Content note: this post contains multiple references to sexual assault
There continues to be a normalization of sexual violence in media and popular culture. The current culture around sexual assault tends to place blame on the victim and trivializes the idea of rape, and this train of thought stems from factors such as how news stations report acts of sexual violence and how sexual violence is portrayed in television shows and popular music.
There are several trends in the way sexual crimes are depicted in news reports that help contribute to the culture that has pervaded society. News stations will often report that a rapist “had sex with” a victim instead of outright saying that a victim was “raped”. This phrasing downplays the severity of what the victim had to go through and implies that consent was given.
News reports will often focus on the clothes the victim was wearing and how much the victim had to drink. A New York Times article published in 2011 is the perfect example of this. It quotes people familiar with the victim saying that “[the victim] dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s [and] she would hang out with teenage boys at a playground.” By drawing attention to these details, the report does not hold the rapist accountable for his actions and places blame on the victim instead, ultimately suggesting that the choices of the victim led to her rape.
News stations also tend to empathize with the perpetrator instead of the victim. This was especially true in the Steubenville rape trial, when CNN correspondent Poppy Harlow stated that it was incredibly emotional and even incredibly difficult for her to see two young men who were star football players and very good students with such promising futures watch their lives fall apart. In contrast, she didn’t mention any sympathy for the victim whom they raped, who will likely hold on to this trauma for the rest of her life.
The way sexual violence is portrayed in television shows and music also has an influence on rape culture. Jokes about rape will often appear on television, which causes viewers to fail to take sexual violence seriously. Rape jokes are especially prevalent in the show Two Broke Girls, where Kat Denning’s character, Max, constantly trivializes rape and the long-lasting effects it has on the victim. In one episode, she mocks a victim of date rape and whines while saying “Somebody date-raped me and I didn’t think I’d live through it, but I did, but now I am stronger, and I’m still needy.”
The videos and lyrics in popular music can promote rape culture by making sexual violence seem ‘sexy’. In Robin Thicke’s infamous song “Blurred Lines,” he contributes to this culture by singing about how the lines around sexual consent are blurred and asserting that it’s up to men to interpret what women want.
Sexual violence has become normalized in media and popular culture. I believe that the way news stations report cases of sexual assault, and the way it is portrayed in television shows and popular music, play a large role in rape culture. This culture blames the victim for rape as well as trivializes rape and the effects it has on its victims. It is clear that something must change in the media to attack rape culture.