Rape culture is the normalising of male sexual violence, and any behaviour that endorses male sexual aggression over women. It includes jokes, TV, music and words that make violence against women and sexual coercion seem normal.
Rape culture is everywhere; from the song, ‘Blurred Lines’, that tells women that they ‘know you want it’ regardless of their consent – to stories of college women in America being instructed to vomit or urinate on demand to protect themselves against rape. At University, ‘Rape culture’ is a prominent feature of student life. A common phenonomen is hearing stories of drinks being spiked or girls being taken advantage of when drunk. In 2010, a study by the National Union of Students found that one in seven women experienced a serious physical or sexual assault during their time as a student. Sadly, many women see this threat of assault as a part of student life.
Emilie Buchwald, author of transforming a rape culture says, ‘a rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism as the norm… both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable.’
The ‘lad culture’ that exists at university often permeates the prominent rape culture in our society by belittling a woman’s right to say no. Many notorious student events such as Carnage are accompanied by sexist themes that encourage women to dress provocatively and drink to excess. Furthermore, joking about rape is at the very crux of this ‘laddish’ environment. A boy kissing a girl who is too drunk is considered ‘a bit rapey’, whilst sexual abuse is made to be something to laugh at; with jokes about ‘surprise anal’ or ‘surprise ejaculation’ being the norm in pub conversations. These respective acts are rape, and serious sexual assault by definition.
Jinan Younis of The Guardian says; ‘It’s worrying that some boys who are studying to become doctors, lawyers, scientists and teachers think that it’s acceptable to take advantage of a girl regardless of her consent. It’s disturbing that they find it amusing to encourage girls to drink to the point when they can no longer refuse to have sex with them.’
A recent NUS study shows that female students are at a higher risk of sexual harassment or violence than their male counterparts. This experience is echoed by Melissa Wirth, an English and History student at the University of Southampton:
Generally guys on nights out have no filter and I think most girls have gotten used to being eyed up and shouted at like objects on nights out which is awful. ‘Ive been grabbed by the arm quite a lot, as if a guy sees you and physically plucks you out from a crowd and there’s not much you can do other than tell him where to stick it. Guys seem to be able to hurl all kinds of sexual obscenities at you and as soon as you retaliate even mildly they turn really nasty, it’s as though it’s not your place to stick up for yourself.
Dave Llewellyn, a PHD student at Oxford University, works for the ‘Good Lad Workshop’, which is determined to turn sexist lad culture on its head. ‘Drinking and pack mentality definitely feed into guys, and they do things that they wouldn’t do otherwise’. He says that after a few drinks and encouraging chants from their mates, their behaviour may change.
University rape culture may also stem from ignorance around consent, which leads to a major problem when people may not know when they are actually committing rape. The law states that a person consents to sex when they agree by choice, and they have the capacity and freedom to make that decision. When a girl is drunk, she may lose that capacity. Often, sleeping with as many girls as possible and drinking lots epitomises a classic fresher’s experience, but many young men may not realise that this can be considered as rape in some instances.
In order to tackle the worrying rise of rape culture at university, the casual references and jokes towards sexual assault and rape must be fronted. We must admit to ourselves that rape and serious assault does happen at University. It must not be belittled as simply part of ‘lad culture’. Because such a dismissal condones an emergent culture thereby sanctioning a potential epidemic of exploitation and degradation.