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rape culture

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Rape culture normalizes and justifies sexual violence, tasks cis and trans women (as well as queer men and nonbinary people) with the responsibility to “avoid” assault and harassment, and blames them when they experience it. Victim-blaming — where people and entities use clothing choices, drug or alcohol consumption, criminal history, and overall behavior, among other things, to justify rape, assault, and harassment — is a cornerstone of rape culture, but it’s only one aspect. 

People who have experienced sexual or gender-based harm often will choose to refer to themselves solely as either a victim or a survivor. Those who choose the term survivor often report a desire to center their agency and recovery following the experience. Those who choose the term victim often report a desire to highlight the harm and/or violence that they experienced at the hands of others. Paying attention to the language someone uses to self-describe helps ensure your coverage reflects their lived experience.

When reporting on sexual violence, rape culture generally removes autonomy from the perpetrator and puts it on the person they harmed. This includes positioning someone’s safety as a matter of personal responsibility (e.g., telling women not to get too drunk or walk alone at night); creating media imagery that frames sexual violence as “sexy” or stimulating; stigmatizing some populations for sexual promiscuity (or the appearance thereof); and creating a culture of permissiveness and sexual objectification that empowers people to disregard consent in everything from conversation to sex. 

Rape culture can also look like dismissing accusations of rape as exaggerations or lies, or punishing or shaming individuals who come forward, labeling them as “weak” for having been assaulted. It can also involve trivializing sexual violence through jokes and narratives that claim rape is rare or “not a big deal.”

Rape culture is so insidious that it can prevent us from understanding the true scale of sexual violence. Stories that cover sexual violence and/or other manifestations of rape culture can resist perpetuating it by, for instance, avoiding descriptions of what a rape victim wore, not using the term “sex” (which is consensual) to describe a rape or sexual assault, and avoiding stereotypes of rape victims and survivors in general. 

Additional resources


Rape culture is based on enduring gender inequities that normalizes and justifies sexual violence. Manifestations of rape culture in media coverage can involve, for instance, describing what a rape victim wore, using the term “sex” to describe a rape or sexual assault (which implies consent), and including stereotypes of rape victims and survivors in general.