What is the Rape Culture and How to Destroy it?

Violence against women has worrying numbers in Latin America and the world. Behind this phenomenon hides the rape culture that socially justifies sexist acts.

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LatinAmerican Post | María Fernanda Ramírez Ramos

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Leer en español: ¿Qué es la cultura de la violación y cómo hacerle frente?

The increase in gender-based violence during the pandemic, the 8M demonstrations, the recent achievements of feminist groups and femicides on the continent highlight the need for social change that urgently eliminates the macho culture. In this article we tell you what rape culture is, why it should matter to you, and what its scenario is in Latin America.

Sarai Colmenares was 12 years old, she was sexually exploited, tortured and murdered. She was a Venezuelan girl, made vulnerable by her migrant status in Colombia. In the neighborhood of Palermo, in Buenos Aires, a 20-year-old woman was raped by 5 men inside a car. Lourdes Mañon, 13, disappeared in Mexico. Days later her body was found with signs of torture and rape. A 22-year-old woman was raped by five men while returning home with her boyfriend in Quindío, Colombia. They were threatened with death with weapons, gagged and beaten.

All these cases have taken place in the first quarter of 2022 and have shocked the region. These stories join those of Giuliana, Paula, María, Laura and thousands of women and girls who suffer gender-based violence, sexual abuse and violent deaths every day. According to the latest data from ECLAC 's Gender Equality Observatory for Latin America and the Caribbean , "in Latin America, the highest rates of femicide per 100,000 women in 2020 correspond to Honduras (4.7 per 100,000 women), the Republic of Dominican Republic (2.4) and El Salvador (2.1)”. In Mexico, during the first two months of 2022, 122 cases of murders of women with extreme cruelty have been registered, according to a report by the Common Cause Organization . In Colombia, there were 622 cases of femicide during 2021, according to the report of the Colombian Feminicide Observatory .

These are alarming figures for the region that concern the authorities and international organizations. What's going on? There are multiple factors that are related to these atrocious events. However, there is a cultural one that is deeply rooted in society. We talk about rape culture.

What is rape culture?

Machismo is a metastructural violence. That is, it transcends society and can be found in various contexts. On the other hand, it is rooted thanks to beliefs and social imaginaries that have been built up over the years. In this sense, the culture of rape is part of a series of thoughts and attitudes that end up justifying gender violence.

They are thoughts and behaviors that sexualize women. According to UN Women “Rape culture occurs in social environments that allow sexual violence to be normalized and justified, and in these environments it feeds on persistent gender inequalities and attitudes about gender and sexuality.” In addition, the first step to eradicate it is to identify it.

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Catcalling, certain types of advertising, pornography, sexual harassment and dark humor are part of this rape culture. Although it seems that this series of behaviors are harmless, they really have a snowball effect that ends up having a great impact on the way in which the role of women in public and private spaces is conceived.

In this way, women and girls end up being conceived as an object over which it is easy to exercise power and domination. The philosopher Ana de Miguel, in her book "Sexual neoliberalism, the myth of free choice", points out how in the current context women's bodies have ended up entering the culture of consumption protected under the argument of "freedom" . However, a deeper analysis is needed on the extent to which the current dynamics reproduce new forms of violence and domination.

How to end rape culture?

In this alarming scenario, it is necessary for all people to reflect and change their attitudes and behaviors , especially men.

  • Stop blaming the victims: Rape can never be justified on someone's level of alcohol, dress, location, or behavior.

  • Do not make jokes or comments that reinforce stereotypes: Say no to jokes about harassment and rape. Stop using phrases that justify inappropriate behavior such as "the man proposes and the woman disposes" or "men are men and cannot contain themselves".

  • Embrace new masculinities: It's time to redefine what it means to be a man. You don't have to be aggressive, strong and exert power over others. Educate yourself on the subject and learn about the attitudes you can change.

  • Adopt the culture of consent: no one has rights over another person. "No" is "no" in any circumstance. Kisses, sex and physical contact must be consensual. The absence of consent is not the presence of an affirmation.


However, if along with the changes in the collective imaginary there are no changes at the institutional level, the eradication of violence against women will be just a dream. For this reason, it is essential that governments implement zero tolerance policies towards gender violence with legal systems that guarantee that there is no impunity.

Likewise, it is necessary to develop projects that allow the development of women's capacities, especially those in conditions of vulnerability, that allow them economic independence, as indicated by proposals such as those of the philosopher Martha Nussbaum or the Nobel Prize in Economics, Amartya Sen. In conclusion, it is urgent to make a multisectoral approach to gender issues. In addition, it is necessary to educate and involve all members of the communities.

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