Rape Culture in the U.S. – Causes and Solutions for an Epidemic Problem

‘Put molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it. Took her home and I enjoyed that, she aint’ even know it’.

~ Rapper Rick Ross, in ‘You Ain’t Even Know It’
(‘molly’ refers to MDMA, or Ecstasy)


Rape culture is alive and well in the United States. It asserts that men have a right to women’s bodies, with or without consent.                             

Nearly 1 in 3 male college students admitted they would rape a woman if they could be certain no one would find out and there would be no consequences, according to a University of North Dakota survey.

respect for personal boundaries is critical
Respect for others boundaries is essential to stopping rape culture

The survey, released in December 2014, contained sobering insight into the students’ definition of rape, depending on the wording of the question rather than an understanding of the behavior. When the question was posed as ‘would you act on intentions to force a woman to have sex’, 31.7% responded ‘yes’.

The researchers changed the wording of the question to ‘would you act on intentions to rape a woman’ and found that only 13.6% said ‘yes’.

Why did the respondents think there was a difference?

The paper, “Denying Rape but Endorsing Forceful Intercourse: Exploring Differences Among Responders,” was released recently in the journal ‘Violence and Gender’.

What the researchers discovered is that those respondents who said they might force a woman to have sex but ‘not rape her’ seemed to have high levels of indifferent sexual attitudes – in other words, they weren’t overtly hostile (as were the group who admitted to thinking that rape was acceptable), but they also didn’t perceive women as individuals who have the right to control their own bodies. It appeared that the respondents felt that acting aggressively was ‘expected’ and ‘manly’.

What cultural and peer behaviors encourage this belief?

  • In 2013, two Steubenville, Ohio high school football players were convicted and sentenced for the rape of a 16 year old girl. The media was flooded with comments about the young men, who had ‘such promising futures’ and how ‘sad it was their lives were ruined’


In reality, the girl was brutally assaulted by her peers, who transported, undressed, photographed and sexually assaulted her. The boys jokingly shared their crime on social media, posting photos of the rape, saying she was ‘like a dead body’ because she was incapacitated by alcohol. Hundreds of shared photos and text messages making light of the crime were presented as evidence during the trial.


  • At Kenilworth Junior High School in Petaluma, California, a school administrator informed all the female students that they ‘couldn’t wear tight pants because it caused the boys to be distracted’.


Why did the school feel it was incumbent upon the girls to change their dress and behavior? Purportedly because they feel the boys aren’t able to control themselves.  Why not teach mutual respect and boundaries instead?  This action inferred that the boys somehow weren’t to blame for their own behavior.


  • The treatment of women as ‘objects’, and violent behavior exhibited toward them by prominent sports figures such as NFL star Ray Rice sets a terrible example for teen boys who idolize these athletes. Had Mr. Rice’s vicious attack on his then fiancée not been videotaped and widely distributed in the media, it’s entirely possible the NFL would have looked the other way.


Who is responsible for perpetuating the belief that boys don’t need to respect boundaries with girls?

It seems everyone is to blame. Video games, Rap music, sports culture, internet porn, television, lack of action on the part of schools, and peer pressure are all factors. Adolescent and teen boys are getting the message that encourages them to ignore their emotions, objectify and degrade women, and resolve conflict through aggression. The media creates a minefield of gender identity and false expectations of what it means to become a ‘real’ man at a time in boy’s lives when they are struggling with overwhelming feelings of sexuality.

objectifying women in video games
Violent video games often portray women as ‘objects’

Is progress being made?

Arguably not fast enough, though there are programs to mentor young men and promote healthier, non-violent identities based on a set of values which embrace respect for women.

One such program is the Men of Strength Club. This school-based curriculum spans 22 weeks and teaches male teens ages 11-18 appropriate dating and relationship skills.  They are encouraged to show their ‘strength’ and masculinity in positive and empathetic ways among their peers.

Winning the 2007 United States Changemakers competition to identify the world’s most innovative domestic violence prevention programs, the Men of Strength Club is now in schools across 10 states, including California.

Obviously, we have a long way to go.  Providing fact-based sex education in our schools is one way to open dialog between parents and adolescents – the perfect opportunity to discuss the meaning of healthy relationships. The ‘Know it & Own it’ program developed by Citizens for Choice is a powerful tool in creating a sense of responsibility and respect in teens of both sexes.

Further Reading and Study:

The results of a 2013 National Study on teens and sexual violence: http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/10/08/2748631/national-study-adolescents-sexual-violence/

http://dayofthegirl.org/rape-culture/  This website addresses the neglect and devaluation of girls around the world

Documentary directed by Jennifer Newsome (Miss Representation) which explores the role of boys as they grow up with stereotypes and expectations of a society that condones aggression.