Pursuing a healthy dialogue and stigmatizing rape culture

KUNSAN AIR BASE, South Korea (AFNS) -- Editor’s note: This commentary focuses on the perpetuation of rape culture from one Airman’s perspective and offers recommendations on how to improve upon this issue in the Air Force and society as a whole.

As service members, we receive a number of mandatory sexual harassment and assault awareness briefings each year. These briefings address an array of topics, but I would like service members to be given the opportunity to gain a better understanding of what constitutes rape culture.

We’ve learned about the effects of sexual harassment, sexual assault and abuse, and rape, but how often do we discuss the effects of rape culture? What value would defining, identifying, and stigmatizing rape culture hold for us as an Air Force? As a society?

According to the University of New Hampshire’s Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program, rape culture is defined as stereotyped, false beliefs about rape that justify sexual aggression and trivialize the seriousness of sexual violence.

Tolerance of this culture alienates survivors and reinforces blame toward the victim, making it less likely for a victim of sexual assault or rape to come forward. The glamorization of sexual violence, objectification of both men and women’s bodies and lack of support creates a toxic environment that disregards safety.

Rape culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent-- but just because someone hasn’t actively raped, sexually assaulted or harassed anyone doesn’t mean they aren’t contributing to rape culture.

Our society does not outwardly promote rape itself. Rape culture teaches rape prevention instead of teaching them not to rape. Rape culture tolerates friends who make rape jokes. Rape culture shifts blame to the victim. Rape culture normalizes sexual violence and excuses it in the media and popular culture. Rape culture allows victims to be doubted, shamed and harassed.

On social media, users see posts and memes that perpetuate rape culture through jokes, slut-shaming and victim-blaming remarks, and the objectification of strangers, friends and coworkers.

This enables the continuum of harm. Sexual harassment, even online, can eventually lead to sexual assault because some people don’t think making objectifying comments on a social media post are a big deal. This is sustaining a rape culture by allowing perpetrators to get away with the “small stuff,” making them feel more comfortable to keep pushing.

After all, sexual assault is not just about sex. It is about power, control and humiliation.
It’s disappointing seeing social media posts and comments that encourage rape culture, and service members who openly support it. If some people believe rape jokes are funny and don’t take allegations seriously, how could I ever go to one of them for help if I needed it?

My job as an alert photographer has required me to witness the evidence of sexual assault, harassment, violence and abuse. Reported statistics show women are more affected by sexual assault, harassment and rape culture than men. As a woman, it has been a challenge to stay entirely unbiased, because I have experienced and witnessed varying levels of rape culture in which women are the victim.

Discussing rape culture from a woman’s perspective is bound to evoke anti-feminist views. I have come to realize there’s a difference between feminism and toxic feminism, and people should understand discussing rape culture is not a part of some anti-male feminist agenda. We need to stop labeling every woman who discredits men as a feminist, because that is not the definition of feminism.

People intentionally reimagine feminism as simply wanting to be paid fairly and emptily supporting other women, painting the women who challenge them as irrational “man haters.” Feminism is about equality, and being seen as more than an object. The objectification of both men and women contributes to rape culture, and it needs to stop.

Another important component to this culture is false accusations…they do exist. While false accusations are serious and should be punished, we cannot use the fear of being falsely accused to invalidate someone else’s fears or encounters.

People of all backgrounds have experienced rape culture, regardless of factors such as gender, sexual orientation, physical size, age or race.

Sexual harassment and rape culture is not normal, nor will it ever be funny.

The more we educate each other and lift one another up through positive actions and reactions, the better our work environment, the Air Force, and society as a whole will be.

Education must start early. We should educate our children as well as ourselves about consent, how to properly express our emotions without violence, how to ask for help and accept responsibility for our wrongdoings.

We should teach our children coping skills and how to express their emotions in healthy ways, instead of bottling it up and hiding it to appear “tough.” Teach them there are ways to solve problems other than with violence. Even as adults, we can learn to better regulate our emotions and work on improving mental health to create a better society that won’t stand for something so damaging as rape culture.

We should check in on our friends and be more understanding of struggles that don’t directly affect us. We should also advocate for those who don’t have a voice, especially when they decide to speak up and trust others.

My hope is that continuing to pursue a healthy, honest dialogue about rape culture will foster greater understanding and encourage Airmen and others outside of the military to not only stand up against it, but stigmatize it.

As a quote I came across on Twitter says: “Just because you did something wrong in the past doesn’t mean you can’t advocate against it now. You aren’t a hypocrite, you grew. Don’t let anyone use your past to invalidate your current mindset.”

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