Rape culture puts the onus on survivors rather than perpetrators.	(THE CANADIAN PRESS file photo/Darren Calabrese)

Rape culture puts the onus on survivors rather than perpetrators. (THE CANADIAN PRESS file photo/Darren Calabrese)

Explainer: What is rape culture and what does it look like in B.C.?

A rise in sexual assault allegations being made online prompts conversation

The term “rape culture” became front of mind for many Greater Victoria residents last week when, in the wake of numerous sexual assault allegations and firings, Coun. Stephen Andrew tweeted that he didn’t believe it exists in the capital region.

Andrew quickly deleted his initial tweet calling it clumsy and dismissive. “I wholeheartedly apologize,” he wrote in a new one. “We must address rape culture.”

But for many, the damage had already been done, and the tweet was indicative that not only does rape culture still exist, but many people also don’t understand what it means.

Councillor Stephen Andrew quickly removed this tweet March 28 after receiving public backlash. (Screenshot)

The term was originally coined in the 1970s by second-wave feminists who fought to control the representation of themselves in popular culture and to legislate their rights around rape, reproduction and domestic violence. It wasn’t until 1983 that Canada made marital rape illegal.

But rape culture is about far more than rape. It’s a sociological concept for an environment where sexualized violence is permissible and normalized.

When Alyx MacAdams runs youth workshops at the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre, they have participants imagine rape culture as a pyramid. At the very top is sexual assault, but down below are all the building blocks that make it so pervasive.

Street harassment, catcalling, objectifying comments, victim-blaming, slut-shaming and trivializing rape are all part of rape culture. So is teaching young women not to walk alone at night and sending them home from school for baring their shoulders. It puts the onus on survivors rather than perpetrators.

Of Canadians aged 15 or older, 30 per cent of women and eight per cent of men have been sexually assaulted, according to 2018 data from Statistics Canada. Of them, one in five felt blamed for what happened and the vast majority never reported it to police.

These numbers only increase when intersected with the effects of racism, classism, transphobia and colonization. Indigenous women, for example, face rates of sexual assault three times higher than non-Indigenous women.

These marginalized groups are also more likely to distrust police and less likely to go to them for help.

“Rape culture continues to put survivors in a position where they feel like they may not be believed or fear the consequence of backlash,” MacAdams said.

In 2020, the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre responded to 2,094 people who called its service access line and provided emergency sexual assault response to 74 recent survivors. It also supported 289 new clients in crisis counselling, 106 new clients in long term counselling and 198 new clients in victim services.

The harm of a public official denying the existence of rape culture is that it delegitimizes these survivors’ experiences, University of Victoria gender studies professor Annalee Lepp said.

“You’re erasing the incidents that have emerged.”

It’s particularly harmful, MacAdams added, coming from someone who has a say in public policy and police funding.

Following his tweet, Andrew brought a motion to council on April 1 asking that a task force on sexual abuse be formed. Council voted to postpone his motion, noting that it is expecting a staff report in the next four to six weeks on a similar motion that was raised in June 2019.

That motion, on preventing sexual harassment and sexual assault, asked council to make sexualized violence prevention training mandatory for bar and nightclub staff and requested that a prevention plan be submitted alongside all liquor license applications.

Prevention education is one key part of building what MacAdams calls “consent culture,” or the antidote to rape culture.

“We need to move toward more community responsibility,” they said. It’s time for more active bystanders, more call-outs and more supportive spaces.

For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.

Anyone who wishes to report an incident or has information about an incident can call the VicPD report desk at 250-995-7654 ext. 1. The Victoria Sexual Assault Centre also offers counselling, victim services and a sexual assault response team. The centre can be reached 24/7 at 250-383-3232.

RELATED: Fourth Greater Victoria real estate agent fired over allegations of sexual assault

RELATED: Victoria venue hires Consent Captain

sexual assaultVictoria

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Accused drug trafficker to plead to federal, provincial charges in June

Matthew Straume said he’d missed his last court date because he was ill

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
57 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health region

Thirty people in the region are in hospital, 16 of whom are in intensive care

Rossland City Council issued a press release critical of Mayor Kathy Moore's travel to the U.S.
Rossland council addresses issue of mayor’s travel to U.S.

Prior to her trip, some councillors and staff expressed deep concerns about her plans

Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Grand Forks sex crimes trial adjourned until summer

The trial was set to begin at the city courthouse Wednesday, May 5

Photo: Kathleen Saylors
Grand Forks city council votes down motion to support Penticton in paramountcy battle

Coun. Neil Krog insisted Penticton’s issue with Victoria is about city bylaws, not homelessness

Four homes in Johnson Flats were at serious risk of falling into a neighbourhood section of the Kettle River, according to capital project manager Justin Dinsdale. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Grand Forks shields riverside homes against erosion

Crews have built a modified dike along a section of the Kettle River in Johnson Flats

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Dip in COVID-19 cases with 572 newly announced in B.C.

No new deaths have been reported but hospitalized patients are up to 481, with 161 being treated in intensive care

Solar panels on a parking garage at the University of B.C. will be used to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter captured to supply a vehicle filling station. (UBC video)
UBC parkade project to use solar energy for hydrogen vehicles

Demonstration project gets $5.6M in low-carbon fuel credits

FILE – A student arrives at school as teachers dressed in red participate in a solidarity march to raise awareness about cases of COVID-19 at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. ‘should be able to’ offer 1st dose of COVID vaccine to kids 12+ by end of June: Henry

Health Canada authorized the vaccine for younger teens this morning

A woman in the Harrison Mills area was attacked by a cougar on Tuesday, May 4. B.C. Conservation Officers killed two male cougars in the area; the attack was determined to be predatory in nature. (File photo)
2 cougars killed following attack on woman in Agassiz area

Attack victim remains in hospital in stable condition

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. CDC updates info, acknowledging small respiratory droplets can spread COVID-19

Large droplets, not aerosols had been fixture of public health messaging for many months

A picture of Shirley Ann Soosay was rendered from a postmortem photographer and circulated on social media. (DDP graphic)
B.C. genealogist key to naming murder victim in decades-old California cold case

In July 1980, Shirley Ann Soosay was raped and stabbed to death

Mary Kitagawa was born on Salt Spring Island and was seven years old when she was interned along with 22,000 B.C. residents in 1942. (B.C. government video)
B.C. funds health services for survivors of Japanese internment

Seniors describe legacy of World War II displacement

Most Read