Featured Illustration: Hanna Barczyk
To combat rape culture, we need to first acknowledge the beliefs and attitudes that perpetuate it within our society. We are looking at only the top of the pyramid; whereas, it is being perpetuated by a chain of behaviors and daily practices. It is about time we look at the bottom half of the pyramid to bring about a real behavioral shift and enact preventative measures.
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On September 9, 2020, when I heard the news that a woman was gang-raped in front of her three (young) children during a robbery on the Lahore motorway, I was infuriated, upset, and angry. This incident sparked uproar across Pakistan, and everybody took to social media to demand justice. The outrage was further fueled by the newly-appointed police chief of Lahore, Umar Shaikh’s, remarks. He suggested that the survivor should have been more careful by saying, “What surprises me is that, being a mother of three children and the only driver, why would she not take GT Road that has a population around it? If nothing else, she should have checked her fuel.”
Since this incident occurred, three things are being discussed on social media. First, the police chief is being criticized for his insensitive comments and victim-blaming, with several individuals demanding his removal from the post. However, in reality, this victim-blaming mindset is cherished by the majority of the people in our society. This was not the first time. Whenever any similar incident occurs, women are blamed and shamed.
Second, men began to give recommendations to women about how to be careful and avoid becoming the victim of a crime. Their suggestions included but were not limited to: enrolling in self-defense courses, carrying a gun all the time, and never leaving the house at night.
I don’t think men have thought this issue through completely, or spoken to their own male friends about consent. They show care, but in reality, they are justifying rape by endorsing the belief that “women are objects” and “men are animals” — neither of which is acceptable to me. We are human beings. Having said that, we need to stop talking about what victims should do. It is about time we have more conversations about how as a society, we are contributing to a culture that is encouraging men to objectify women and become rapists.
Third, the majority of the people have been demanding justice by asking to hang the perpetrators publicly. I understand their anger, however, it is not the solution to the problem. Research does not show that public hangings deter violent criminals. What’s more, it could lead to perpetrators making sure the victims are left dead or in no state to make a complaint or recognize the perpetrators. It will only increase violence.
Then, what is the solution? To combat rape culture, first, we need to acknowledge the beliefs and attitudes that perpetuate it within our society and begin to dismantle them.
Rape culture exists in our society. Women are shamed for their sexuality. Social beliefs normalize sexual violence, and men are justified and not challenged enough by society. The idea of “normalization” has been discussed multiple times before, and to better understand how this plays a part, all one has to do is take a look at the Rape Culture Pyramid.
The Rape Culture Pyramid graph was created by 11th Principle: Consent!, which is an initiative to provide education on consent. It points out how normalization leads to degradation, which further leads to sexual assualt.
The Rape Culture Pyramid shows how rape culture is constructed and performed in everyday interactions. The normalization of sexist attitudes, rape jokes, and locker room banter leads to catcalling, non-consensual touch, unsolicited photos/videos, and stalking. All of the above decrease the intensity of the crime, along with isolating the survivors hesitant to share their stories and experiences. It becomes the reason survivors don’t report. It squarely puts the responsibility of women’s safety on women, almost absolving the perpetrators of their crimes.
Normalization further leads to degradation, which includes manipulation and victim-blaming and shaming. Questions like, “What were you wearing?”, and “Why were you out so late in the night?” reinforce a relationship between the victim and perpetrator. As a result, the responsibility shifts to women to protect themselves, and the perpetrators are not held responsible for their actions.
Likewise, placing the burden of proof on survivors also perpetuates the notion that women are not trustworthy. Even worse, rape is believed to be a powerful way to seek revenge because it is associated with notions like disgrace and shame. This makes it even more difficult for women to seek justice, as they fear dishonor. The degradation of survivors through manipulation, victim-blaming, and shaming ultimately then leads to rape, and in many cases, murder.
It is important to understand rape culture because we have been discussing solutions to end it, but, we are looking at only the top of the pyramid. It is being perpetuated by a chain of behaviors and daily practices, and it’s about time we look at the bottom half of the pyramid to bring about a real behavioral shift and enact preventative measures.