The Saint Anselm Crier

Rape Culture exists, and women are not the only victims

Leah Stagnone, Crier Staff

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Dear Editor,


In the previous edition of The Crier, a Letter to the Editor was published as part of an exchange discussing, among other topics, sexual assault and hookup culture on the Saint Anselm College campus. In this letter, the author asserts that “rape culture” does not exist at Saint Anselm or at any college, and that sexual assault on college campuses simply arises from “the widespread emergence of sex outside of marriage.” While he claims that he is not trying to link hookup culture and sexual violence in a casual relationship, the author’s entire letter serves to argue that we can blame the incidence of sexual assault on our culture’s willingness to accept sexual relationships outside of marriage. Frankly, I am disappointed that The Crier chose to give this message a platform. However, as a senior at Saint Anselm who has experienced firsthand the toxic culture which the author claims does not exist, I feel compelled to respond.

In an effort to discredit the prevalence of sexual assault and misconduct on college campuses, the author cites a narrow definition of the term “rape culture,” which only includes the specific crime of rape and its normalization. He, however, neglects other definitions that encompass a more generalized culture in which bodily autonomy is not respected and the onus of preventing sexual violence falls upon the shoulders of the victim, rather than those of the perpetrator. A more academic definition from the book Transforming a Rape Culture describes rape culture as “a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women” and “a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself.” Other scholarly descriptions cite victim-blaming, bias in criminal laws, and efforts to regulate women’s sexuality as manifestations of rape culture. I should note that sexual violence stemming from these gendered power dynamics does not solely affect women, and occurs at especially high rates against members of the LGBTQ+ community.

In my four years at Saint Anselm, myself and too many of my friends have on different occasions been the victims of acts that, while not “rape,” were violating, humiliating, scary, and nonconsensual. The author shrugs off situations like these, writing that while unpleasant, “an unprompted and unwanted kiss is clearly not on the same level as actual rape.” I make no claims of equivalency, but only point out that all sexual misconduct and assault, notwithstanding the “level,” fall into the same continuum that people are referring to when they talk about “rape culture.” Few people would argue that a nonconsensual kiss is equivalent to forced sexual intercourse, or that it should be punished as such.

The point I wish to make is that rape culture includes all types of nonconsensual advances, and that all nonconsensual actions should be considered extremely problematic regardless of their “level.” The experience of being violated and overpowered to any degree is more than “unpleasant.” It is scary and morally abhorrent. Does the author believe that only “real” rape counts as sexual assault? His narrow focus on rape statistics fails to acknowledge the frequency in which students’ bodily autonomy is otherwise often disrespected, and his further normalization of these violations is actually a perfect example of what people mean when they use the term “rape culture.”

The author cites the recent #MeToo and #TimesUp movements as proof that rape culture cannot possibly exist, since these movements denounced sexual assault and its perpetrators, and the existence of rape culture would by definition necessitate the normalization of sexual assault. Realistically, these movements should be seen as revolutionary breakthroughs in how we as a culture address sexual assault, rather than as expressions of the status quo. Even if we are making progress in the ways we discuss sexual violence and misconduct, the silence prior to these explosive movements and the pushback that in many cases resulted are evidence of previous normalization. Similarly, the staggering number of #MeToo stories that flooded social media for weeks should be seen as a confirmation that sexual violence and misconduct has, indeed, been pervasive in American culture for far too long.

The author writes that “claiming a culture of rape is a copout that doesn’t address any real issues,” and asserts that we should instead focus on securing justice for those who have faced abuse. It is true that addressing the systems and policies we live under is most important when attempting to create any sort of lasting and meaningful change, and most people would agree. However, doing so is not incompatible with demanding cultural change, and victims of sexual assault should not be shamed if, for whatever reason, they feel unable to report their abuse. Despite his criticisms, the author does not provide any further suggestions for addressing the problem of sexual assault, other than the prescription that people should refrain from sexual relations outside of marriage. While I respect abstinence as a personal decision, the implication that unmarried, nonreligious adults cannot respect each other enough to engage in sexual relationships without assaulting one another is extremely problematic.

Although a Christian foundation may provide moral guidance to some, religious values, abstinence, and marriage are not silver bullets for solving the problem of sexual assault. The author writes, “If we all agreed that sex was reserved for marriage alone, then there would be no blurred lines of consent.” This statement is unequivocally wrong, as it ignores the fact that rape and other forms of sexual abuse often occur within marriages. Additionally, even the leaders of the Catholic Church can attest that the Christian faith community has had its own issues with sexual assault, as has been heavily documented over the past thirty years. I say this not to disgrace the Church, but to acknowledge that sexual assault can be and has been a problem within every philosophy, religion, and culture.

The author argues that the real cause of sexual assault and misconduct on college campuses is not rape culture, but irresponsibility. He writes that “People see no problem with getting incredibly drunk and having sex with random people. If that sort of attitude leads to a higher rate of rape, then we need to address that attitude.” This statement implies that students who have casual sex or consume alcohol cannot be held responsible for prioritizing consent in their relationships. It suggests that students who make these lifestyle choices are out of line in expecting that others recognize their basic rights and dignities. This perspective also implies that sexual assault can be avoided through virtue and chastity, which is incorrect, and plays into the toxic idea that students who do engage in casual sex are “asking for it” if they are at some point victimized.   

In his most recent Letter to the Editor and in another previous  writing, the author asserts that sexually-motivated crimes and unwanted advances stem from America’s increasingly casual views toward sex, beginning with the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. This is simply untrue. Sexual assault has been a problem throughout all of history. While societal views toward sex have liberalized in recent decades, these changes have brought issues of sexual misconduct and assault to the forefront, where they are taken more seriously. While rape is still one of the most underreported crimes and data is only so reliable, evidence strongly suggests that rates of sexual violence have decreased significantly since the women’s liberation movement that the author is so quick to blame.

And yet, sexual assault and harassment persist as issues in America today. According to the National Institute of Justice and the CDC, one out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. This is not due to a shortage of religiosity, but is rather a result of entrenched gendered power dynamics and sexual entitlement. I am sure that I will not change the author’s mind on this matter, and my intention is not to attack an individual or start a petty argument. Doing so would be unproductive. I write this letter because I recognize that unfortunately, the author is not alone in his beliefs, and it is important that this damaging perspective not go unchallenged on campus.

If you would like to continue this conversation, you can email me at [email protected]


Leah Stagnone ‘18


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1 Comment

One Response to “Rape Culture exists, and women are not the only victims”

  1. Peter Mahoney on April 15th, 2018 7:31 am

    Hi Leah

    That was wonderful, what do you think the effects of birth control has had on the cultural of sexual violence?


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Rape Culture exists, and women are not the only victims