Cozy

A Feminist’s Guide to Reversing Rape Culture

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Content warning: sexual assault

My story began when I was six years old, and I was sexually assaulted by my cousin – who's 11 years older than me.

I'm an only child. My single mother worked 80 hours a week, and my father was absent for most of my life. It was just me and my 17-year-old cousin in the house until my grandma came back in the evenings. In American families, when you think of the average babysitter, the image of the teenage girl making $10 an hour comes to mind. However, in a traditional Asian household – like the one I was raised in – men are seen as the primary authority figures, whose responsibility is to take care of others.

One day, when my cousin came over, he took me upstairs to my mother’s bathroom. He threatened me not to tell anyone and I obeyed, not fully comprehending what was happening to me. This continued for another year, until he went to college.  

I lost my voice for eight years, and was filled with hatred for most of my childhood. Within that time frame, I experienced even more abuse by yet another cousin. Even my stepfather started to abuse me until one day, as a 14-year-old, I finally revealed the truth to my mother.

She told me that she believed me, but she wanted to keep pretending everything was okay and that none of it mattered. “It was in the past,” she said. “Greater things are ahead.” Even as I pleaded to talk about it more, even when I begged to go to therapy and seek help for myself, that was the last she spoke of it.

My stepfather moved out, but they continued to see each other, which made me build more resentment towards my family.

I buried this harrowing secret for many years – at one point, I even convinced myself that I somehow imagined everything. Deep down, though, I knew it wasn’t possible to come up with such an elaborate lie. I may be a creative and imaginative person, but I know I’m not a liar. Pain is a very solitary sense you cannot share with others.

In college, I numbed myself with drugs so that I wouldn’t have to feel. I bounced from one unstable relationship to another to fill whatever emotions I had left. My immune system continued to weaken, and I constantly felt deprived of energy.

At the time, one of my friends took me to a meeting for LGBTQ+ survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

My life was forever changed that evening

I didn’t expect to walk to the front of the room in a crowd full of strangers and share my story. What surprised me more, though, was not that I ended up getting up on that podium, but what I said.

With tears streaming down my face, I told everyone in the room that what got me through everything was faith. It was faith in something greater – something better out there, even as an agnostic. I promised myself that my life was going to be magnificent, despite my past.

Yes, there may be scars for the rest of my life, but I refuse to let them define me. Hope will get me through. After all, without hope, what else is there?

Reversing rape culture has significantly improved throughout the last couple of years, but we still have a long way to go. Rape culture is why my mother didn't want to believe me, and I’m sure other parents have felt similarly when they were placed in that position.

We need to explicate rape as a serious issue that constantly gets played down by our patriarchal institution. When I hear so many stories in the media of date rape and parties gone wrong, I can’t help but wonder if anyone even has morals anymore.

I have a female cousin who's now a freshman in college. There are many incidents of theft on her campus that worry her, but I wish she would worry more about other issues as well. She doesn’t concern herself with issues like rape, because sexual rights were rarely discussed in her high school sexual education class. For many adolescents, especially those from traditional families like ours, these classes are the only outlet to learn about this stuff.

I went to the same high school as her and took the same class taught by the same instructor — a male gym teacher who begrudgingly told us sex was for marriage only. He told us about the myriad of sexually transmitted diseases and infections an individual “will get if he or she has sex before marriage.” There was no mention of date rape, consent, or anything that is relevant to today’s society.

It’s 2021, and people are still getting away with sexually related crimes. It's a transgression I wish was more punishable. A slap on the wrist and a few days in a jail cell is not enough retribution to make a rapist not want to rape again. Not enough people want to admit it, but sexual assault can happen to anyone regardless of their age, gender, sexual identity, or socioeconomic status.

We, as feminists, can change that

Women are objectified and assaulted every damn day, in every city and every state. We need to spread awareness that any woman can be raped — a mother, a sex worker, a grandmother, a child, anyone. I am disgusted when I see men blatantly ogling a woman right in front of her face, or when they spurt unsolicited sexual advances out of their mouths.

Since I was 16, my friends and I have constantly been told by random men that we should “smile more because we’re so beautiful,” or that they “never thought Asians were attractive, but we were the exception.” Even if a man isn't raising his voice to a woman when he’s saying all of this, it's still harassment in broad daylight and nothing is being done about it.

You know how Olivia Pope always trusts her gut? All women can hone in on their intuitions, but the male-dominated society that we live in has repressed the woman for all of history. Society seems to have a way of making us feel small and invaluable. When I think about women’s rights in other parts of the world, I wonder how they view the United States. If only they knew how far we have to go to reach justice.

Too often, I read stories written by women who didn’t realize they were raped. I see comments from people who refuse to believe a woman has been raped just because she didn't report it immediately after the incident. What’s even worse is if they blame the victim – slut-shaming and saying they “asked” for it.

Why don’t more people know this is unacceptable? If anyone says they were raped, we need to trust them and remind them that it's never their fault. We need to abolish the fear of telling others, which is why so many cases of rape go unreported.

Some women have been conditioned to think sexual violence is an acceptable act for men. Why should there be discrimination towards women in the first place? Why should we live in a society that allows this to happen? Why is fear even an option? There are times I want to call out the men who bombard me on the street, but there’s always the chance of my retaliation being taken the wrong way. It’s disheartening that we live in a world where negative attention given to perpetrators can be worse than any attention given at all.

Society has tried to water down rape and blame inappropriate acts of sexual violence on a particular group of people. Colleges have used their money or influence to make rape claims go away.

We need to be teaching better sexual education. Rather than enforcing abstinence, we should be discussing consent and safety to all sexes.

Reversing rape culture starts here

We need to change the way in which we approach rape culture – just because the abuse may be invisible doesn't mean the scars aren't there. We need to talk about our experiences and share our stories with loved ones, survivors, and even those who validate rape culture. In addition to reforming education, this is how we'll be able to reverse this destructive cycle.

We need to stand strong, help others in need, and educate our children to build a new society that won't let sexism, racism, or ableism get in the way of what's right. Telling our stories as survivors and allies not only brings us together, but also becomes a platform in which the storyteller can feel better knowing that they are heard – that they're not alone, and that even they did feel alone at one point, they'll never feel that way again.