Identifying the heavy drug-related incarceration rates in the United States as a current and future challenge is easy – but, what about the more stigmatized and less publicized issues of rape and porn culture in this country? These problems are sleeping giants derived from the growth and acceptance of over-sexualized American mass media and popular culture – which elicits a normalization of sexual violence and the oppression of women. This may seem like an overreaching allegation. Unfortunately, it is not. When considering mainstream media examples and criminal statistics, it is viable. In the media, many examples are evident: music videos like Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” openly objectify women, products are sold for women to lessen their chances of being raped (i.e. rape whistles or female condoms with teeth), films like 50 Shades of Grey normalize rape fantasies and violent sex (whether consensual or not), and the most recently the Sony scandal imposing that popstar Kesha must work with her abuser (producer Dr. Luke) to maintain her contract. Statistically: the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (2014) records that 1 of every 6 women has been raped in their lifetime and that approximately 97% of rapists will never spend any time in a jail cell.
Firstly, what is rape culture? It is the societal atmosphere and environment in which sexual violence is normalized and gender-based injustices are permitted, such as: mass media misrepresentations and expectations of women (Buchwald et al., 2005). Further, rape culture mocks, justifies, and even excuses violence. Morczek (2015) expanded on this concept when she wrote: “…sexual violence is the foundation of rape culture and rape culture normalizes sexual violence.” The predominant issue here rests in this dual functioning, circular nature – as we seek to end sexual violence in theory, yet encourage rape culture in practice. This creates a paradox: a heinous self-contradiction. Our society preaches the message of “don’t get raped” rather than simply: “don’t rape.” Either intentionally or unintentionally, we cast responsibility onto the victim – even in our supposed prevention efforts and measures.
For a moment, let’s consider the role of technology in American culture and sex crime. A new age of technology is upon us in which most electronic devices are handheld and affordable with Internet accessibility and camera capabilities – allowing for instant access and opportunity for exploitation in sexually based behaviors and offenses (Branch et al., 2015). Additionally, smart phones present more of an issue with sexually themed apps (applications) such as: Tinder, Blendr, Tumblr, Vine, Kik Messenger, Snapchat, etc. Further explained, for example, Snapchat is a video/photo texting application famous for its disappearing/self-destructing “snaps” (media sent or received). How is this relevant? Consider these: the rise of sexting, false conclusions made by smartphone users, the possession and distribution of child pornography, and also, the phenomena of revenge porn. Revenge porn refers to a type of harassment in which sexually explicit or suggestive material is put online, without consent, to publicly shame or hurt another person (Branch et al., 2015).
Constant exchanges of nude or sexual media have become commonplace and even, expected by the younger generations. This is a pandemic of extreme concern as this commonality has nearly stripped these actions of their immorality and dangers. Teenagers have little awareness as to the potential negative replications of their actions – once they send a nude photo or post it to social media, the photo could end up on the Internet permanently and be shared indefinitely. Consequences extend beyond embarrassment or shame – reaching as far as potential victimization and/or targeting for assault. New age sexual norms and crimes present a new kind of nightmare for public safety and sexual assault recovery. While, technology has served as the catalyst for this atrocious dynamic.
Understanding technology’s role, let’s get back to the key aspects of rape culture, the concepts of: victim-blaming and the generic lack of responsibility the public conveys regarding it. Our “don’t get raped” society exacerbates benevolent sexism: the incorrect idea that a woman’s worth arises from her purity – and further, that women are to somehow maintain this purity in preventing sexual assaults against themselves (Glick & Fiske, 1997; Niemi & Young, 2014). Perpetrators of sexual assault are hardly ever attributed full responsibility and blame. Instead, attention shifts to the victim’s clothing or lack thereof, their sexual orientation, sexual history, toxicology reports, social media accounts, sexual deviance and preferences, party/clubbing habits, religious or political beliefs, etc. We embrace the irrational concept of a “good victim” and persecute any other victim that does not fit this stereotype; victims who dress provocatively, who had been drinking, and have elaborate sexual histories should not place the blame on themselves (McKimmie et al., 2014). Even prison sexual cultures identify with this, as within male prisons, cases of rape are considered to be debt payments in which a victim “gets what he deserves” for failing to comply with the demands of his rapist (Pehlic, n.d.). This should not be.
Rape is rape. Abuse is abuse. An assault is an assault – whether in the cases of giving consent and being pushed further than warranted, not giving consent at all, or not having the ability to give that consent. Most people wrongly seek to discredit the victim and rationalize the actions of the assailant in any capacity. Why is this? This misstep widens the path of injustice for survivors. Until we stop insisting that they are “asking” to be violated and identify assault as assault, this culture of rape will continue cultivating a sickening public stance.
Lastly, as it follows: what is porn culture? It is the pornographic suggestive or explicit content of today’s popular culture; the wide acceptance of the objectification of women; and the booming growth of the porn industry as a whole and specifically, the violent material. How is this porn culture problematic; what are the associated concerns? Pornographic films have the subconscious agenda of promoting the acceptance of promiscuous activity and unsafe sex, glamourizing gang rape scenarios, regularizing violence against women, and fueling the crime industry (namely that of: human and sex trafficking). There has been an increased demand for commercial sex and erotic pleasure options – so much so that there has been an increase in global trafficking numbers for the purposes of producing porn and providing more prostitution services (Chung, 2009).
Consider this: XVIDEOS.com has become the most popular source for online porn as it has over 1 million uploaded videos and averages approximately 350 million users on a monthly basis (Ogas & Gaddam, 2011; Anthony, 2012). Various research studies have begun to investigate this issue – one of these in which had found that 9 out of every 10 popular scenes featured a woman being physically and verbally/emotionally abused without appearing to be distressed (Bridges et al., 2010). The sad truth is this: the precise lines of understanding what sexual assault or abuse is have become horrendously blurred. Further, the definition of consensual sex has become far too flexible, debatable, and ambiguous. Many argue that a link between porn and sexual assault is an egregious stretch – but, Katz (2006) emphasizes that it is equally absurd to believe that there is no such connection. Correlation may not imply causation. However, it also does not dismiss the possibility.
The intentions for this research review were to introduce and explain the prominent rape and porn cultures evident in the United States. It is beyond the scope of this paper to extensively detail a solution to remove this culture – however, it is appropriate to briefly introduce the necessary approaches for its removal. In order to combat such a prevalent culture, we must: eradicate all stigma associated with the survivors of sexual assault, reform our prevention efforts behind the teaching of “do not rape,” enforce the laws against assault in a stricter fashion, discourage victim-blame attitudes and ideologies, address the immense rape kit backlogs present across the country, place heavier restrictions and punishments on the mass media, and educate our youth on the dangers of new age sexual behavior and technology.
It is one thing to not contribute to rape and porn culture – but, it is yet another to allow the growth and acceptance of such evils. To do nothing is just as detestable. As these issues intensify, there is no room for apathy, indifference, or delay. It is time to act in accordance with this: enough is enough; we will have no more and that begins now. For change to occur, theoretical approaches must transition into widespread activism and immediate practice.
Anthony, S. (2012). Just how big are porn sites? Retrieved on 28th February 2016 from ExtremeTech: http://www.extremetech.com/computing/123929-just-how-big-are-porn-sites
Branch, K.A., Johnson, E., & Dretsch, E. (2015). New Age Sexual Aggression: An Introduction to Revenge Porn. Sexual Assault Report, 19 (1), 3-4.
Bridges, A.J., Wosnitzer, R., Schamer, E., and Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women, 16, 10.
Buchwald, E., Fletcher, P.R., & Roth, M. (Eds). (2005). Transforming a rape culture. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions.
Chung, R.C. (2009). Cultural perspectives on child trafficking, human rights & social justice: A model for psychologists. Counseling Psychology Quarterly, 22 (1), 85-96.
Glick, P. & Fiske, S.T. (1997). Hostile and benevolent sexism: Measuring ambivalent sexist attitudes toward women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, 119-135.
McKimmie, B.M., Masser, B.M. & Bongiorno, R. (2014). What counts as rape? The effect of offense prototypes, victim stereotypes, and participant gender on how the complainant and defendant are perceived. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 29 (12), 2273 2303.
Morczek, A. (2015). The Synergistic Connection Between Sexual Violence and Rape Culture. Sexual Assault Report, 18 (4), 49-60.
Niemi, Li, & Young, L. (2014). Blaming the victim in the case of rape. Psychological Inquiry, 25 (2), 230-233.
Ogas, O. & Gaddam, S. (2010). A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the Internet tells us about sexual relationships. Strand, London: Penguin Group.
Pehlic, Diana. (n.d.). The Cultivation of Sexual Violence inside Prison Walls (Review of: The Myth of Prison Rape: Sexual Culture in American Prisons. By Mark Fleisher and Jessie Krienert). Department of Sociology, State University of New York at Buffalo, 430 Park Hall, Buffalo, NY 14260.
Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network. (February 28, 2014). Recommendations to the White House Task Force to protect students from sexual assault. Retrieved from https://rainn,org/images/03-2014/WH-Task-Force-RAINNRecommendtions.pdf