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Rape Culture USA: Where Denial, Misogyny, and Rape Culture Collide

The new year rang in outrage over a vicious rape in India and a growing dialogue on rape in the Asian subcontinent, Middle East, and across the global south. But under the radar – and drowned out by all the chatter on the “barbaric other” – there’s a vibrant rape culture in the U.S.  

Consider this:

  • In Los Angeles, an appeals court recently tossed out a rape case because the victim was unmarried, citing a law from 1872 that doesn’t protect unmarried women in cases of impersonation and rape
  • Also recently, 3 men raped a woman in a moving vehicle in Philadelphia, leaving one to ask, does this count as “gang rape” or does that only occur outside U.S. borders?
  • In Illinois, only 1,474 of 7,494 (approximately 80%) rape kits since 1995 could be confirmed as tested, the rest remain untested
  • There’s currently a backlog of 400,000 unprocessed rape kits in the U.S.
  • Earlier this month, Congressional Republicans blocked the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry Act, a bill that sought to reallocate funds to help process rape kits and make it easier to track down rapists
  • 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail in the U.S. 
  • 1 in 6 women are victims of sexual assault in the U.S.
  • Women in service are twice as likely to get sexually assaulted than civilian women
  • A  “rape crew” comprised of athletes from local high school in Ohio allegedly drugged, assaulted, and photographed a 16-year-old woman who was later mocked and denied a fair trail
  • This week, the U.S. government announced its decision to finally change the FBI’s definition of rape to finally include: anal, oral and statutory rape, rape with an object, incest, and rape of men. This definition has been used to track rapes around the country since the 1920s
  • 60% of cases reported to the NOLA Police Department are considered “unfounded” and have been subsequently dropped. Similarly disturbing trends occur in other cities
  • A Philadelphia police officer once dubbed the city’s sex crimes unit the “lying bitches unit”
  • In 2012, Todd Akin, a then U.S. congressman said women’s bodies could naturally prevent pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape”
  • 1M+ people are currently being trafficked within the U.S. (trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise)

These are just some of the policies, events, and statements that suggest that rape culture is alive and flourishing in the U.S. But despite the aforementioned points, there’s an unsaid notion that rape is an obscure foreign occurrence – a cultural defect of the global south, a product Islam. We don’t view our culture as one of patriarchy, misogyny, and violence against women.  We leave that for the other. And after all is said and done, we have no outrage left for U.S. women. The ugly truth is that our laws and enforcement vehicles do not prioritize addressing rape, our social infrastructure fails to provide adequate services for those impacted, our community too often blames those who experience rape, and our society is in collective denial about the fact that rape culture is deeply embedded within the fabric of American culture.

The horrific gang rape in India sparked critical protests and dialogue within India around violence against women, and hopefully, these conversations will result in meaningful changes for women. But it’s surprising that instead of reflecting on our own policies and practices, the white-saviors/mighty-whiteys/non-other-variety have thrown on their human rights hats and resumed shaming rape culture in India while ignoring women’s issues on the home front. The response by media outlets and community members alike beg the question: Why are we so quick to express shock or outrage to violence against women abroad without batting an eye to similar occurrences here? And what prevents us from having a broader interest in authentically and effectively addressing the global war against women? 

Amid this collective outrage, several pieces on the role of Islam in rape culture emerged. I think I was perhaps most disturbed with this piece by Musa Furber in the Washington post, which has been making the rounds on social media.

The writer mentions deplorable laws in Morocco and Jordon that make rape victims marry their rapist. He says these laws are “egregious violations of what Islam teaches,” but proceeds to label this a “Muslim issue” and not part of a disturbing global issue around rape legislation (I reference a case in L.A. above). He writes about the push and pull between religion and culture in Morocco, yet ultimately places the burden of addressing this issue on religion. And while saying it’s “not religion,” he says there is something deeply wrong with the “Muslim society’s views.” By drawing attention to the faith identity, he’s actually saying that rape is a Muslim problem. Since we know that bad laws are not limited to Morocco, why not say that these issues are part of the global system of patriarchy? In fact, Morocco has passed significant legal reform since 2004, and has a growing women’s rights movement focused on these issues.  

It’s disappointing to once again, see a piece that is perpetuating the idea that all things done by a Muslim or a majority Muslim community require mentioning the religious identity. Why do we expect Islam to produce perfect human beings, but not have the same expectation of other value systems?

Contrary to the popular bumper sticker statement, Islam is not the solution to the world’s problems. It will not eradicate poverty, create world peace, or prevent crime. It also won’t enact sound laws or prosecute rape. Islam is a set of values – a way of life that serves as a guide – it’s not a promise. The implementation element is left to people who are made up of varying degrees of flaws and inclinations. Muslims believe that Allah guides those who have faith, but humans are bestowed with undeniable choice, agency, and intellect. What we do with our choice is on us, not Islam. And as long as we’re attacking a spiritual way of life, a particular racial or ethnic community, or an entire nation, we’re doing nothing to prevent rape or dismantle patriarchy.

So when we attack Morocco’s laws, let’s not ignore the various laws that enable rape across the globe. While criticizing law enforcement agents in India for dismissing rape, let’s also examine our own with a critical eye. And the next time someone implies that the “third world” has monopoly on sexual violence, let’s be real about the fact that rape culture exists in both religious and secular nations, as well as struggling economies and developed. Rape culture is an equal opportunity hater: it knows no zip code, race, ethnicity, or income level.


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  3. blufiresprite reblogged this from thepoliticalfreakshow and added:
    I have been waiting for exactly this since the New Year.
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