In reply to a previous article, Catherine Snow argues that rape culture does indeed exist and must be faced
According to Francis Edge – writing in The Mancunion on the 27th of February – the idea that we live in a rape culture “does not stack up”. I am here to refute this argument.
To substantiate this opinion, the author uses a study released in 2014 by the United States Department of Justice which reveals, on average, that one in 164 college women aged 18-24 reported experiencing rape or sexual assault between 1995 and 2013. These statistics, Edge suggests “cast substantial doubt on claims that we live in a rape culture”. They don’ t. Throughout his article, Edge irresponsibly peddles a misogynistic agenda through misleading and unrepresentative statistics. Ironically, his article perpetuates the very thing he is claiming doesn’t exist.
Clearly, the first misunderstanding is around what consent means. Consent is a woman’s to give, refuse, or take back at any time and every time. It is totally irrelevant whether a woman has consented to sex with her rapist in the past or whether she might do in the future.
The second misunderstanding is around what “rape culture” means. Rape culture is not just about the number of men convicted of rape or even the number of women who report rape to the police. These figures only tell a fraction of the story, not least because we know that rape is so under-reported; Rape Crisis estimates that there are roughly 11 rapes committed every hour in England and Wales, yet only around 15 per cent are reported to the police.
Rape culture is embodied every time someone shouts a lewd remark to a woman walking down the street, or when a pornographic video is shared from one phone to another at a school. It occurs every time someone makes a rape joke and excuses it as banter or when a woman is slut shamed. It occurs when women receive threats of sexual violence over Twitter or find their timelines clogged with memes bearing the slogan “it’s not rape if…”. It is seen every time a woman is told she was asking for it by drinking or walking home alone. It is seen every time a woman is told she was complicit in her rape because she went back to his flat.
Rape culture is about trivialising each and every one of these experiences. It is about normalising behaviour that degrades and oppresses women and girls. Rape culture is an insidious thread securely woven into the fabric of our society.
Given the above, is it any wonder that rape is so under-reported? Edge is very concerned with the “accuracy of rape reporting” — but he is looking through the wrong end of the telescope. He thinks they are over-reported, when all of the evidence is to the contrary.
Edge claims that 41 per cent of rape accusations are false. This “more accurate figure” comes from a report carried out between 1978 and 1979 which “investigated rape reports in a small metropolitan area with a population of about 70,000”. It is beyond belief that this report is being touted as a representative study. How can it be used to support an argument about rape culture today when it was published over 30 years ago, and how can a study of 70,000 people be representative when there are an estimated 85,000 rapes a year?
Let us focus on England and Wales: in a 17-month period over 2011 and 2012, there were 5,651 prosecutions for rape and 111,891 for domestic violence. Over the same time span, there were only 35 prosecutions for making false allegations of rape, six for false allegations of domestic violence and three that involved false allegations of both rape and domestic violence. This led The Crown Prosecutions Service (CPS) to confirm in 2013 that false rape allegations are rare.
What about the men who are falsely accused? Of course, Edge was right to highlight the tragic case of one 17-year-old boy who committed suicide following a withdrawn accusation of rape. But his use of the outdated 70s US study, which claims almost half of rape allegations are false, is frankly irresponsible.
A study by The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) says that only 344 of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police. Their study found that those survivors who chose not to report the assaults against them “feared retaliation”, “believed the police would not do anything to help”, or thought “it was not important enough to report”. Women are not coming forward because they fear being mocked or dismissed or disbelieved. This is rape culture.
Propagating anything other than this hard, recent data fuels the myth that women are ‘probably making it up’. I hope no student read his piece and felt shamed into keeping quiet – scared that nobody would believe her.
Last Friday, when I was walking home through the city centre of Manchester, I was suddenly blocked by two men who asked if I wanted to have sex with them. When I told them to bugger off and pushed past, they shouted after me that it was “only a joke”.
A joke? Feeling angry, humiliated, intimidated, and overwhelmed by a depressing sense of familiarity doesn’t seem that funny to me. But they did it because they thought they had the right to, the right to invade my personal space and my body.
All the women I have spoken to about this topic have shared similar experiences. Every. Single. One. It is our absolute right to feel safe on our streets and our absolute right to draw attention to the fact that we are angry about the fact that we don’t.
That is why Reclaim the Night is so important. Rape culture exits. I wish Edge was right and it didn’t, but it does. Denying its existence dismisses the need for change. And we need change.