“This is What Rape Culture Looks Like” – PAVE UW-Madison

There has been some controversy recently on Madison’s campus about the existence of rape culture. Take a look at PAVE’s great response to the debate.

To read the article on the original tumblr page, click here.


This is What Rape Culture Looks Like: A Response to the Badger Herald Letter to the Editor

Thank you, Badger Herald, for the stunning example of how rape culture is alive and well on the UW-Madison campus.  There are several aspects of the recent Letter to the Editor that Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment (PAVE) feels warrant response.

We noticed a misinterpretation of what “rape culture” actually is.  Rape culture is the way society comes to understand rape as unavoidable.  This leads people to believe that rape and sexual assault are unstoppable phenomena, and often even acceptable.  Directly in contrast to this is the idea that rape happens because people are inherently evil.  Rape culture is not a result of bad people, but is a societal construct that perpetuates harmful victim blaming attitudes.

We would also like to pause to define rape and sexual assault.  People do understand that rape is illegal, but often people do not have a full understanding of what rape and sexual assault actually are.  Rape is vaginal, anal and/ or oral penetration without consent.  Sexual assault is any sexual contact without consent.  Consent is a free and clearly given yes, not the absence of a no, and cannot be received when a person is incapacitated by alcohol or drugs.

Part of rape culture is perpetuating harmful myths that surround sexual violence, many of which were exemplified in the previously published letter.  One such myth is the idea that sexual assault is often falsely reported and that every time a woman reports to the police, the perpetrator goes to jail.  Sexual assaults are falsely reported at the same rate as other crimes such as theft.  By falsely accusing women of falsely accusing rapists, you are taking away the credibility of real victims.  Beyond this, only 3 out of 100 rapists will ever spend even a single day in prison— this number being out of the 40 out of 100 that are reported to police at all (Department of Justice).

The false report myth is related to the idea that many women use rape as an excuse for drunken sex that they regret.  Sexual assault survivors carry an enormous amount of stigma provided to them by rape culture, and coming out as a victim or survivor can be a traumatizing experience in itself.  Disclosing a sexual assault is not exploitation for publicity, and only the victim is able to define their experience.

Another myth perpetuated by this article is that rap culture is rape culture.  Rape culture is not the product of a single identity, culture, or musical genre.

There is also the myth that sexual assault is caused by drinking, which leads to the attitude that a woman who drinks is responsible if she is assaulted.

These myths are harmful in many different ways.  They contribute to rape culture by creating a structure that blames victims rather than supports them.  This then works to silence victims, through communicating that their experience was invalid, or that they are in some way at fault.  The people affected are not just statistics, and rape culture is not a fallacy—this culture exists, and silences your friends, family, peers, and your own understanding of experience and trauma.

We understanding that recognizing rape culture can be difficult.  It is never simple to recognize the role that each of us plays in problematic behavior.  No one wants to recognize that the language they use or the media outlets they support contribute to a culture that minimizes the experience of sexual assault survivors.  However, this is no excuse for denial.  If more people take responsibility for their own role in perpetuating rape culture, it is possible to stop the cycle.  People reaffirming harmful beliefs, whether directly or through silence, contribute to rape culture.

Lastly, thank you to those who have been speaking out in a positive way.  Your voices count!

Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment (PAVE) is a student organization dedicated to preventing sexual assault, dating violence and stalking through education and activism.  If you would like to continue to engage in this conversation, please reach out to PAVE by emailing chair.pave@gmail.com.  Also, join the conversation on Twitter with #thisisrapeculture.  If you or someone you know need support, there are many resources available to you.  The Rape Crisis Center has a 24-hour crisis line that can be reached at (608)251-RAPE.  The Dean of Students Office and University Health Services are also great places to seek support.


1.     Department of Justice, Felony Defendents in Large Urban Counties: average of 2002-2006


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