Almost exactly two years ago, #MeToo went mainstream. Started by activist and community organizer Tarana Burke in 2006, the movement went viral in 2017 when actress Alyssa Milano tweeted the now powerful hashtag, in response to the reports of sexual assault against Harvey Weinstein. She wrote, "If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet."
In the two years since, many people have come forward to share their stories of sexual assault — but few of the accused perpetrators have served jail time. Even though people may be discussing rape more openly and sensitively now than they did two years ago, the fact still remains that, according to RAINN, for every 1,000 sexual assaults, 995 perpetrators will face no jail time. And in 2019, rape culture is alive and well.
But what is “rape culture,” exactly? The term has been used by feminists since the ‘70s, when it was coined to describe a culture that normalizes and trivializes rape and sexual assault — our culture. People of all genders are effected by rape culture, and people of all genders can perpetuate it: just look at U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos working to roll back Title IX protections for survivors of campus sexual assault.
Here are just a few examples of rape culture at work in the past year.
Rape culture is rape memes and jokes on social media.
This July, news broke that Border Patrol agents had made violent rape memes and threats against members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in a secret Facebook group. According to ProPublica, the almost-10,000-member group circulated photoshopped memes of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez being raped and made violent threats against her and Rep. Veronica Escobar.
Rape culture tells male survivors they “can’t" be assaulted.
In 2017, Terry Crews came forward to say that he had been sexually assaulted by a Hollywood executive. Two years later, people are still questioning his account. “God gave you muscles so you can say NO and mean it!” comedian D.L. Hughley said in a video that went viral in January 2019. “Sir you said I should have pushed him back, or restrained him and I DID ALL THOSE THINGS, but you act like i didn't...were you there?” responded Crews.
Rape culture calls sexual assault “harmless fun.”
To promote an article revealing a new sexual assault accusation against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the New York Times tweeted, “Having a penis thrust in your face at a drunken dorm party may seem like harmless fun. But when Brett Kavanaugh did it to her, Deborah Ramirez says, it confirmed that she didn’t belong at Yale in the first place.” After critical responses, the Times apologized and deleted the offensive tweet.
Rape culture is hateful online comments.
In a recent interview with Oprah Winfrey, Chanel Miller — whose sexual assault trial against "Stanford swimmer" Brock Turner made international headlines in 2016 — shared that she felt ashamed not because of the assault itself, but because of the online comments criticizing her. “Initially, I didn’t feel shame,” she said. “It seemed very clear to me that if someone attacks you and runs away, that’s his problem. The shame was learned over time, from the online comments.”
Rape culture is victim-blaming.
In March 2019, Neomi Rao was sworn in to Brett Kavanaugh's former seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. She gained criticism for past comments blaming rape survivors for their assaults, such as, "A man who rapes a drunk girl should be prosecuted. At the same time, a good way to avoid a potential date rape is to stay reasonably sober... And if she drinks to the point where she can no longer choose, well, getting to that point was part of her choice."
These are just a handful of examples of rape culture — give it a few minutes and you can probably think of dozens more. While #MeToo has brought new awareness to sexual assault, there’s still so much work to be done.