidents or sharing their own story. As sexual harassment continues to increase rapidly, solutions such as educational campaigns need to be put in place so that societies perceptions of rape and how the justice system deals with rape cases can be changed.
Third, legal reform can help in ending rape and sexual assault. “The most recent national study examining the prevalence of rape in the United States was reported in 2007 and estimated that 18% of women in this country have been raped in their lifetime . Based on their interviews with a representative sample of 5,000 women, the researchers in this study estimated that around 1 million women were raped in 2005, the year of the study. While that Rape in America report spotlighted the plight of 1 million women, however, official data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation indicate that only about 94,000 rapes were reported to law enforcement in the same year. Together, these data suggest that fewer than 10% of rapes that occur in the United States are ever reported to police” (Kilpatrick 2007). Legal reforms in the justice system need to be made so that perpetrators of sexual violence can face consequences instead of the victim being blamed for their own crime. Improvements in the legal system will prevent the spread of rape culture. Some examples of legal reforms that should be adopted is broadening the definition of rape, reforming the rules on sentencing and the admissibility of evidence, and removing the requirements for the victim’s accounts to be confirmed. The legal system needs to be reformed so that people can be encouraged to report incidents of sexual violence to the police and so that the processing of such cases by the courts can improved.
Rape culture has been a problem that humanity has faced for centuries due to society encouraging hegemonic masculinity and it is coming into stark focus today, therefore additional intensive efforts to end it must begin today. Rape culture in the United States and elsewhere cannot be eradicated if society expects sexual violence to occur if “they put men & women together”. Although the unfortunate reality remains that rape culture will never be completely obliterated from the world, numerous efforts are still required. With teamwork and improvements in education programs, legal reforms, and changes of media content, rape culture can be expunged with each effort being one step closer to a better future for all human beings to live in.