Thanks a LOT, RAINN!



Denying the existence of rape culture IS rape culture!

Denying the existence of rape culture IS rape culture!

I, like many others, was thrown by the recommendations RAINN made to the White House Task Force to protect students from Sexual Assault.  The tone of the whole document was dismissive of prevention efforts and demonstrated a lack of understanding of all the work that is being done to prevent sexual violence.  My colleague, David Lee, posted a very thoughtful blog on the subject. The whole thing was confusing and disappointing, but because David had written such a thoughtful piece, I let it go.

Then a colleague sent me this opinion piece in Time. The article, written by Caroline Kitchens (here is little background on the author) is entitled “Its Time to End ‘Rape Culture’ Hysteria” and it really lives up to the title. The piece is a an amalgamation, a casserole if you will, of recycled talking points that have been used to discredit the movement to end sexual violence ever since it began. It is basically what you would expect, but if you want more insight into the piece (without having to actually read it), please find the recipe below.

“Backlash Bake” Recipe


2 cups– assertions that there is no social or cultural tolerance for rape and that rapists are universally despised despite the fact that people who report rape are routinely blamed by their families and communities while rapists (Roman Polanski, anyone?) are celebrated

1 dash – misuse the word censorship to mean not governmental interference with free expression, but public disagreement with your ideas

¾ pound– laments about how talking about sexual violence vilifies all men

2 tablespoons– misunderstanding about the college adjudication and criminal prosecution processes

A few pinches– Sexist language (hysterical, thought police, moral panic) to taste

Cooking instructions-

Bake in a tone of contempt and superiority until the lived experience of sexual assault survivors, including the public scorn and deficit of resources they endure, is erased.

The argument is tired, and has generated some great responses.

There is not much that is new here. Except that there is. In this case the argument that trivializes the scope of sexual assault and calls the women and men who work to end sexual violence hysterical, panicked thought police (I guess she forgot about humorless and shrill) is being bolstered by the statements in a document produced by an entity that is supposed to work in partnership with rape crisis centers.  The piece quotes the RAINN recommendations document liberally and describes RAINN as “America’s largest and most influential anti-sexual violence organization. It’s the leading voice for sexual assault victim advocacy.” In this case the leading voice does not represent my voice. Does it represent yours?

Lets all share some examples of rape culture so that Time magazine and RAINN and Caroline Kitchens and others understand how our culture allows sexual violence to continue, in large part, by silencing survivors of sexual violence and others who shine a light on the realities of sexual assault.

I’ll start.

Rape culture is that even if we did what RAINN and Ms. Kitchens recommend and focus solely on prosecution, we will still have a jury pool made up of people that hold victims accountable for their victimization rather than perpetrators accountable for their choices.

Unfortunately, rape culture isn’t like Tinker Bell, it exists whether or not we believe in it.  Fortunately, we do have to power to change the way our culture responds to sexual violence. We can do that, but it will mean engaging in the difficult and complicated discussions about how to promote a culture of safety, justice and liberation.

Abby Sims

Abigail Sims began her work in the movement to end relationship and sexual violence in 1995, as a violence prevention educator. Since that time she has had the privilege of participating in local, statewide, and national efforts to prevent and respond to relationship and sexual violence through various activities including crisis counseling and advocacy, professional training and technical assistance, program development and management, evaluation, policy advocacy, self-defense instruction, and materials writing and development.

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