By Liesbet Debecker
Donald Trump has a history of demeaning women who speak out against sexual assault. But the effects of what he is doing are not minor. What does it mean when the leader of one of the most powerful nations in the world is actively, although maybe not consciously, contributing to rape culture?
The Oxford dictionary defines rape culture as “A society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalising or trivialising sexual assault and abuse.” It’s a culture where, as some have put it, people aren’t taught not to rape, but rather how not to be raped. It’s the idea that women are being raped by strangers lurking in the bushes late at night, who have been waiting for their (random) victim to pass by. It’s the idea that the victim has responsibility in this attack, because she was wearing a short skirt, or tight jeans, or simply walking by herself late at night. And yes, I only speak of female victims, because according to this myth, men are strong enough to fight off any type of sexual assault. This narrative is obviously false. According to the United States Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), every 98 seconds someone in America is sexually assaulted. 1 out of 6 American women is the victim of attempted or completed rape during her lifetime. Almost half of sexual assault victims was at, or near, his or her home when the assault happened, 12 percent were at or near a relative’s house and 8 percent were at school, which indicates that in most cases the victims were familiar with the perpetrator. Sexual assault is a problem that goes way beyond the classical rape myth, yet rape culture persists. It manifests itself in popular culture, in the way rape victims are being dealt with by police and in legal proceedings, in “locker-room” banter; the list is endless.
Why? Because powerful and influential men like Trump contribute to rape culture. How? Through what he says and the language he uses when discussing the allegations of sexual assault made against any of his political allies.
“He plainly questioned the women’s allegations or flat-out denied them.”
When Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore was accused of molesting teenage girls, Trump continued to support Moore’s candidacy, taking a simple denial of the allegations as satisfactory. It seems like his willingness to take a man at his word, but not believe a woman, is a recurring pattern. In the cases of former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and recently also in the Brett Kavanaugh case, he plainly questioned the women’s allegations or flat-out denied them. This reconfirms the myth that women lie about sexual assault, as if they had something to gain from it. For example, in the Roy Moore case, the presented narrative was that these women – nine in total – were paid by the Democratic party to lie. In my opinion, it seems highly unlikely that the Democratic Party would put time, effort – and money – into paying nine women to make up these kinds of stories. Seemingly equally unlikely is that a university professor like Dr. Blasey Ford who has accused (now Supreme Court judge) Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were both teenagers, a woman with a well-established career and income, would make up this story to gain money or fame. Given the incredibly negative reactions and even threats that these women receive, they have more to lose than to gain by making their stories public.
Unsurprisingly enough, the data does not even support this narrative of false accusations. According to one Vox article, experts estimate that only 2 to 8 percent of sexual assault reports are false. These, however, also include reports filed against made-up strangers, instead of naming a real person as the perpetrator. This brings the total of falsely accused men to less than 1%. Yet the President of the United States brands women who speak up against their attackers as liars instantly.
“Women’s bodies should not be political playgrounds.”
Of course, Trump’s attitude is a symptom of a more general problem. He is not the only powerful man (or woman!) to perpetuate rape culture. Others in the Republican Party echo Trump’s views, or refuse to take a strong stand on the issue. In the Kavanaugh case, some politicians seem to struggle between the credibility displayed by Blasey Ford and their party interests. Most decided to follow the party agenda. Women’s bodies should, however, not be political playgrounds. Protecting them should be above party politics.
Imagine a little
girl hearing all of this. Imagine how it will affect her. If she is ever the
victim of sexual assault, which, according to statistics, is quite likely, how
high will the probability be of her going to the police or generally speaking about
what happened, with the current narrative provided by rape culture? Trump has
recently said it’s a very scary time for young men, now that they may be accused
of something they might not have done. But what about the ‘scary time’ that is
called women’s daily lives?
 Quoted from this Buzzfeed-article, which also provides interesting examples of what rape culture entails: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/ryanhatesthis/what-is-rape-culture#.imRXxK7JY
Liesbet Debecker did a bilingual bachelor in law at the Brussels campus of the Catholic University of Leuven. After that, she obtained her masters in law at the Catholic University of Leuven, spending one year of her master’s on exchange at the University of Vienna. Her specialisations were criminal law, international and European law, but she wrote her thesis in human rights law. Her main interest is gender issues in law.