By Christopher Heide
Rape is a powerful word that connotes an often traumatic event. It is often thrown around laisse-faire, with a lack of understanding of what the word truly symbolizes. In the early months of 2016, rape culture reached a boiling point. This fever-pitch of sexual violation is often misunderstood and misappropriated. Rape is often about power, fear and control. Condoning rape culture perpetuates the persistence of fear.
Recently, Kesha alleged that she was the victim of sustained sexual abuse at the hands of her music producer, Dr. Luke. As a result, Kesha sued to be released from her contract so that she would not have to work with her alleged abuser. Last month, a New York court ruled that there was a lack of sufficient evidence to release Kesha from her contact. On a systemic level, this result is pathologically problematic. The courts essentially stated that Kesha would be forced to continue in her contract if she wanted to continue to make music, her sole source of income.
Too often, sexual assault is swept under the rug. Currently cultural trends perpetuate a mentality of victim blaming and shaming. Yes, we currently live in a world where a sexual assault victim is being contractually obligated to work with her accuser. At a base minimum, we as a society should chose to believe the allegations of the victim. All forms of sexual assault are traumatic and such unfortunate legal recourses only serve to reinforce the stigma surrounding rape. Such a result teaches us that gathering the bravery to confront such horrific acts of violation will result in absolutely nothing. Nothing will change until we, as a society, reaffirm that said results are unacceptable.
According to a report entitled “Substance Abuse and Victimization” written by the Office of Justice Programs, “Substance use or abuse by victims is often viewed as a reason for their victimization, which is a harmful and detrimental viewpoint for them. As such, crime victims who use substances as a means of coping are often neglected by our culture and stigmatized by those who are insensitive to or unaware of their vulnerability to be re-traumatized.” As a society, our lack of understanding around sexual victimization is astounding. On a basic human level, many people who blame the victims seem to lack a basic capacity for empathy. This lack of empathy serves reinforce a cycle of shame, guilt, re-victimization, substance abuse and other mental health issues.
Sexual assault is not a problem that only women face. It is also hugely epidemic in the LGBT community. According to the HRC, “26 percent of gay men and 37 percent of bisexual men experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner.” Literally one in four gay men are subjected to sexual abuse at some point in their lives. A subset of rape culture is the notion that men cannot be raped, due to a physiological result their bodies may have during acts of victimization. Once again, rape culture serves to perpetuate and reinforce the guilt and the shame of the sexual assault survivors.
Last week, Lady Gaga made a powerful statement during the Oscars, performing a moving rendition of her song “Till It Happens To You”. The song has been lauded as an anthem for survivors of sexual assault and rape. A deeply personal song, Gaga used the opportunity to powerfully publicize her status as a sexual assault survivors. It was a powerful, mainstream, iconic moment that once again brought this critical issue to the forefront of American audiences.
What can we do to break this cycle? We must empower sexual assault survivors to speak out. We must not subject their truth to degradation. We must make the conversation about sexual abuse (in addition to mental health and substance abuse) to become mainstream. To marginalize such a powerful topic can mean death for far too many people. We must not shame or blame the victim. It is our empathetic duty as members of the human race to permanently change the narrative surrounding rape. It is a scandal that requires immutable fixing.