Last week singer Chris Brown was detained in Paris after a rape allegation was made against him by a young woman. He has since been released by the French authorities without being charged, and stated he plans to sue his accuser for slander.
Irrespective of the truth, the initial reaction to Chris Brown’s arrest and the following media storm has shown that rape culture is still prevalent in our society, and that there is a distinct lack of understanding what the concept of what it is.
For example, when news broke of Brown’s arrest, my social media timelines were awash with comments along the lines of ‘but Chris Brown doesn’t need to rape’. This may seem like a benign and frankly nonsensical defence, but it is entirely subversive in nature. Influential men don’t rape women because of a ‘lack of options’, influential men rape for the same reasons other people rape – as a form of power. Sex as a weaponised tool is nothing new and there have been countless examples throughout history, most commonly in war, where those most vulnerable and most at risk have been subjected to sexual assault. And in the case of powerful men, they sexually assault women because they become messianic and are protected by similar men of standing. When the men who commit such crimes aren’t held accountable, that only sends a toxic message to the general public: that sexual assault is permissible.
There are plenty of examples in art, music and books where women are objectified and seemingly exist solely for a man’s pleasure. This seeps into the rape culture in our society and infects how we handle accusers. In the wake of allegations against Brown, questions flew about what his accuser would have been wearing, where she was, whether she was inebriated – there still appears to be this notion that a woman should be held accountable, as though (if the allegations against Brown were true), the alleged assault would have been her own fault. This doesn’t boil down to a lack of understanding about sexual assault – instead it’s a message conveyed by proponents of rape culture to discredit victims and normalise abuse.
In order to tackle rape culture, we need to challenge the social narratives that surround sexual assault. We have to hold men accountable for their actions, and we need to ensure the authorities are doing everything they can to protect those who are vulnerable. Objectification of women in the arts must be tackled by revising how we depict women, and we must reiterate how important consent is at any stage.
There is a lot of work being done on local levels, with consent workshops on university campuses being one example, but this education needs to come at an earlier stage, perhaps even be written into schools curriculums. Rape culture is insidious and will needs a conscious collective effort to be defeated.