This paper will focus on the social and cultural conditions that
intensify or perpetuate rape. The causes and reasons for rape are deeply
entrenched in our social structure. We can explore some of the motivations and
circumstances which lead men to rape. We have learned that some men rape out of
anger and a need to overpower, dominate, and humiliate. We can also look at some
of the historical attitudes from which today’s beliefs and stereotypes have
evolved. However, we must look beyond both rapists’ motivations and history if
we are to truly understand the act of rape.
Why does rape exist and what causes it? What is it about our society
that makes rape one of the fastest growing violent crimes in this country? One
way we have tried to deal with this problem is through rape prevention. These
techniques are very important in decreasing the vulnerability of individuals,
but in order to eliminate the occurrence of rape from our society, we must first
examine its causes more deeply so that we can take collective action. We must
understand the sociology of rape in order to effectively work towards the
elimination of it.
Despite the necessity for rape prevention, it must focus on eliminating
the conditions in society which make women easy targets for rape. Victim
control teaches women to avoid rape, but doesn’t reduce the threat of rape.
Furthermore, rape cannot always be avoided, no matter what precautions the woman
takes. It also puts part of the responsibility and blame for rape on the victim.
Rapist control confuses prosecutions with prevention. There is little evidence
that punishment serves as a deterrent. Besides, very few rapist are ever
From very early ages, men and women are conditioned to accept different
roles. Women are raised to be passive and men are raised to be aggressive. We
are conditioned to accept certain attitudes, values and behaviors. Our
conditioning is continuously and relentlessly encouraged and reinforced by the
popular media, cultural attitudes and the educational system. The media is a
major contributor to gender-based attitudes and values. The media provides women
with a complete list of behaviors that precipitate rape. Social training about
what is proper, as well as what is powerful and macho, teaches women to be
victims and men to be aggressors.
The high incidence of rape in this country is a result of the power
imbalance between men and women. Women are expected to assume a subordinate
relationship to men. Consequently, rape can be seen as a logical extension of
the typical interactions between women and men. Women’s vulnerability to rape
is a result of this subordinate relationship. There are a number of sexist
dictates that serve to maintain this subordinate relationship one of which is:
Rape as a means of control over women. Rape plays a role in maintaining
patriarchy by perpetrating the threat of violence. The acts of just a few
violent men can terrorize all women and can control women’s lives. The
indifference of other men reinforces this effect.
A strategy for eliminating women’s vulnerability to rape involves
altering the power relationship between women and men. Women’s vulnerability
will not end with individual change alone; there have to be social change as
well. Society trains females to be physically and emotionally unequipped to
respond effectively to danger. Training begins at an early age. Boys and girls
are channeled into different physical activities, because of the believed
differences in physical and muscular development and stamina. Consequently, as
adults, females are unable to gauge both their own bodies’ resistance to injury,
and their own strength and power. Learning self-defense in schools and on the
job would be a step towards alleviating women’s vulnerability, as would
providing girls and women with equal opportunities and encouragement to engage
in sports. I was glad to hear that MIT set up a self-defense class for women.
How many women will actually take the time to take it, who knows? We havent
been taught that we need to be aggressive and protect our own bodies. The
emotional training women receive also contributes to their inability to
successfully fight back. Women learn to be passive, nurturing, accepting and
compliant. Most rapists select victims they can intimidate and overpower. Most
women are reluctant to challenge men’s offensive behavior because of their
emotional training and conditioning.
Frequently, women psychologically distance themselves from the issue of
rape and from each other by adopting the attitude that, “It can’t happen to me,”
or, “Only immoral women are raped.” Because there are many factors which enforce
the belief that “a woman’s place is in the home, women tend to be displaced
from the mainstream of community action and decision making.
One of the most important societal changes deals with how our justice
system deals with rape. In other words, when a woman is raped, it is not
uncommon that some of the blame and responsibility for the rape is put on her.
This is probably one reason for the incredibly low conviction rate of rapists.
Our criminal justice system reflects the prevailing societal attitude that women
are partially responsible for rape. Consequently, juries rarely find a man
charged with rape as guilty.
Rape must be viewed as a political issue, not just another crime or
mental health problem. It must be seen as an issue which affects all women. Rape
is not just a women’s problem–it is a community problem.