Alaskans need to put an end to rape culture

In 2013, the World Health Organization reported 35 percent of women in the world to have suffered either physical and/or sexual violence, and the majority of such cases involved male perpetrators. Various national studies on violence indicate 70 percent of women undergo physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence in their lifetimes.

In Alaska, the frequency of rape is about three times that of the national average, and the majority of these cases involve a male perpetrator and a female victim. Following the release of a recent FBI report, which broadened the definition of rape, the already high Alaska figures spiked even further from a reported 644 to 922 incidents in 2013.

Although there are many complex and intertwined factors that may contribute to male violence against women, such factors are embedded within a sociocultural context that allows, tolerates, and even encourages the problem: rape culture.

Rape culture can be defined as an environment with a widespread presence of rape that normalizes sexual violence against women, accepts and excuses its prevalence in media, and disregards women's voices, safety and rights. Glamorizing sexual violence, using misogynistic language, and objectifying women's bodies are behaviors that perpetuate rape culture. Specific examples may include victim blaming ("she asked for it"), downplaying sexual assault and harassment ("boys will be boys"), letting gender stereotypes shape behavior ("be a man"), and referring to a woman by something other than her gender ("chick"). It is also commonplace for boys or young men to be socialized in "picking-up girls" or to become a "pick-up artist." Boys and men are expected to have "game," in which the pressure to "score" trivializes what needs to be a respectful exchange between two human beings, and turns a woman into a prize.

It's important to clarify that these attitudes and behaviors are more than just "obnoxious views:" They contribute to acts of harassment and abuse to women, and should not be minimized or normalized. Unfortunately, whether or not we are aware or choose to acknowledge it, rape culture is very much a reality here, in Alaska, as is the silence that surrounds and inadvertently contributes to it. The recent Alaska National Guard scandal in which years of reported abuse and sexual assault were swept under the rug is an example. Alaska's several exemptions from the authorization of the Violence Against Women Act 2013 is another example, despite Alaska Native women suffering the highest rate of sexual assault in the United States and accounting for 47 percent of reported rape victims in Alaska.

The silence is being broken, with children from the Tanana 4-H club courageously fighting back against rape culture by sharing their own stories of rape, abuse, and molestation. I certainly hope that the rest of Alaska will join their efforts in taking a stand against rape culture and the misogynistic attitudes and behaviors that fuel it. So what can we do? To start, here are some tips for combating rape culture:

1. Do not turn a blind eye to factors contributing to rape culture. Be aware of how these factors exist in the surrounding environment, whether at school, work, or at home. Break the silence by talking to family, friends, or peers. Additionally, be mindful of the portrayal of men, women, youth, and violence in pop culture and media.

2. Steer clear of using dehumanizing language and model respectful behavior to others. This can be done by speaking out against those who downplay sexual assault and harassment as "boys being boys". I further encourage both men and women to work together in correcting those who allow gender stereotypes to dictate or justify their actions.

3. Do not assume sexual consent without communicating. This means to respect one's physical and emotional space. For example, a woman's dress does not indicate whether or not she is "asking for it." Assumptions like these are considered as victim-blaming.

4. Be supportive to those who have experienced rape. This can be done through becoming a community advocate to end violence against women and children. Join organizations and movements that are geared toward empowering women and standing up to others who violate basic human rights.

I urge us all to progress from being a society that is reactive, to one that is proactive, and to petition for legislation that secures the justice and safety of Alaska's women and children.

Dhara Shah is a first year doctorate degree student in the UAF-UAA joint program in clinical-community psychology. Her research interests include sexism, abuse, acculturation, and overall health and wellness.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com

Dhara Shah

Dhara Shah is a doctoral candidate with UAA's Clinical and Community Psychology Program.