What is Rape Culture? A Cross-Cultural Problem

ByAily Shimizu

Rape culture describes a culture in which sexual violence is common, accepted, normalized, tolerated, or even condoned. It permeates across geographical borders and transgresses social and cultural differences.

Recently, four UN agencies allied together to research violence against women across the Asia-Pacific region. They conducted 10,000 interviews with men across seven countries, generating astounding results: “One in four said they had raped a woman or girl, while one in 25 admitted to taking part in gang rape.” 

Aela Callan, producer of “It’s a man’s world,” interviewed a Cambodian man who openly admitted he had raped women, and she was surprised by his frankness and candor in providing detailed recollections of his horrific acts.

“In fact, men are far more likely to admit carrying out a rape or gang rape, than a victim is to report it.  Perpetration, it seems, does not carry the same stigma as being a victim,” she blogged. 

The Cambodian government has been subject to criticism about its failures to protect victims of sexual violence.

“The police only work if you have money, if you can pay. With around 100,000 riels [approx. $25 USD] perhaps we could have secured an arrest, but we don’t have that,” explained a father of a rape victim, expressing his frustration with the difficulty of pursuing legal or medical services.

But even with the presence of social stigma, enforcement of laws prohibiting rape, and the availability of victims’ services, rape culture nevertheless still endures. 

First, the occurrence of rapes in the United States is similar to those in the Asia-Pacific region, a region known for having some of the highest recorded levels of violence against women. In the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey sponsored by the National Institute of Justice and the Department of Defense, nearly one in five women in the U.S. have been raped in their lifetime. 

Secondly, as the evidence from the Steubenville rape case makes clear, rapes that occur in America are similarly celebrated. The video and pictures taken of the rape demonstrates not just the failure of the boys to realize that their conduct was unacceptable but to think that their behavior was dope. Victim-blaming responses via social media reinforces this notion — what the boys did was justified and therefore acceptable.  

Despite the many social, economic, and political differences between Cambodia and the U.S., ultimately, perpetrators in both countries felt justified in disregarding women’s autonomy and the right to safety. In both, rape and sexual humiliation of women is normalized to the point where men failed to recognize their conduct as inappropriate or even criminal.

The prevalence of rape culture makes clear that violence against women is an international problem. It’s no longer a women’s rights issue, but a human rights issue.