On social media, news spreads fast. So when the All India Backhood, a sketch-comedy group on YouTube, posted a video on Sept. 19 titled “It’s Your Fault,” it quickly scattered throughout the internet. The video features two Indian women talking about rape culture: the social tendency to blame women for rape. The video takes an unconventional yet effective approach to the sensitive subject. The women in the video sarcastically blame women as the cause of 100 percent of sexual assaults. “It’s Your Fault” now boasts over 2.6 million views and appeared in an article on Upworthy, a website that promotes dynamic viral content.
According to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network [RAINN], in the U.S. alone there are approximately 207,754 sexual assaults committed a year – that is about one every two minutes. Fifty-four percent of those rapes go unreported, and as stated by the U.S. Department of Justice, only three out of every 100 rapists will serve time. In 2010 and 2011, Albion had two reported sexual assaults on campus, and in 2012 there were three in the annual Clery report. According to their campus safety, Michigan State University reported 14, 15 and 20 sexual assaults the last three years, respectively.
I sat down and discussed the issue with Dr. Scott Melzer, associate professor and chair of the Anthropology-Sociology department. When asked if he observed reluctance in women to report crimes like rape and sexual assault to the police, he thought there absolutely was.
“Essentially, after being the victim of this brutal crime, if you actually pursue it to trial often times along the way or even at trial, women have been questioned about their motives, their sexual past, how much were they drinking, what were they wearing and who were they with,” Melzer said.
The process of blaming the victim, often referred to as “slut shaming,” is a topic being tackled by feminists globally. Annually, many victims of sexual assault march in the “Slut Walk,” which began in Toronto and has now occurred in places like New York and Chicago. Participants protest the idea that women invite rapists based on what they wear. They argue it doesn’t matter what a woman is wearing, no means no.
Here at Albion, Melzer notes the reactions of his students when the topic of rape and sexual violence is brought up in his classroom, and the results are encouraging.
“I’ve observed some changes over that period of time as our culture increasingly rejects these rigid ideas about what men and women should be and do,” Melzer said. “I think our society is much more aware of these issues than we were, certainly 40 years ago, but even 20 years ago, and much more strongly opposed.”
This social stigma that women can be blamed for being attacked is something ingrained in our culture. It’s observed in movies, social media and even in the recent scandal involving Miley Cyrus and her performance at the VMAs.
“We expect young girls in even their early stages to control themselves sexually, to not be very sexually active beings to a great extent, and if they are, then our society punishes them and gives them all these negative labels,” Melzer said about the differences society places on the genders for how they should behave. “Vice-versa, if boys or young men engage in a lot of sex we essentially reward them [and] call them players and studs.”
There is good news, though. According to RAINN, instances of rape and sexual assault have fallen an enormous 60 percent since 1993. Social media has really given women and men alike a new voice to speak out against rape culture. Things like blog posts from victims, the video “It’s Your Fault” and organizations like “MissRepresentation,” an association dedicated to speaking up about how women are portrayed in mass media, are all new platforms on which women can stand up and protest the social injustices they experience. I asked Melzer if he believed social media was empowering to women, or if the overstimulation of advertisements and other media was degrading to women:
“It is a powerful tool, particularly for people who have been disempowered,” Melzer said. “Social media and new media provide people with an opportunity who otherwise wouldn’t be able to communicate their message to a broad audience.”
Social phenomenons like rape culture are not something that humans can overcome in a month or a year. It will be hard to forget stereotypes that have existed for many decades, but the result could be a world in which women aren’t reluctant to speak out and report crimes like these.
Photo courtesy of the All India Backhood