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Rape Culture Should Be Part of Discourse on Sexual Assault, Op-Ed Argues

Rape Culture Should Be Part of Discourse on Sexual Assault, Op-Ed Argues

March 31, 2014 — The widespread presence of rape culture in the U.S. "is why it's so disappointing that the country's largest anti-sexual-violence organization, RAINN, recently advised a White House task force that efforts to curb rape on college campuses should move away from the 'unfortunate trend towards blaming "rape culture,"'" feminist author Jessica Valenti writes in a Washington Post opinion piece.

According to Valenti, "RAINN -- which works with Congress on policy and sets political agendas" -- issued the recommendations in a memo to the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault that stated that "'rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime.'" Valenti adds that the organization also argued that a "focus on rape culture is misguided because most young adults know rape is wrong, thanks to 'repeated messages from parents, religious leaders, teachers, coaches, the media, and, yes, the culture at large.'"

Valenti writes that RAINN President Scott Berkowitz -- despite acknowledging "systematic issues" in the criminal justice system for rape survivors -- told her that the term rape culture "'muddies' the conversation about how to help survivors and risks alienating allies." Berkowitz said, "Many people interpret [the term rape culture] -- men in particular -- as accusatory," adding, "We need to encourage their good instincts rather than pointing a finger."

Valenti argues, "Talking about rape culture isn't meant to shift focus away from rapists but to paint a fuller picture of how rapists operate and the best ways to stop them." She writes that RAINN "should know this," adding that if the organization is "worried about alienating allies, it shouldn't dismiss the efforts of feminist activists" who embrace the term.

"[I]gnoring the culture in which rapists commit and get away with crimes won't stop rape," Valenti writes, concluding, "And it will hurt victims" (Valenti, Washington Post, 3/28).