Christina Hoff Sommers’ article “Rape Culture is a ‘Panic Where Paranoia, Censorship, and False Accusations Flourish'” indicates that the idea of rape culture is stirring up more trouble than it’s worth. Sommers states that innocent male students are being found guilty of sexual assault on college campuses across the US because of the extreme paranoia surrounding sexual assault and rape. According to her, everyone is so worried, they are willing to doll out punishments to innocent students without even waiting for proper evidence. On the contrary, many studies, including a study published in 2010 by David Lisak, have shown that false rape allegations are rare, accounting for less than 10% of accusations (Lisak’s study yielded 5.9% decidedly false allegations). Small numbers like these show that false allegations are hardly the norm. Sommers seems to think that the publicity and panic surrounding rape culture lately has made women want to come out as victims of rape, but really, why would all that be worth it? First off, according to rainn.org (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), 97% of rapists are never put in jail. Why would reporting a rape seem appealing to someone if it is highly unlikely that the perpetrator would ever face incarceration? Whether or not their reports have resulted in any sort of action against the perpetrator, the survivors often face severe social stigma for saying anything at all. It seems female survivors are either branded as sluts who regretted a hookup, bitter girls out to ruin the rapists’ lives, or tattle tales who are too worked up about something insignificant. In addition, male victims of rape may face even worse stigma than female ones. With lovely consequences like these, it’s a wonder anyone reports rapes at all. The way our system is set up for dealing with rape allegations, people don’t want to report. Statistics from rainn.org say that around 60% of rapes are never reported. Maybe that’s in part because victims who do report are often not taken seriously.
Sommers is worried that college students and faculty are leaning towards censorship of sensitive materials by doing things such as cancelling Robin Thicke concerts and placing trigger warnings on certain material. Really, what is wrong with trigger warnings? If certain material is likely to affect someone strongly, perhaps causing them to relive painful experiences, it certainly should have a warning. Sommers compares rape culture to the daycare panic of the 1980’s where daycares across the country were accused of engaging in satanic child abuse rituals, even though that was extremely rare, if it happened at all. She discounts statistics of sexual assault and rape by claiming that the survey used to gather the data used biased samples of participants, asked leading questions, and used overly broad definitions of sexual assault and rape. However, many others have found this survey to be a reliable source of data, finally displaying the fact that rapes do happen, more often than people would like to think. This situation of the awareness surrounding sexual assault and rape culture is entirely different from the daycare “panic” of the 1980’s. This is not a panic; it is an issue that has been going on for years that is finally being brought to light and (hopefully) addressed. It is extremely rare for an alleged rapist to be sent to jail, and oftentimes, it is the survivor who faces more social backlash. Our country is finally getting to the point of recognizing these problems. Calls for better treatment for survivors and harsher penalties for offenders (especially repeat offenders) are not because of a “panic,” but because people are finally realizing that things need to change.
Sommers is speaking like someone who has not lived within rape culture nor dealt with the effects of it. Rape culture is a culture in which rape and sexual violence are excused, normalized, or even promoted. It is evidenced when instances of rape and violence are joked about, excused, and even seen as commonplace. Rape culture is when victims who have the courage to speak out are ostracized, not believed, called liars, quieted, and told they are ruining the guy’s life. It is when subjects of street harassment are ridiculed for overreacting to a “normal” part of living in a city and when harassers see their right to occupy you attention as greater than your right to be left alone. Rape culture is when people make and laugh at rape jokes, assuming they are no big deal and don’t really bother anyone. It is when guys are upset about being put in the “friend zone” or are angry at the girl for not liking them back, and therefore not respecting her decision to say “no.” This is especially worrying as the large majority of rapes are by acquaintances. A desperate guy who can’t take no for an answer doesn’t seem so harmless in this light. Rape culture is when we teach women not to walk alone at night or wear revealing clothing, to check their drinks and always be on guard, basically to avoid being raped, instead of teaching men and young boys to respect women, their right to say no, and their personal space. Rape culture is when those who have non-consensual sexual encounters brag about them and are cheered on by their friends. Rape culture includes people’s attitudes about rape and sexual violence, and how these are portrayed in the media and everyday life.
It is harmful when someone discounts the experiences of those affected by rape culture by saying it is nothing more than a panic, worry over nothing real. To so many people, acts ranging fromsexual remarks to sexual assaults to rape itself are all too real.
Why do you think people want to discount rape culture? Do you think rape culture is real, or a “panic” blown out of proportion? What do you think is problematic about trivializing the experiences of those who have encountered sexual violence?