Rape Culture: Yes or No? Let’s argue, then activate!


I am fascinated at how much energy is being generated arguing the existence of rape culture in mainstream media and in the blogosphere. For more than thirty years I have put a whole lot of my own personal and professional energy into changing attitudes, behaviors, practices, policies that ignore, condone, accept, deny, and cover up sexual violence. Sounds like a definition of culture to me, unless I am remembering my anthropology and sociology classes incorrectly.

Our agency, originated in the 70’s then known as LACAAW, and like so many of the movement builders of the time, the founders believed that the only way to impact individual behaviors of violence was to change the culture that supports it, teaches it or tolerates it. Now this method is known as the Public Health Model of prevention (the anti-smoking campaign is a signature success story of this model). I personally have spent a lot of years in the company of a whole bunch of dedicated folks, advocates, survivors, lawyers, journalists, artists, educators and even electeds, etc. trying to change rape culture so that the sexual abuse and rape that is embedded in so many of our shared institutions like schools, universities, prisons, military and within families will be eliminated. After all the scandals and cover-ups that have been exposed like Penn State, the Catholic Church, the US Military, etc., we are finally on the cusp of actually changing this culture of cover-up. When a rape victim tells the story of being blamed for being sexually assaulted because of what she was wearing, and another one tells, and another one tells, the prevalence of this commentary displays not a random attitude but a cultural belief that spreads harms and sits squarely in the culture and needs to be challenged.

The Denim Day in LA & USA campaign, now in its 15th year, inspired by the “jeans alibi” in a rape trial in Italy, originated in LA and now has spread to USA and internationally. POV’s sexual violence prevention education campaign has worked to educate about and debunk the myths about rape in all its forms and venues. By taking the NO EXCUSES campaign to high schools and college campuses and throughout the community, we have been debunking the harmful attitudes that persist around sexual violence and rape. The goal of Denim Day USA is to support survivors through their healing and recovery by dismantling the lies, myths and deceits that are the underpinnings of a rape culture wherever that culture resides.  We are at the same time educating the jury pool, teachers, legislators and parents among others. When cities and states join in declaring Denim Day NYC, Denim Day Nevada, Denim Day Milwaukee etc., they are making powerful statements for change. So let’s not become paralyzed by the argument about whether rape culture exists let’s be inspired to get out there and change it. Wear jeans on purpose on April 23rd and become part of the solution, staying on the sidelines only fuels the harmful attitudes and structures that need to change.