From Todd Akin’s notorious “legitimate rape” comment to the New Delhi gang rape in December 2012, suddenly rape culture is at the forefront of our minds and many of those who once dismissed it can no longer deny that it is a pandemic problem that permeates societies all over the globe.
Even within the USC bubble we cannot escape rape culture. From people making rape jokes at Ground Zero’s open mic to certain posts on the USC Hook-ups page on Facebook, rape culture is clearly a problem at USC and not enough people are talking about it. And sadly, there is the fact that there are students sexually assaulting other students (many cases of which go unreported due to stigma and misconceptions of what constitutes rape).
Not all hope is lost, however. There are people and organizations working to combat it within the USC community including the USC Center for Women & Men and Men CARE, but it was the South Asian Network – in collaboration with DISHOOM!, South Asian Rural Student Aid (SARSA), Women’s Student Assembly (WSA) and Muslim Student Union (MSU) who held two workshops on rape culture and prevention in south Asia this past February. Regardless of where the conversation is geographically focused, just talking about rape culture helps us combat it.
Workshop facilitator Vimmi Jaggi received her Masters Degree in Social Work from USC and now provides case management and therapy services for sexual abuse and domestic violence survivors to South Asians.
In the first workshop, which was held on February 12ththe primary focus was on what rape culture was and what perpetrates it throughout a person’s lifecycle – particularly the lifecycles of girls and women in south Asian countries such as India. She explained how the victimization of and violence toward women begins before they’re born with parents purposely selecting female fetuses for abortion because of the belief that females are less valuable to families than males. But for those born, the gendered violence manifest in child prostitution, neglect, and incest for children while for teenagers and young adults, it manifests in forced marriages, ignorance about sex and anatomy, date violence, public harassment, drug-facilitated rape and dowry-related deaths. At the end of the cycle, elder women are at risk of physical abuse by caretakers, demeaning widowhood, the withholding of health care, and spousal abuse. While this may feel like a lot of examples, the true number of types of gendered violence is overwhelming.
Going off of the described cycle of abuse, Jaggi opened up the discussion for participants to share how they thought gender discrimination was connected to rape culture. She highlighted how the preference in many south Asian families to educate boys over girls sent the message to the girls (as well as to the boys) that the girls weren’t worth educating, that they were worth less as human beings and that by denying girls education, they were denying them training in critical thinking and to the access of many ideas that would develop their autonomous senses of self. Another example is of parents giving sons the tastier and more nutritious portions of food, explicitly valuing the health of the boys over that of the girls. Participants shared personal stories of gendered violence and systematic misogyny they experienced growing up, but also of misogyny within the USC community such as street harassment and the sexual assault of friends and classmates.
However, Jaggi didn’t just discuss the causes and manifestation of rape culture, but she encouraged participants to critically think about ways to combat it. This discussion on prevention mostly took place in the second workshop, in which Jaggi acknowledged that we cannot change entire cultures overnight, but we have to start where we can to change stigmas and fight oppression. She engaged participants, asking why they thought people committed rape. Participants came up with a list of causes such as socialization of males in unhealthy masculinity, hierarchies of race, gender, and class, entitlement, anger, feelings of inadequacy and the silencing of talk about rape, but there was an unanimous affirmation that power and control – not sexual attraction – were the main driving forces behind rape.
Though both workshops were incredibly informative and lasted longer than two-and-a-half hours, they barely dug beneath the surface of rape culture. What needs to happen, is that many more people need to take the first steps in fighting rape culture and start talking about it. While legislature that always holds the rapist responsible and not the victim is needed all over the globe, a step anyone can take is making the discussion and dismantling of rape culture a part of everyday discourse whether the focus is on rape culture in south Asia, the United States or anywhere else in the world. But before perhaps even that step, people can read up on rape culture, whether it’s through books, blogs, shared personal stories or articles.
Toward the end of the second workshop, Jaggi asked participants to share ways they could combat rape culture in their personal lives. Some spoke up, saying that they could educate those close to them about rape culture, refuse to consume information and entertainment that normalize sexual violence, address comments and jokes made in social settings that perpetuate rape, seek guidance from a therapist or clinician if they couldn’t help but think violence sexual thoughts, empathize with survivors and generally just speak up.
As Jaggi put it, “Every word against rape makes it a little less normal.”