Rape Culture is Alive and Well, Friends

*Trigger Warning* rape and sexual assault/abuse, victim blaming

by HCWC Intern Brianna Suslovic ’16

Rape culture is a term that’s been tossed around for a while now, especially on Harvard’s campus – does a campus culture of rape jokes, rape apologists, victim-blaming and blurred definitions of consent really allow for survivors of rape and sexual assault/abuse to feel safe?

Especially as recent revelations from Woody Allen’s adopted daughter emerge, it’s extremely important that we acknowledge the legitimacy of survivor narratives while also continuing to combat the pervasive belittlement of rape and sexual assault in our daily discourse. Rape jokes are unacceptable, as is victim-blaming. It’s shameful that as a collective culture, we are allowing people to receive positive attention (and retweets) for something as hurtful and alienating to survivors as this. It’s also shameful that after Dylan Farrow came forward to tell her story, members of the public continued to belittle her courageous narrative: “Who can know what really happened?”

Why is it that those who are not familiar with Farrow and Allen’s lives feel entitled to comment on whether Allen is guilty or not? The statistics on false accusations of rape and sexual assault are widely contested, but regardless of whether the statistics support Farrow, victim-blaming should never be the response when a survivor comes forward. It’s tough to think that someone we may know or love (like Allen) could be capable of such harm to another human being, but by refusing to acknowledge the actions (alleged or real) of an individual like Allen, we are perpetuating a system that works to silence the very real trauma of sexual assault survivors.

So what can be done to combat the culture that victimizes and ignores survivors and their needs? When one in four college women will survive a rape or attempted rape before graduating, this is a problem that can no longer be ignored. Through groups and collectives like Know Your IX, college students and recent graduates are collaborating to fight against a culture that sends the message that sexual assault and rape are okay. Know Your IX works specifically on pressuring colleges to change unfair or inadequate sexual assault policies with federal law on their side: Title IX and the Clery Act are both designed to promote safe campuses for all students of all genders, including survivors of rape and sexual assault, and Know Your IX empowers students to pressure campuses to abide by these laws. They do this by providing support and information, as well as assistance from legal experts on how to proceed. The Our Harvard Can Do Better campaign passed a referendum last year urging administration to reform the sexual assault policy, but there is still progress to be made – it’s time to translate student support into official policy change and implementation. It’s exciting to see peers working on affecting change at such a high level; to affect change at an on-the-ground level, it’s important to support survivors.

Rape culture is far-reaching and complex, but as individuals, we do have the power to transform our own campus culture. Beginning with ourselves and our friends, we can work to put an end to jokes and comments that disregard the very real trauma that survivors face, to support our friends who are survivors, and to implement change in policy at a higher level as well.

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