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What is rape culture?

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The term rape culture refers to an environment in which the prevailing social attitudes normalize or trivialize sexual assault and abuse. History is replete with evidences that human civilizations as a whole have been dominated by a rape culture. Rape is still sometimes the means by which conquering armies or terror organizations display their victories. Whether the victim is male or female, rape has the power to demean and degrade a person in a way that other forms of abuse do not. Rape violates that very sacred part of human sexuality that was designed by God to be a private love offering to a spouse (Mark 10:7–8). The act of rape strips a victim of dignity and self-worth, leaving soul wounds that linger long after the body heals. What God intends for good, Satan intends for evil, and when Satan twists and perverts God’s greatest gifts, the devastation is overwhelming.

In recent years the term rape culture has been applied to what some see as increasing incidents of sexual assault, followed by apathetic responses from law enforcement and society as a whole. While both rapists and victims can be male or female, the use of the term rape culture usually focuses on the problem of a male perpetrator forcing a female into a sexual act against her will. In a rape culture, the value of a woman and her purity are seen as commodities to be obtained by any man who can take them, with little fear of repercussions. In some nations today, rape culture is considered acceptable, and any woman claiming to be raped is viewed as the villain. The rape victim is often executed or imprisoned for “enticing” a man. That kind of society is clearly a “rape culture.”

Is the rape culture being promoted in the United States? Most people claim outrage at instances of rape, yet the penalties for a rape conviction do not seem to be harsh enough to keep it from happening. The headlines shout so many stories of otherwise upstanding young men raping women and girls that even those who are horrified at the idea can become desensitized to it. Complicating the matter are false charges filed by women against innocent men; such false allegations jar the sensitivities and plant a seed of doubt the next time a rape is reported.

As with most instances of human degradation, the beginnings of a rape culture can be traced to mankind’s rejection of God. Romans 1:18–32 outlines the downward spiral we take when humanity shakes their fist at God and defines their own moral code according to their lusts. Verses 21–22 highlight the problem from which all sins emerge: “Although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.” Even two thousand years ago when Romans was written, people were denying the real God and worshiping a god of their own making. The reality of God’s existence was and is undeniable, but, rather than bow to Him, mankind “reinvents” Him.

We see the Romans 1 downward spiral happening in our culture today. The word God is socially acceptable in nearly every sphere because it has come to mean whatever we want it to mean. However, the name of Jesus is considered divisive and intolerant (1 Corinthians 1:18). Words like repentance, sin, and surrender are rarely heard—or even preached. The consequence of such self-worship is a society that has a thin veneer of religiosity but no moral foundation. As in Old Testament days, everyone does what is right in their own eyes (Judges 17:6; cf. Proverbs 21:2). When every person decides for himself what is acceptable, chaos, anarchy, and unrestrained evil result. Modern civilizations, including the United States, are quickly sliding into that abyss.

The rejection of God also blinds us to the value of human life. This devaluing is seen in the “abortion culture” so loudly defended in the public arena. When human life is reduced to a commodity, individuals become little more than objects we can use or discard according to our personal needs. When a man with that mindset sees a vulnerable woman he can use for sexual gratification, his top priority is pleasing himself. His second priority may be avoiding consequences. If he can achieve penalty-free self-gratification, he takes what he can get. His conscience has long since been seared, and he can violate, abuse, and rape without moral qualms (Romans 1:24). Not all men with that mindset will rape women, because they have chosen different priorities. But the motivation is the same: I am my own god and I should have whatever I want if I can have it without negative consequences.

Another factor that can contribute to a rape culture is the overt sexuality that saturates our world. From various media outlets, the internet, and in our conversations, modern culture is awash in sexuality. Sex has become a god, and worshipers are unabashed at singing its praises. Anything goes if it occurs between consenting adults. That type of loose boundary has no signposts that warn of danger, and those who worship sex often find themselves ensnared in a prison they never intended. What God designed to be a part of married life has become the king of all life, often reducing its subjects to beggars and slaves.

Pornography is another contributor to the rape culture. It is nearly unavoidable, and it works its own power in desensitizing and dehumanizing sexuality. Pornography creates appetites that cannot be met through healthy married expression. Its victims find themselves with insatiable desires that increasingly demoralize them until they find themselves in the headlines as one of those “otherwise upstanding young men” who has done the unthinkable. Ironically, many people who decry the rape culture also decry the regulation of sexually explicit material. Even prime time television now displays the kinds of vulgarities that only a few years ago would have been created public outrage. The appetite for sexual degradation affects every part of life and helps create a culture that portrays women, children, and the innocent as sexual objects.

Another factor in the discussion of rape culture is the sexually immoral lifestyle of the average American. It is easy to self-righteously denounce the existence of a rape culture, but it’s not so easy to acknowledge one’s contribution to it. A contradictory message is sent by society: “I should be free to flaunt my sexuality in any way I choose and have sex any time I want, but everyone else must respond to my provocation in the way I choose in whatever moment I choose.” Sometimes the same people who demand the right to debase themselves publicly are outraged when others respond in deplorable ways. It is not difficult to see how rape becomes more common in a society in which sex is a casual encounter.

A rape culture will prevail any time people defy God’s moral standards and create their own. Some important questions should be asked in ascertaining a society’s descent into a rape culture:

– If a civilization insists upon celebrating sexual perversions of every sort, is it capable of maintaining a morally safe culture?

– Can a culture that openly flaunts its “rights” to be sexually immoral manufacture respect for any sexual boundaries?

– Can a society that denies the very existence of a Creator simultaneously view human beings as intrinsically valuable and worthy of respect?

– If every person is indeed his or her own god, then is rape really wrong? Who decides the morality of any action?

Galatians 6:7 warns us what happens when we remove the authority of God from our values, our goals, and our laws: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” And a society reaps what it sows as well. Rape culture is not propagated by a godly, Christian people. It is not ignored by those who hold fast to biblical standards. A rape culture is allowed to take root and grow when the people who claim to hate it are actually some of those who help to nourish it.

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022