EDITORIAL: Rape culture thrives in U.S.

York Dispatch, York Dispatch
  • Before harmful cultural attitudes can be changed, we must admit they exist.
  • Such is the case with rape culture, which includes victim-shaming and catcalling.
  • The phrase "locker-room talk" seeks to minimize brutal words and attitudes aimed at women.

Harmful cultural attitudes such as rape culture can be slow to change. Before they can be addressed and dismantled, a majority of the community must admit they exist.

Penn State York student Michelle Lin on campus following her night class, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Such is the case with any equal rights movement, for people of color, religious freedom and tolerance, the LGBTQ community, and women: Progress is made, and then it is revealed there is much more work to be done.

Education reporter Alyssa Jackson’s Friday special report on defining and educating people on rape culture asks the question, as an example of rape culture, why do we teach women how not to get raped but fail to teach men not to rape?

There are a number of York County-based educational programs, as Jackson reported, to teach students about the harmful effects of catcalling, victim shaming and an "assortment of norms that overtly or subtly promote sexual violence," as well as delegitimizing survivors of assault.

Rape culture: Defining and teaching a taboo subject

Jackson’s report was published in Friday’s York Dispatch, and by Friday evening we learned the GOP nominee for president, Donald Trump, had been caught on tape in 2005 using an “assortment of norms that overtly or subtly promote sexual violence.”

Trump didn’t just speak lewdly. He bragged about being able to kiss women and grab their genitals without asking because of his celebrity.

That these are Trump’s attitudes should be of no surprise to anyone. He’s been around a long time. He said these words on tape at nearly 60 years of age. That means, even if his attitudes have evolved, which seems highly unlikely, he spent six decades on earth thinking sexual assault is OK.

Because that is what grabbing women’s genitals without consent is: sexual assault. Phrases like "locker-room talk," the phrase Trump uses to excuse his words, serve to minimize the brutality of his attitudes toward women.

That there are people supporting Trump’s attitudes is beyond unconscionable. And yes, many men holding power have had the same attitudes. This isn’t a political issue, it’s a call for the dismantling of a rape culture, which affects us all and allows these attitudes to continue to be perpetuated.

Trump caught on video making lewd, crude remarks about women

Also on Friday, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed two sexual assault laws in response to national outrage over the six-month jail sentence given to a former Stanford University swimmer for assaulting a woman passed out near a trash bin.

The Democratic governor announced his approval Friday of laws requiring longer sentences to be served in state prison for defendants convicted of assaulting unconscious victims, ending the possibility of brief jail sentences like the one Brock Turner received in June.

Turner faced a minimum sentence of two years in state prison, and prosecutors argued for six years. But Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky cited the "extraordinary circumstances" of Turner's youth and clean criminal record in imposing a shorter term in county jail. Turner was released after being jailed only three months.

The new law removes a judge's discretion to sentence an offender to jail, meaning future defendants will face state prison sentences as long as 14 years.

Turner's case burst into the spotlight after a poignant statement from the victim highlighting how favoring Turner is part of a broader cultural norm that further victimizes sexual assault victims swept through social media.

It is time to not only delegitimize the components of rape culture that for too long have been normalized but to legislate victims’ rights, as Brown has done.

And for those who wish to lead our country, they must be held accountable for their vulgarity and dangerous cultural attitudes.