We need to address a serious problem in our culture. Now.

Rape culture refers to complex belief system that tolerates — and sometimes even encourages — male sexual aggression and violence against women. The norm of victim blaming needs to change. Instead of asking what the victim could have done differently, ask instead what the assaulter and bystanders could have, and should have, done differently.

A prominent example of rape culture today can be found in the Steubenville rape case. The facts of the case revolved around a party thrown in August of last year in Steubenville, Ohio. One of the attendees, a sixteen-year old girl, became heavily intoxicated and passed out. Instead of helping her, her peers carried her into a bedroom by her hands and feet and raped her. The two men put on trial were Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’lik Richmond, 16, football players at the local high school. Eventually, it came out that this was not an isolated incident; this girl had been targeted, drugged and raped at multiple parties throughout the summer.

When the guilty verdict was announced, some mainstream media outlets became active participants in furthering our victim-blaming rape culture. Probably the most sickening news coverage came from CNN, where anchor Candy Crowley lamented that the “young men … had such promising futures, [were] star football players, very good students.” Registering as sex offenders would “haunt them for the rest of their lives.”

Instead of focusing on the atrocity of rape, Crowley focused on how the perpetrators’ lives would never be the same again. This mentality is highly upsetting, because it demonstrates that women can fuel this twisted victim-blaming, sympathizing with the rapists. But the victim will have to cope with what those rapists did to her for the rest of her life.

Besides the media, individual people propagated institutional tolerance of this terrible crime. Reno Saccocia, the defendants’ football coach, told the principal and school superintendent that because his players didn’t believe they had done anything wrong, he shouldn’t pursue further punishment.

Hold on — because these rapists didn’t think they had done anything wrong, they believed they should be free from any punishment, an insolent belief their coach supported. They felt neither guilt nor shame for their crimes, and somehow believed they had privilege that entitled them to “conquer” a “dead girl” who could not defend herself. The accused should be held accountable. It was their actions, their decisions, that brought this on themselves.

Even the blogger who exposed incriminating tweets about the Steubenville crime, Alexandria Goddard, faced harassment. Not only did she receive death threats, but the family of Cody Saltsman, a bystander during the assault, sued her for “defamation of character.” When she called attention to a crime that needed investigation, Goddard suffered social backlash.

These examples demonstrate the extent of rape culture in our society. Far too many individuals defer to victim-blaming attitudes — attempting to protect the assaulters and justify their crimes.

Sexual assault is the only crime I can think of where the victim wears the shame; the victim is the one left feeling dirty and stripped of human dignity. Some victims can’t even bring themselves to talk about their assault, let alone come forward and report.

I don’t blame victims who are unable to speak up. Many victims are too traumatized. Many feel reporting the crime would put them through more hell. Statistically speaking, most assaults aren’t reported, and most of the assailants that do get reported aren’t prosecuted and convicted.

We need to examine how we think about sexual assault. Instead of questioning whether the victim was intoxicated or dressed provocatively, we should question how we can hold perpetrators accountable. These defendants are responsible for their own actions.

But how do rapists like the Steubenville defendants justify their actions? Some of our sympathies should lie with perpetrators — not because they are innocent, but because they, too, subscribe to rape culture.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. We must realize how terribly wrong rape culture is. This is why freshmen attend consent and communication workshops, and why this year, sophomores attended bystander intervention training. The blame doesn’t lie only with the rapists. The blame falls partially on the environment that the rapists are nurtured in, on the bystanders who turn a blind eye to the crimes going on in front of them and on the people and institutions who try to cover up these crimes.

Winnie Wang is a sophomore in Branford College. Contact her at winnie.wang@yale.edu.

  • theantiyale

    I agree with what you have said. But the amnesia we all suffer about excessive use of alcohol pervades your piece ———as it does our culture.


  • inycepoo

    “This mentality is highly upsetting…sympathizing with the rapists.”

    “Some of our sympathies should lie with perpetrators.”


    • itisheretoo

      read on – “not because they are innocent, but because they, too, subscribe to rape culture.”

    • Javier Cienfuegos

      Apparently not only can the YDN use snippets of quotes to misconstrue sentiments – anyone can!

  • momla

    Eventually, it came out that this was not an isolated incident; this
    girl had been targeted, drugged and raped at multiple parties throughout
    the summer.

    Where was this said?

    • wkw27

      This information was revealed later in the court transcripts of the Steubenville case, but the trial only focused on the one party in August because that was the only incident that was documented with photos/social network evidence

      • momla

        So it’s absolutely true?

  • lakia

    No personal responsibility at all? You know who this does NOT happen to? Underage girls who don’t go to parties where people are drinking and using drugs. Millions of girls escape this horrid outcome by not putting themselves in risky situations to begin with. I know it sounds archaic, but it is infinitely safer.

    • id1234

      actually, it does happen to girls who are not underage that dont go to parties. Sorry but you are misinformed. It happens to women walking down the street at night minding their own business. Your ideas are just fueling rape culture, open your eyes.

      • lakia

        People are mugged walking down the street at night too. I walk down streets at night, but every time I do I KNOW I put myself at MORE risk than 1) staying home 2) having a male escort 3) avoiding sketchy areas. It’s not fair, but it IS reality.

        • Javier Cienfuegos

          And a large percentage of victims of sexual assault are attacked by people they know and trust. Not that I agree with your comparing a crime based on someone’s body and one based on their poperty, but for argument’s sake, let’s continue your comparison. Imagine your trusty “male escort” turns around and mugs you? Well, it was your fault for trusting him. Why would you put yourself in that situation? Yeah, I don’t think so.

          • rational14

            That is a totally disingenuous argument in a weak attempt to discredit lakia. Lakia suggested the “male escort” as a way to protect herself from what is perceived as greater danger. Are you telling me this steubenville girl drank and used drugs in an attempt to avoid being raped?

    • Matthew Breuer

      Unfortunately, it does. The group of people I often worry about the most are the ones who say that none of this applies to them because they would never be in that position. But the roots of this culture are far deeper than something that only exists around alcohol or some certain nightlife scene.

      The numbers don’t lie. 1 in 4. None have done anything to deserve it, but the culture around rape is so warped that simple things like the decision to go out and have a few drinks with friends are perversely distorted into rationale for a violent crime. If we’re going to stop the problem, we need to reject that culture.

      • wkw27

        Most definitely we need to reject this rape culture! People don’t like talking about the sexual assault cases where the victims were smart about their surroundings and actions, and were STILL targeted for sexually violent crimes.

    • itisheretoo

      How about if I told you that I know someone who was sober, was dress for the winter, was walking home with her friends, and was STILL sexually assaulted? Yes, it is ok to teach girls to not put themselves in risky situations – but instead of focusing solely on what they wear, if they were drinking, and their location – how about also teaching guys NOT to rape and educate them to understand the meaning of consent.

      • lakia

        Ok- I am speaking of this particular kind of social situation and you all are smarter than that. You cannot educate guys not to RAPE, anymore than you can educate a a murderer not to murder. It’s a crime. They KNOW it’s a crime. It does not stop them. I’m not saying all crimes/rapes are preventable, but let’s be honest- some are.

        • Javier Cienfuegos

          Actually, it is indeed possible to dissuade men from rape, even ones that in our current society might find it acceptable. That’s like saying: “Whoa there. We need to stop telling people what is right and what is wrong. Wrongdoers would do wrong anyway, so there’s no point.”

    • discuss

      people get raped even if they never had a drink or touched a man in their life. in fact, most victims knew their rapist in some trusted capacity (friend, family member) before the crime happened. Let’s think about other rapes in history — in the Delhi case, the woman was ON A PUBLIC BUS, sober with her BOYFRIEND. Is that enough protection for you to see the woman as ‘sensible’? and it still happened. This dumb rhetoric of ‘girls shouldn’t get drunk’ is NOT going to decrease the number of rapes.

      Seriously, if this fear of sexual violence was shared by men as well no one would be getting drunk at frat parties. Could we get some men here to testify how afraid they are that they’ll get raped at every bro party?

      • lakia

        ” This dumb rhetoric of ‘girls shouldn’t get drunk’ is NOT going to decrease the number of rapes.”

        You are dead wrong. And if you are foolish enough to believe this. You are just plain foolish.

        The India case was tragic and horrible, just as ANY act of violence is, but that does NOT mean you shouldn’t be proactive and take some sensible precautionary measures like, oh yeah, not getting drunk and letting down your inhibitions and defenses.

        • discuss

          pretty sure you are the wrong one man like wars and conflicts have used rape as a method for ”conquering’ (see the bosnian genocide, the congo today, indian partition) and then there is marital rape and rape from significant others. like rape is frequently a product of male aggression (with both women and men as the victims) and not ‘well you were drunk so your legs must have fell wide open’ but I guess i’ll just have to shut you down when your dumb ass becomes a congressman 🙂

          • lakia

            That’s congresswoman, thank you very much.

          • discuss

            sorry for misgendering you but you are still lame

  • eli1

    Should I be absolved of all blame if I leave my apartment open in New Haven with a big sign saying that the door is unlocked and no one is home, and someone ends up entering and stealing something? After all, I am the victim right? No one has the right to steal anything from me, no matter how irresponsible I acted. Same situation here…if this behavior happened beforehand than at least some of the blame rests with the victim who decided it was a good idea to continue going out and blacking out with the same group of scumbags. Just common sense in both cases.

    • Javier Cienfuegos

      Equating people and property. Such a good foundation for an argument.

      • rational14

        Eli1 is not equating people and property. An irresponsible person is the victim both cases.

    • http://www.facebook.com/nmatheishodges Nina Matheis

      You have some serious issues. Sure, it would be unwise to leave your house open at night, but it wouldn’t change the fact that people stealing from you is wrong, a crime and the perpetrators should be punished. Furthermore, rape and robbery are completely incomparable things. If you are robbed I’m sure you’d be upset about your loss of property and whatnot, but I doubt it would cause the psychological and even physical trauma that rape does incur. What if she had become pregnant? Not only that, but the article states “this girl had been targeted, drugged and raped” – she can’t even be held fully accountable for blacking out and being raped, they were creating that situation for their own benefit by intoxicating her, I’m sure she wasn’t aware the previous times she was intoxicated that a) they were drugging her and b) they were actually raping her and doing other inhumane and disgusting things such as pissing on her while she was out cold. Even if she hadn’t been targeted or drugged, there are many, many people in this society, for whatever reason, who have had too much to drink and then passed out; I would bet my life savings this includes the perpetrators themselves. That does not make it okay for people to treat you as less than human. I’m sure people wouldn’t view it as ‘okay’ or ‘their fault’ if one of these boys passed out (whether they were targeted by another sicko like themselves or not) and someone decided to violate their bodies, whether it be by anally raping them or another physical violation which would damage both their body and mind. Rape is never the victim’s fault; I don’t even know how anyone can view it as so. It shouldn’t matter how you dress, whether you go out at night or if you decide to drink. Males, for the most part, can do all these things in safety, it should be no different for females.

      • lakia

        “this girl had been targeted, drugged and raped” –

        And yet, she put herself right back in the same circumstances.

        Also,I think those who have been robbed would beg to differ with you on the psychological trauma. Being violated is being violated. Is rape worse? Absolutely. It comes with physical health issues, as well. But, who made you judge and jury over who feels more violated?

      • lakia


        “Males, for the most part, can do all these things in safety, it should be no different for females.”

        BUT IT IS. You can’t change that. It’s a fact of life. I know the feminists would have us all believe the only difference between men and women is a penis but it just ain’t so.

        Men ARE generally stronger. Men have more muscle mass. Women are generally more empathetic. Men are more often better at math and science. Women use more words per day. We are wired and built differently and all of the rhetoric, that is so popular, does not change any of what IS.

  • rational14

    Feminists have created this “rape culture.” They stress the importance of consent but then allow a woman to take it away after the fact if she later decides she was pressured, the guy was ugly, or realizes she is now considered a slut. This crying wolf has caused a total warp of reality. It isn’t that a “rape culture” exists. Good hearted people have simply been so overwhelmed with fake rape claims they can’t tell the real ones from the fake ones. No one is promoting or even tolerating rape. Both men and women know that many women cry wolf and, accordingly, many accused men are innocent.

    Good hearted people want to make sure that no innocent person is jailed while these militant feminists and their allies want to jail accused men, guilty or not, to send a message to the rest of men (or should I say “potential rapists.”)

    • lakia

      I think that’s it- in the “feminist’s” mind: all men are potential rapists and that’s pretty much ALL they are.

      • discuss

        who are these feminists you are talking about? first wave? second wave? womanists? indigenous feminists? muslim feminists? have you heard them say that they think all men are potential rapists? do you listen to their thoughts on sexual violence?

        • lakia


          • https://www.facebook.com/app_scoped_user_id/646886109/ Chloe Dianne

            You’re the one pushing that idea. By suggesting that women should stay sober and hidden away because it’s the ONLY way to really prevent rape you are suggesting that men are inevitably going to rape women should they ever find them in a vulnerable enough position. All the feminists I know give men more credit. The situation can definitely be improved and not just by shutting women in the closet. By working on increased education around sex and consent and treating men that it IS NOT inevitable that a drunk woman will be raped, we can reduce the problem of rape. That improvement will hopefully put a stop to jerks like yourself insisting that women stop living their lives the way they want to or be blamed for their own assaults. Fuck.

          • lakia

            Forgive me. I did not know so many women wanted to live their lives drunk and passed out. My bad.

    • dh2014

      “Both men and women know that many women cry wolf and, accordingly, many accused men are innocent.”

      Have you even EVER looked at “False Rape” statistics? http://theenlivenproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/rapist_visualization_03.jpg

      • rational14

        The estimated rapist statistic is completely made up and assuredly wrong.

        1) It means any woman who falsely claims rape but doesn’t report it has added another “rapist” to the list of unreported rapists. A woman has not been raped simply because she says she has yet that is how the statistics are collected and then presented.
        2) They collect statistics by talking to individual women and then extrapolate. Beyond problem (1), this means that even if a man did actually rape two different women, he would be reported as two rapists.
        3) The burden of proof that feminists need to agree that someone is falsely accused is absurd. Only in the absolute most extreme cases where a man hasn’t even had sex with the woman accusing him do feminists count men as being falsely accused. Kobe Bryant did not rape that woman in Colorado, but gets counted as someone facing trail and not jailed. For other men who have been tried and found not guilty, THEY HAVE BEEN FOUND NOT GUILTY.