I am raising two daughters in a country where this phrase exists, and it is sickening. How can I protect them? How can I raise them to protect themselves?
This phrase is uttered daily with diminishing disgust, not because we are more accepting of rape but because we are progressively anesthetized to its horror because of its prevalence. And the prevalence is terrifying and nauseating
Think about that—rape culture.
A culture in which the violent theft of peace, innocence, wholeness, and well-being is normative.
A culture in which sexual coercion and attacks are just part of life.
A culture in which young women have no advocates, no security, and no value except “twenty minutes of action.”
Words cannot do justice to how repulsive this is. No woman is ever at fault for an assault done to her. No woman bears blame because a man coerces or forces her into a sexually compromising position. And no unwanted sexual act toward a woman is defensible or ignorable.
So I want to address men, young men and fathers alike, because it’s our responsibility to change this heinous “culture.”
Rape Culture and The Male Athlete
In the last year we have seen the football program at Baylor University turned upside down as a pattern of sexual assault came to light and it was shown that the athletic director and football coaches did little or nothing to resolve them.
In another well-publicized case, a judge sentenced a former Stanford University swimmer to a mere six months in prison—a sentence which he will serve only half of—for raping an unconscious woman because a longer sentence would “have a severe effect on him.” (I should hope so—that is the point of punishment for crimes, after all.)
While these stories were rightly drawing outrage the Washington Post published an article revealing that more than half the college men they surveyed admitted to coercing a partner into sex.
These three stories are disgustingly exemplary of what rape culture is—young men feeling little remorse or hesitation at harming young women and a system of authority that does little to hinder or correct them.
They are not isolated incidents either. In 2014 a female University of Missouri swimmer committed suicide after her rape was not investigated or dealt with by the school or University police.
Nearly every week you can find a story of a male athlete being dismissed from a team for a violent act against a woman. The University of Louisville's men’s basketball team has been investigated for using female escorts to lure recruits, a tactic rumored to be used widely elsewhere. Are these actions rape? Not technically, but they are exploitative of women and indicative of how so many men view them—all part of rape culture.
I don’t know whether such actions are more prevalent among athletes or simply more publicized, but it seems that their privileged position on college campuses gives some athletes a sense of invulnerability and the system that is supposed to provide oversight actually provides protection from justice.
How did we get here? What led young men to believe that sex is a thing to be forcibly inflicted on young women? What led them to see themselves so dishonorably and to view women so cheaply? Sin unchecked, sex commoditized, and selves worshiped. Young men live without boundaries and with no sense of who they are or what place sex has in life.
Our Sexual Ethic: No Ethic At All
Our country has a broken sexual ethic. It might be more accurate to say we have no sexual ethic.
Sex has no boundaries, no purpose but self-pleasure, and no defined place. It is how we define fulfillment, and in a culture that values self over all else that means an individual’s pursuit of sex can easily go unchecked.
Instead of being a shared act of mutual pleasure with a rightful place between husband and wife sex has become a drug to which America is addicted. We are simply chasing the high, consequences be damned.
We see this in pornography, a $12 billion industry in the United States, and of course that doesn’t include the amount of free porn accessed daily.
Porn is sexual pleasure offered without commitment or vulnerability—two ingredients in any healthy sexual relationship—and usually at the expense of the participants. It glorifies abuse, manipulation, and exploitation. Men are often faceless bodies and women are their pliable playthings.
And the young men of our country shotgun it like cheap beer at a frat party until they are too stupefied to know what’s what. They may think it is innocent pleasure, but it is affirming the upside down sexual ethic and confirming the cheapness of both sex and women.
Boys Without Dads Struggle to Be Men
Combine these factors with a culture full of fatherless young men, either literally or because their fathers have abdicated responsibility, and you get young men without discipline who view sex as a commodity and women as the delivery vehicle.
Who is to teach young men who they are, how they are to be, and how to view women?
Who is to set the limits on a young man’s life and provide the necessary consequences if he breaks those limits so that he learns the way he should live?
Who is to fill young men with truth, with godly confidence as image-bearers, and with deep respect and care for people of both genders as fellow image-bearers.
But there is a shortage. Not of men to make babies, but of fathers who actually raise them.
Boys without the guiding influence of wiser more mature men stay bros for life. And buy into the “bro code” that sees sex as a conquest and shrugs at infidelity. Boys without such influences struggle to be become men—strong, godly strong men who love women as equals and care for them as people.
(None of this cheapens the efforts or impact of mothers, especially not single mothers. The role they play in their sons’ lives is no less important, and millions fight and strive to be both mother and father. Simply put, though, every young man yearns for and needs a father figure who is strong and affirming, corrective and constructive.)
Male and Female, In His Image
What both young men and women are left with is no sense of personhood—of identity as unique, invaluable, precious image bearers of God. Women have been cheapened to objects and men have been cheapened to mindless pursuers of said objects. What lies. What loss.
No human solutions will wholly resolve this problem, although proper enforcement of laws and policies, coaches and administrators doing their jobs, and staunch defense of victims would certainly help reduce violence against women.
But this only treats the symptoms. They need to be treated lest they rage out of control, but the disease must be diagnosed and treated too.
The disease called sin has taken our eyes off our creator to worship the creation, especially self and sex. When we see ourselves as ultimately important and sex as the ultimate pleasure why wouldn’t we force it on another? They are, after all, not as important.
This lie was born in Eden and hisses into the hearts of young men across America. Male and female God created us, in His image. But Adam and eve bought the lie of self-glorification—wanting to be God—and we have bought it every day since, and in the pursuit of self love we lost our true selves, our true personhood.
Rape culture is the outflow of this, of the gender which holds both societal and physical strength advantages using those to exploit instead of protect, to harm instead of to help.
Each of us, apart from the transforming grace of God, will pursue our own pleasure at the expense of others. Without boundaries and enforcement nothing stops that pursuit from raping someone. This is rape culture—the pursuit of pleasure without conscience or boundaries or humanity—and it needs to be fought by advocates, those who care about the wellbeing of young women and young men.
But it can only be defeated by the promises of scripture—promises of identity, joy, fulfillment, purity, wholeness, redemption, and restoration.
These promises are what will transform perpetrators and heal victims. That is the power of Christ through the Holy Spirit.
Young men must turn their estimable energies to these truths and dig into them like their lives depend on it, for they do. Parents, fathers, must show and tell our children these truths so that our sons have someone to imitate and our daughters have a model of who to love.
Pastors must proclaim them consistently since culture would rather rape then listen.
Coaches must live them so players see a better way.
Managers and leaders must be guided by them so that issues don’t go unaddressed and organizational cultures uplift instead of becoming toxic places for men and women alike.
Teammates and classmates must be shaped by them so they can be true friends, holding one another to a truly fulfilling standard of joy and meaning and happiness.
These promises are the only hope when evil has become so prevalent and accepted as to define a culture.