For the past few days my relationship with media has been tumultuous. I find myself in a shuffle between diving into the headlines and a strong desire to duck-and-cover. For those of us who work in sexual violence prevention and as advocates for survivors, it takes daily energy to swim against the current of rape culture. When a high profile case of sexual violence is in the media, it draws valuable awareness to the prevalence of rape, but it also showcases myths and misconceptions. It speaks volumes to the prevalence of rape culture. It is a reminder of the work ahead in ending sexual violence.
For instance, it took a comedian calling out Billy Cosby as a rapist for Americans to realize this was no laughing matter. Rape culture is when over a decade of accusations and over a dozen women coming forward goes without consequence. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident in Hollywood or elsewhere. Although rates of false reporting are very low the greatest barrier for most people who experience sexual violence is disbelief and blame.There's something very wrong with this picture.
One of the individuals who has come forward even had to answer to a journalist. Don Lemon asked her why she didn't attack Billy Cosby. It's hard to imagine where these comments came from, but I think it’s important to consider that Don Lemon is a child sexual abuse survivor. He has helped to create greater visibility and acknowledgement of the experiences of male survivors. One can only assume he is all too familiar with barriers of doubt and blame. Victim-blaming is a direct consequence of a society where victims aren’t believed. This was one individuals inappropriate question of a survivor, but rape culture is what justifies questioning survivors.
One powerful response to victim-blaming in the media is the hashtag #WhenIWasRaped. It explores the ways the public questions those who have experienced sexual violence. Rape culture is when survivors are met with a question instead of affirmation. A line of questioning is not a response to a disclosure.
What can you do to end rape culture? It's on us to stop asking who, what, when, where and why. Supporting survivors means replacing these questions with listening, empathy and empowerment. This is one small step everyone has the power to take to create a better world for us all.