April 24, 2014

Rape Culture: Real or Fake?

On March 7th of this year, an article titled “Is there an epidemic of ‘rape culture’ at Canadian universities?” was published on the National Post’s online website, later updated with a short follow-up on March 13th. In it, writer Brian Hutchinson makes the argument first, that there is no such phenomenon as ‘rape culture’ and second, that as such, it is not a widespread problem on college and university campuses across North America. He cites a single publication by psychologist Margo Maine whose source for statistics on sexual assault was, according to his research, unreliable or misrepresented in her work. Far be it from me to comment as to whether or not these specific stats are trustworthy. My issue rather, is the dubious extrapolation Hutchinson goes on to make: deducing from this one supposed slip up in scholarly integrity that in fact rape culture does not exist, and therefore asserting that it does, actually harms the movement against sexual assault.

Rape culture is not some abstract concept dreamt up on a whim by an armchair feminist who had run out of quotable phrases. It is a descriptive tool used to summarize the amalgamation of observed offences to human dignity that are perpetrated when this culture  (look, there’s that word!), fails to adequately challenge or examine it’s own constructed systems. Systems that frame sexual assault/rape in ways that further demean, blame and shame the survivor rather than the perpetrator, and often approach survivors with credulity rather than care.

Hutchinson’s opinion becomes even less tenable when he goes on to admit that a startling number of incidences regarding sexual assault on college campuses have recently come to light. He discusses the rape chants at UBC as well as at Saint Mary’s University (SMU) in Halifax but maintains that the term ‘rape culture’ “does a disservice to the issue of sexual aggression on campus as a whole”, quoting Wagner college professor Miles Groth. Both gentlemen fail to justify just how it does a disservice to the cause beyond an assertion that the movement against rape culture is “ haemorrhaging male students”. Immediately obvious is Groth’s assumption that rape is only committed by men against women, and that a culture that accepts sexual violence as necessarily immanent is not damaging in some way to people of all genders.

Hutchinson goes on to claim that the 23 page UBC report written in the wake of the Frosh Week chants, which had as a draft recommendation the instatement of a mandatory “culture of equality course” for new and potentially uninformed students, is “insulting to the vast majority of undergraduates”. Hutchinson seemingly believes that such matters (anti-oppression and sexual assault awareness) are obvious to everyone regardless of background, which is… ironic, to say the least.

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