Rape Culture Is a Thing

Today I ran across a fabulous post about what rape culture looks like by Melissa McEwan at her blog Shakesville.  As she explains, “Rape culture involves the objectification of women, which is part of a dehumanizing process that renders consent irrelevant.”  Or another way that rape culture is commonly articulated is that our society tends to find violence sexy, and to accept that sex is often violent.  This attitude results in lots of women and men, children and adults, being raped.

Read More

Men Can Stop Rape

"When men stand up to end violence against women, the world is going to change" 
- Eve Ensler

I know a fair number of really great men.  Among those are men who deeply care about violence against women, and who would never consider engaging in any kind of sexual activity without clear consent.  I’ve met many men who actively work to stop sexual violence.  And . . . even some of those men have a hard time accepting that men may have more responsibility than women to stop violence against women.  “Whoa . . .”, they’ll say, “I didn’t rape anyone!  I never even considered it!  Why do I have any responsibility for what other guys do?” 

Well, they don’t have responsibility for what other guys do, in that way.  But they do hold the privilege of being the less victimized gender.  Which means that they are in a better position to fight that victimization.  Because, for the most part, the basic problem of sexual violence is the attitudes that our culture promotes in men, about women and sex. 

People tend to be more open to suggestions from people who are like them. So, men are more open to input from other men.  And we can take it even further.  Frat boys are probably more open to input from other frat boys.  Tough guys are probably more open to input from other tough guys, etc.

Montana State University's Men Against Rape

I, for one, am willing to then make the leap from there to responsibility.  If you see something that’s wrong, and you’re in a better position to fix it, you have some responsibility to work on fixing it.  It’s similar to the logic that tells us that if we see child abuse, we have some responsibility to intervene.  Maybe not always a legal responsibility, but a moral one.  Because an abused kid doesn’t have nearly as much power as we grown adults do to stop the abuser. 

So, sure, the great guys I know aren’t responsible for the behavior of the rapists of the world. But if they stood up, and spoke out against misogynistic statements and behaviors, those rapists would be more likely to listen to them, than to us women.  Who are so easily dismissed as humorless feminazis or oversensitive whiners. 

And, yes, it does follow that as a white person, I carry some responsibility to speak out against racism.  Etc.  Easy as it is to hide my head in the sand and pretend that the civil rights movement is over, and took care of “all that”.  It doesn't take much investigation of that assumption to become aware that racism is alive and well.  And I can, and should, stand up against the racism I see.

Do you agree that the privileged class has a responsibility to fight oppression of the unprivileged class?  If you think I’m off base, leave a comment to let me know!


Peg Shippert is a psychotherapist in private practice in Boulder, Colorado.  She has a deep passion for helping survivors of sexual violence.  


No Joke: Rape Humor

I have “rape humor” on my mind this week.  In my line of work, I rarely encounter people who think rape is funny.  And yet, here are a couple of situations in which people recently laughed about rape:

A friend goes to a comedy club, not knowing anything about the scheduled comedian.  She is treated to two hours of rape jokes delivered with hostility and anger, by comedian Anthony Jeselnik.  She stays for the full act, just to see how far he’ll go.  She won’t repeat any of the jokes, but reports that it goes “about as far as you can imagine.”  She doesn’t find the jokes even slightly funny. Apparently, though, much of the audience gives the comedian a standing ovation. She is appalled, and feels bad for the servers, who didn’t get to choose whether to hear those jokes.

Then, you may have heard that an independent daily newspaper at Boston University decided to include in their April Fools issue, which has a Disney theme, a story satirizing gang rape.  Yeah, you guessed it.  Snow White is gang raped by the dwarves. Keep in mind that BU has received nine reports of sexual assault and five reports of rape so far this academic year, including two very high-profile cases.   Here’s a sample from the April Fools story:  

The BRO's face seven charges of sexual conduct and seven charges of drugging someone into unconsciousness. "Heigh-ho BROs we didn't do anything," said Sleepy, a senior in the College of Engineering and president of BRO, who is a suspect in the alleged sexual assault . . . Boston University's Center for Gender, Sexuality and Magical Creatures . . . is calling for a university-wide analysis of underage drinking on campus and the sterilization of all BU males.

Isn’t that hilarious?  Here’s the whole thing, if you’re interested.

OK, so, some people find this kind of thing funny.  And we all have a right to our own senses of humor, right?  Plus, it’s exactly because it’s so wrong that it is funny.  Get it?  Yeah, I get it.  If I bend over backwards, and squint my eyes, I can see why it’s funny to some people.  But here are a couple of things to consider, besides whether some people may find it funny:

First, unexpectedly running across this type of humor can be devastating for a survivor of rape.  I mean, imagine the worst thing that has ever happened to you.  Something that you’ve struggled for years to cope with.  Got it?  OK, now, imagine that you’re out for a night of entertainment, or you pick up your usual morning paper, and the main feature – surprise! – is a big joke about that.  Well, if it hasn’t happened to you, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like.  But trust me, it’s not funny.

Second, joking about something makes it seem less serious.  I found a great discussion of this in an editorial from the Oklahoma Daily.

By joking about rape, you’re trivializing the issue, making it something to laugh about. One of the great powers of humor is minimizing fears, making them seem smaller, and conquering the monsters by laughing at them.

But rape is one monster we should never work to make smaller. Our society has done just that for far too long. Only by facing the true, horrible reality of rape will we be able to fight it. One of the most important steps to fighting rape is ending what activists call “rape culture.” – The Oklahoma Daily Editorial Board

Rape jokes contribute to building a culture where rape is not considered important.  That’s how we get to a place where “friends” of a rape survivor can think it’s reasonable to text her the next day, calling her a “slut” and a “whore”.  That’s how we end up in a country where every 2 minutes someone is sexually assaulted, and yet 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail

So, it’s about more than whether some people might find it funny.  It’s about supporting, understanding, and respecting people who are survivors of rape, and it’s about doing what we can to keep each other safe.  Or not. 

What do you think about rape jokes?  Is it possible to tell a joke about rape, while not supporting rape culture, or triggering survivors?  Leave a comment with your opinion about or experience with rape humor.


Peg Shippert is a psychotherapist in private practice in Boulder, Colorado.  She has a deep passion for helping survivors of sexual violence.  

Is Texas Raping Women?

Here’s a scenario for you:  A woman very much wants to do something that will have an enormous impact on the rest of her life.  Someone is stopping her from doing it, unless she lets that person vaginally penetrate her.  Is that rape?  Let me put it another way:  Is she freely consenting to that vaginal penetration?  I’m not the only one who thinks that she is not.

Nikolas Kristof’s recent article for the New York Times, When States Abuse Women, argues that Texas is now raping women who seek abortions.   In other words, before a woman can receive an abortion in Texas, she must submit to a vaginal ultrasound, regardless of medical need or the patient’s preference.  If you would like the details, check out the text of the new law enacted a few weeks ago.  This vaginal penetration isn’t the end of the story, either. She also has to also listen to a doctor explain the body parts and internal organs of the fetus as they’re shown on the monitor, and list specific dangers of abortion, like “risks of infection and hemorrhage,” and “the possibility of increased risk of breast cancer.” She is then required to sign a document saying that she understands all this, and then wait 24 hours before returning to get the abortion.

As a woman, as an advocate for sexual assault survivors, and as a person who has had plenty of uncomfortable, yet consensual, medical procedures, my heart goes out to any woman in Texas considering an abortion. Research shows that women who receive abortions without these requirements often do not experience negative mental health effects.  But I doubt that many of the women currently seeking abortions in Texas will escape with their mental health unharmed.  Of course, that is probably part of the point of this legislation.  And yet, I cannot think that -- whatever your opinion about the ethics of abortion -- legislatively sanctioning sexual assault is an appropriate solution to any problem.

What do you think of the argument that Texas has mandated sexually assaulting women who seek abortions?


Peg Shippert is a psychotherapist in private practice in Boulder, Colorado.  She has a deep passion for helping survivors of sexual violence.  

Was I raped?

So many of the women and men that I talk to struggle with the question of what really counts as rape.  It’s a tricky question to answer.  Legally, the definition of rape has varied with time and location.  And some parts of the definition can sound pretty subjective.

Here are some official definitions for rape, also often called sexual assault, that are in current use: 

  • The United Nations defines rape as "sexual intercourse without valid consent."
  • The World Health Organization defined rape in 2002 as "physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration – even if slight – of the vulva or anus, using a penis, other body parts or an object."
  • Just recently the FBI changed their definition from the wildly inadequate, "The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will," to "The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim."
  • Many jurisdictions define rape as sexual intercourse, or other forms of sexual penetration, of one person by another person without the consent of the victim.

What I think is tricky about these definitions is that they tend to be heavy on detail about the specific act, but light on detail about what does and does not constitute consent.  

Photo by Richard Potts as cascade_of_rant.

For my purpose, which is helping victims of sexual aggression resolve their trauma, I like to use a definition that is more the opposite:  You’ve been raped if you feel like you’ve been raped.  That is, it was rape if it was a sexual experience that, at the time, you didn’t want to be having, and hadn't freely agreed to be having. 

Yes, I know this is completely unworkable as a legal definition.  And I know that the naysayers will have a lot of what if scenarios.  So, let me get that out of the way: “What if the alleged victim honestly did something that convinced the alleged perp that she wanted the sexual experience when she didn't?”  Well, OK, granted, none of us can be mind readers. But please grant me that there should be some real effort made on the part of the person who initiates the sexual contact to make sure that their partner is fully willing. OK?

I can tell you that I’ve spoken to plenty of people who may have “consented” in one way or another, for one reason or another, and nevertheless found the experience to be traumatic.  They feel like they’ve been raped, even if the official definitions don’t acknowledge that they were.  If that is you, then know that there is at least one person in the world who is willing to acknowledge that you’ve been raped.

What definition for rape, or sexual assault, do you think makes sense?


Peg Shippert is a psychotherapist in private practice in Boulder, Colorado.  She has a deep passion for working with survivors of sexual violence.  

Justice Department Updates Definition of Rape

It is always a treat to see society is moving in a positive, helpful direction in terms of handling sexual assault.  So I am pleased to report that the US Justice Department recently expanded its official definition of rape to be, "Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim."  This replaces the laughably (if one can stomach laughing about such things) archaic previous definition of rape, “The carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.”

Thank you Justice Department for recognizing both that men can and are raped, and that physical force is not necessary to rape someone.  The key is lack of consent, and it just doesn’t matter who isn’t consenting, or what allows the perpetrator (force, drugs, threats, etc.) to get around their consent.

One of the major reasons for updating this definition is reportedly to make the FBI’s annual compilation of crime statistics more accurately reflect the scope and volume of crimes of sexual violence in the US.  I’ll be glad to see that happen as well.  Although, even more than that, I’ll be glad to see so many male survivors of sexual violence have their experiences validated.

Those of us who have worked closely with rape survivors for any length of time have long recognized the existence of male rape.  It’s high time that our government officially acknowledges the breadth of experiences that constitute rape.


Peg Shippert is a psychotherapist in private practice in Boulder, Colorado.  She has a deep passion for working with survivors of sexual violence.  

How Far We Are From Justice for Women in Afghanistan

Maybe you’ve heard about the 19-year-old Afgan woman who was raped by her cousin’s husband, and then when she became pregnant from that rape, was sentenced to prison, with her daughter, for 12 years for adultery.  The sentence was later reduced to three years.  Finally, Afghan President Hamid Karzai eventually ordered her pardon.

But, wait, how can you pardon someone who didn’t do anything wrong?  Oh, yeah, she was raped.  Her bad. 

Before being pardoned, a judge offered to free her if she would marry her rapist.  Apparently there are no such strings attached to the subsequent pardon.  But the pressure to marry her attacker is still intense.  Such a marriage would legitimize her daughter, “restore honor” to her brothers, and smooth the potentially violent rift between the two families.  It seems likely that, without marrying her rapist, her family won’t accept her and her daughter, and it is feasible that she could even become the victim of a so-called honor killing.  So, she still has some very difficult decisions to make.

According to CNN, her attorney, Kimberly Motley, in Kabul, says that she does not want to marry her attacker. She would like to marry an educated man.

Even if she should decide to marry her attacker, it may not be possible for some time.  He is still in jail for five more years.  Motley explains that, “as far as I know there has never been an Afghan wedding in jail.” 

I guess I’m blogging about this because it seems like many people think of the fight for women’s rights as something from the past.  Hey, this is happening in our world, right now, today.  Nevermind having the vote, these women don’t even have the “right” to be raped without being thrown in jail!  Or to then peacefully pursue a subsequent life that will promote their own healing.  Clearly, there is much work still to be done.


Peg Shippert is a psychotherapist in private practice in Boulder, Colorado.  She has a deep passion for working with survivors of sexual violence. 

I know that it can feel risky to make public comments about sexual violence.  You are welcome to comment anonymously here.  Just enter a non-identifying handle when asked to identify yourself.