Society’s Need for a Change in Perspective

For the past few months, we have seen an influx in victims of sexual assault and harassment coming forward and facing their abusers. The rise of the #MeToo movement opened the doors for victims to come forward; the message unveiled itself: you are not alone.

Just days ago, former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar received a sentence of 40-175 years in prison because more than 150 brave women came forward to unveil the horror he put them through for so many years. Gymnasts from Michigan State University and various Olympic teams shared powerful testimonies to ensure Nassar received life behind bars. Among the gymnasts, six-time Olympic medalist Aly Raisman, delivered a strong speech that made her feelings toward Nassar clear. Raisman’s leadership is simply another example of a strong woman coming forward in society to reveal the abuse she endured.

Forces of women are stronger than ever. Last weekend, at the 2018 Women’s March, American singer Halsey opened up about her personal experiences with sexual assault through an emotional poem that went viral in the days following the march. Women are gaining the strength and confidence to reveal the most intimate secrets about their lives. Forces of women are coming out of the woodwork, ready to fight. And they’re not going anywhere.

But still, a looming rape culture lives in the dark clouds above us. And few are brave enough to address this issue headfirst.

The Women’s Center at Marshall University defines rape culture as “an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture.” Unfortunately, our society today encompasses aspects of rape culture that, despite our best efforts, do not seem to be going away anytime soon.

We have yet to hold men fully accountable for their actions. Too often, a man is excused because he did not fully “rape” his victim. He only pressured her into actions she was not comfortable with, and repeatedly made her feel uncomfortable. But as long as it’s not rape, too many people seem to regret to classify him as a sexual predator.

The difference between sexual assault and sexual harassment is vast. However, the fact that sexual harassment does not always require physical action seems to give it a less harsh reputation than sexual assault. Any sort of unwanted sexual advance, derogatory comment or unwanted interaction is deplorable. It’s time we stand up and put an end to the perpetual rape culture that allows predators to get away with their actions because they “did not rape” the victim. Society continues to show the prevalence of sexual misconduct through accusations against Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Louis C.K., Al Franken and many other high-profile individuals.

As much attention as the predators are receiving, survivors are making headlines as well. TIME Magazine named the 2017 Person of the Year as ‘The Silence Breakers,’ or all of the women who came forward about their experiences with sexual misconduct. Society is beginning to listen to these voices. We are moving in the right direction. But still, there is work to be done.

The work must begin with a new sense of understanding. While rape is can be an element of rape culture, it is not the sole force that determines if a society needs to undergo change. Too often, we disregard sexual harassment because it doesn’t seem as severe as legal charges. By doing so, we are perpetuating a culture in which victims feel as if they cannot come forward; too often, victim shaming prevents innocent, scarred voices from exposing their predators.

It’s up to our generation to put an end to this normalized culture. We are a strong, powerful voice that can use our words and our actions to create a new normal. We need to hold predators accountable for their actions. There is no unwanted sexual advance or comment that is too small, or too irrelevant. To put an end to the culture that surrounds us, we must stand up. We must come together and end rape culture, or innocent lives will continue to be scarred at an alarming rate.