Every two minutes someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. This adds up to 207, 754 victims of sexual assault annually, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. The numbers are inexplicably high but, as much as I hate to admit it, they are not exactly shocking. After all, we live in the midst of a dominant “rape culture.”
What exactly is rape culture? Most women’s studies and feminist programs use ‘rape culture’ to describe a society in which rape and other sexual violence are common, which, in turn, normalizes and even encourages these sexualized acts. Although there have been various scandals on Twitter and other social networks that allude to rape culture, many are too quick to put the entire blame on social media. While a society actively objectifying and degrading women wasn’t always referred to as ‘rape culture,’ the basic male-dominating attitude has been around for a quite some time—long before social media came into play.
There are many examples of this mentality within popular culture that are found outside the realm of social networks. In case anyone forgot, Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” was the song of the summer. The song played on nearly every radio station yet it practically encourages date rape by perpetuating the age-old myth that if a girl says no, she really means yes; she’s playing hard to get and wants you to chase her. Thicke laughed about the song to GQ in May, stating, “what a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I’ve never gotten to do that before. I’ve always respected women.”
As Thicke’s song and magazine interview show, social media is not wholly responsible our dominant “rape culture.” In fact, I believe that the opposite is actually true. Rape culture is sadly a tale as old as time, and, as far as social media is concerned, it can only help end it, not encourage it. Rather than sustain rape culture mentality, social media can help bring these issues into the mainstream. Consider this recent court case: In late August this past year, a 49-year-old Senior High teacher was sentenced to 30-days in jail after raping a 14-year-old student, who consequentially committed suicide. Yes, you read that right—only 30 days in jail for having sex with a minor. The judge argued that the victim was “in control of the situation” because she appeared to look “older than her chronological age.”
Now hopefully, you were outraged upon reading this information. As it turns out, so were countless others. After receiving word of the verdict, the public voiced their outrage on social media. A link was shared across Twitter and Facebook to urge followers to sign a petition to unseat the judge who ruled on this case, and this is just one of many petitions floating around on social media. Many of these petitions for social good are started by groups like SPARK, a nonprofit organization that trains middle school through college-aged women to be activists against sexism and other issues that affect them.
Then, there was the Instagram video post that captured upperclassmen at St. Mary’s University in Canada welcoming freshmen with the chant “Y is for your sister. O is for oh-so-tight. U is for underage. N is for no consent. G is for grab that ass. St. Mary’s boys: we like them young.” The chant was apparently a “Frosh Week” tradition at the university and it alarmingly celebrated the raping of new students on campus. Though this had gone on for years, the school finally intervened after the video went viral. The university called the chant “sexist and offensive,” and sent the orientation leaders and involved students to a sensitivity training seminar—all because of the heat the video got after being posted online. I certainly would not have felt safe attending that school after an incident such as this. Had this video not found its way to social media, the university may have simply turned a blind eye.
Unfortunately, sometimes only one voice is not enough to make a change. But, when many people band together on a platform as public as social media, an issue can be brought to light and may stir up enough trouble to get something done about it. It makes sense when you think about it: with our generation practically glued to their smartphones and laptops, if you post your discontent with an issue on social media, chances are that a great number of people will see it and agree with you. Hundreds of clicks and shares later, you’ve got a movement going.
Social media is the most powerful tool we have at our disposal. Instead of putting the blame on social networking, we just have to use it to our advantage.