Tendrils of Rape Culture

I’ve been having many discussions lately regarding the underpinnings of rape culture and the seemingly invisible tendrils it has woven into American culture so it was on my mind when I was scrolling Facebook this afternoon while waiting for my friend’s husky to do his business.

A while ago, I read an article which cited Mohadesa Najumi’s definition from her article on The Feminist Wire:

“Rape culture … is the production and maintenance of an environment where sexual assault is so normative that people ultimately believe that rape is inevitable.”

What Najumin speaks of here is the concept that there are things in our society that are not rape but are abusive, or contributive to abuse, which we accept as cute, funny, and desirable. These things may seem harmless on their own, but placed into the larger spectrum of Rape Culture they become concerning.

Take, for example, rape-y songs and song lyrics. Robin Thicke’s 2013 song “Blurred Lines” was a summer smash hit at the time and caused quite an uproar in some circles with lyrics like “I know you want it” accompanying inexplicably plastic-clad or naked (in the “unrated” version which is still somehow available on YouTube) women. At no point in time in the song did a woman pipe up and say “yes, I do” or “I want sex” indicating she was both consenting and consenting explicitly to sex as opposed to some ubiquitous “it”.

There was a moment that summer when I found myself in a car with a number of victim advocates and “Blurred Lines” came on the radio. The driver turned up the song and I asked if he had heard the hubbub over the lyrics. He replied that he hadn’t so I summed it up for him. The carful of people nodded along with my summary before someone woefully exclaimed the largest issue with the song: “Oh, but it’s so catchy!” Herein lies the issue with this song, advertisements, and so-called “off-color” jokes: society is generally willing to overlook rape-y messaging when it’s packaged in a catchy tune, tagline, or image.

We tell ourselves that lyricists and artists don’t really mean for their lyrics or art to be rape-y. We choose to believe that the person saying things like “I’d tap that” and staring as an attractive person walks past is a nice person and, thus, would obviously obtain consent. We perceive pictures like the above as cute and innocent because we want to believe they don’t convey a nonconsensual, sexist experience. We choose ignorance because it’s easier. We choose ignorance because the world is so full of negativity that we don’t want to see it anywhere it isn’t explicit. It’s a self-protective choice and, yet, it only contributes to a world in which more violence is perpetuated.

How do we choose differently? The answer is not to always assume the worst over the best or automatically condemn anything questionable. Neither is it to loudly shout down people who engage in or create the content. I’m not even suggesting that you delete all your music and social media. I’m suggesting we stop blindly nodding our heads to catchy tunes, shaking them as we scroll passed content that walks the line of acceptability, ask the questions with curiosity, and explore the answers.

Megan Alpert


When are we going to talk about violence in the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) community?

By talk, I mean one of those deep around the fire conversations, not a ran into an acquaintance at the grocery store conversation. A real conversation. A conversation that has meaning, like one you replay over and over, one that is unfinished and continuous.

When I say violence, not only do I mean violence enacted upon us in the queer community, such as state violence, physical violence, emotional and spiritual violence, but violence we enact upon each other.

In recent years, higher education has begun to pay attention to interpersonal violence (IPV) and sexual violence. Unfortunately, the narrative of who experiences violence has gone largely unchallenged. White, cisgender, straight, middle class women without mental illness or disabilities are often centered in violence prevention and response. 

From the beginning, exclusion of LGBTQ folks from the anti-violence movement has been common place. The Battered Women’s Movement in the 1970s centered sexism and male privilege, but failed to deconstruct intersections with homophobia and transphobia (NCAVP, 2014). The narrative of cisgender men as perpetrators and cisgender women as victims quickly took hold in our societal perception of violence and became institutionalized in domestic shelter policies, legislation, law enforcement response, and court systems (NCAVP, 2014). On college campuses, this narrative is often reflected in our bystander intervention programs, Title IX response, and survivor support services. 

LGBTQ folks have always experienced, and continue to experience, IPV and sexual violence. In a society built on heterosexism and cissexism, our relationships and what happens in them often remain invisible. Laws utilize gendered stereotypes and language defining intimate relationships as heterosexual (Kingkade, 2015). Some states go so far as only using “he” pronouns when describing perpetrators and limiting definitions of sexual assault to nonconsensual intercourse between members of the opposite sex (Kingkade, 2015). As Shannon Perez-Darby states, “because of homophobia, transphobia, and sexism, gender becomes a much less reliable tool in queer and trans communities for evaluating who is battering and who is surviving in relationships.” (2011, p. 106).  Societal systems struggle to develop different tools to serve queer and trans survivors.

According to the National Intimate Partner Violence Survey of 2010, conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals have an equal or higher change of experiencing IPV and sexual violence than heterosexuals (Walters, Chen & Breiding, 2013). Almost forty four percent of lesbians, 61% of bisexual women, 26.0% of gay men, and 37% of bisexual men have experienced IPV at some point in their relationships (Walters, Chen & Breiding, 2013). Research by Julia Walker found trans and gender nonconforming folks experience IPV at higher rates than cisgender individuals (2015). These statistics are similar in our schools (Hoffman, 2016). Gay, lesbian, and bisexual high school students are three times as likely to be raped, two and a half times more likely to experience sexual dating violence, and twice as likely to experience physical dating violence than straight students (Kann et al., 2016). A survey published in 2015 by the Association of American Universities found that LGBTQ college students also experience higher rates of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and IPV than heterosexual students (Cantor et al.). Trans and gender nonconforming students were found to experience the highest rates of rape (Cantor et al., 2015).

The intersections of multiple identities significantly impact victimization rates. Data collected by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, which consists of 16 organizations around the country providing services to survivors, indicated queer, trans, and HIV-affected people of color experienced more severe types of violence and experienced IPV at disproportionate rates (2014). Immigration status increased rates of discrimination and LGBTQ individuals under the age of 24 were found more likely to be physically and sexually assaulted in their relationships (NCAVP, 2014). 

 All survivors face many barriers when seeking support following IPV and sexual violence. They may not have the resources to leave abusers. Rape culture makes it possible, and even likely, survivors won’t be believed when they tell their stories and if they are, they can then be blamed for their own assault. Additionally, survivors often know the perpetrator and they can fear retaliation. Queer, trans, and nonbinary survivors face additional obstacles to these. The LGBTQ community is often close knit, and in some places small. If you know the person who abused you and is in community with you, seeking help could change relationships in the community, risking valuable support and camaraderie. You may be outed. You could lose custody of your kids because you’re not viewed as a “real” parent. Service providers can lack knowledge and cultural competency. You may be misgendered. You can face further violence by police.

Once again, intersections of identity further exacerbate the consequences of these barriers. Trans people of color are almost as six times likely to experience physical violence when interacting with law enforcement than white cisgender survivors (NCAVP, 2014; NCAVP, n.d.). Trans women are also six times to experience physical violence when interacting with police, including after an incident of IPV, compared to overall survivors (NCAVP, 2014; NCAVP, n.d.). Almost a quarter of trans folks trying to access shelters have been sexually assaulted by someone at the shelter, including staff (Grant et al., 2011). Many LGBTQ people know all too well that the people and organizations that are supposed to protect and support us far too often are the same people and organizations that hurt us.

These injustices follow LGBTQ folks to campus and affect students’ wellbeing and academic success. A 2014 study found evidence to suggest experiencing rape and sexual violence impact women’s academic success and GPA (Jordan, Combs & Smith). Unsurprisingly, research has yet to examine the relationship between LGBTQ survivorship and academic success. Regardless, are we prepared to support LGBTQ survivors’ healing journeys during their college careers?

LGBTQ survivors with all identities, backgrounds, and experiences exist – not just “out there,” but in our communities and on our campuses. Ignoring the violence the LGBTQ community faces further stigmatizes and silences our pain. Social justice isn’t only a professional competency. For some of us, it’s not only the difference between earning a degree and not, but it’s a matter of survival.

So, are we ready to have that talk now?


Cantor, D., Fisher, B., Chibnall, S., Townsend, R., Lee, H., Bruce, C., & Thomas, G. (2015, September 21). Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct. Retrieved August 10, 2016, from https://www.aau.edu/Climate-Survey.aspx?id=16525 

Grant, J. M., Mottet, L. A., Tanis, J., Harrison, J., Herman, J. L., & Keisling, M. (2011). Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. Retrieved August 10, 2016, from http://www.thetaskforce.org/static_html/downloads/reports/reports/ntds_full.pdf

Hoffman, J. (2016, August 11). Gay and Lesbian High School Students Report 'Heartbreaking' Levels of Violence. Retrieved August 13, 2016, from http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/08/12/health/gay-lesbian-teenagers-violence.html

Jordan, Carol E.; Combs, Jessica L.; and Smith, Gregory T., "An Exploration of Sexual Victimization and Academic Performance Among College Women" (2014). Office for Policy Studies on Violence Against Women Publications. Paper 38. http://uknowledge.uky.edu/ipsvaw_facpub/38

Kann, L., O'Malley Olsen, E., McManus, T., Harris, W. A., Shanklin, S. L., Flint, K. H., Zaza, S. (2016, August 12). Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Related Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12 - United States and Selected Sites, 2015. Retrieved August 13, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/ss/ss6509a1.htm#suggestedcitation

Kingkade, T. (2015, September 9). LGBT Students Face More Sexual Harassment and Assault, And More Trouble Reporting It. Retrieved August 9, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/lgbt-students-sexual-assault_us_55a332dfe4b0ecec71bc5e6a

National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP). (2014). A Report From The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and HIV-Affected Intimate Partner Violence in 2013. 2014 Release Edition. Retrieved August 10, 2016, from http://www.avp.org/resources/reports

National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP). (n.d.). Hate Against Transgender Communities. Retrieved August 12, 2015, from http://www.avp.org/storage/documents/ncavp_transhvfactsheet.pdf

Perez-Darby, S. (2011). The Secret Joy of Accountability: Self-accountability as a Building Block for Change. In The Revolution Starts At Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities (pp. 100-113). Brooklyn, NY: South End Press.

Walker, Julia K. "Investigating Trans People's Vulnerabilities to Intimate Partner Violence/Abuse." Partner Abuse 6.1 (2015): 107-25.

Walters, M.L., Chen J., & Breiding, M.J. (2013). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Recommended Reading:

Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Violence Movement 

Edited by: Jennifer Patterson

The Revolution Starts at Home 

Edited by: Ching-In Chen, Jai Dulani, and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

Violence against Queer People: Race, Class, Gender, and the Persistence of Anti-LGBT Discrimination 

By: Doug Meyer

Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law 

By: Dean Spade

The Color of Violence Edited

by: INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence

MythBusters: Interpersonal Violence

Anybody remember that cheesy show from the early 2000s, starring two nerdier-than-most guys, that spent roughly 48 minutes once a week debunking commonly held beliefs? Mythbuster, was it? After doing a little research, the dynamic duo of Jamie Hyneman and Adam Scott tested over 1,000 distinct myths in 217 hours, spanning 14 years, resulting in a vast amount of information about common myths and interesting phenomena. 

I am going to attempt to graze the surface of myths surrounding interpersonal violence and debunk each one with a social scientific lens that highlights the misconception and re-orients the conversation around the truth. Won't you follow along?


FACT: National studies estimate that 3 to 4 million women are abused each year in the United States. A study conducted in 1995 found that 31% of women surveyed admitted to having been physically assaulted by a husband or boyfriend. Interpersonal violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in our country, and the FBI estimates that a woman is abused every 15 seconds. Thirty percent of female homicide victims are killed by partners or ex-partners, and 1,500 women are murdered as a result of interpersonal violence each year in the United States.


FACT: Studies of interpersonal violence consistently have found that violence occurs among all types of families, regardless of income, profession, region, ethnicity, educational level or race. However, the fact that lower income victims and abusers are over-represented in calls to law enforcement, domestic violence shelters, and social services may be due to a lack of other resources.


FACT: Interpersonal violence is a pattern of coercion and control that one person exerts over another. It is not just one physical attack. It includes the repeated use of a number of tactics, including intimidation, threats, economic deprivation, isolation, and psychological/sexual abuse. Physical violence is just one of these tactics. The various forms of abuse utilized by abusers help to maintain power and control over their spouses and partners. Abuse also tends to increase both in velocity and extent over a period of time.


FACT: NOBODY deserves to be beaten or abused. Victims often have to walk on eggshells and try their best to avoid another incident. The abuser CHOOSES to abuse. This myth encourages the blame-shifting from the perpetrator to the victim and avoids the stark reality that only the perpetrator is responsible for their own actions. 


FACT: There are many emotional, social, spiritual, and financial hurdles to overcome before someone being abused can leave. Very often, the constant undermining of the victim's self-esteem can leave him/her with very little confidence, socially isolated, and without the normal decision-making abilities a person living free from interpersonal violence. Leaving or trying to leave will also often increase the violence or abuse, and can put the victim (and/or their children) in a position of fearing for their lives. Leaving is the ultimate threat to the abuser's power and control, and they will often do anything rather than let the victim go.


FACT: Abusers are often socially charming, generous and well-presented people (of any gender!) who hold positions of social standing. Abuse is kept for those nearest to them, to the privacy of their own homes. This Jekyll and Hyde persona of the abuser can further confuse and frighten the person being abused, as the person in private is so very different to the person everyone else sees. It can also mean that when the person being abused finally does try to tell their friends, family or acquaintances of the abuse, they are not believed, because the person they are describing simply doesn’t fit the image portrayed in public.


FACT: Such myths ignore the validity of same sex relationships. Abuse is about control within a relationship and can occur within any relationship where one partner believes they have the right to control the other. Whether they are married or living together, of the same or opposite gender, have been together for a few weeks or many years really doesn’t make much difference – abuse can (and does) occur. 

As you can tell, there is a lot of misinformation surrounding interpersonal violence. It's all of our duty to debunk myths, correct misinformation, and share relevant tips for supporting survivors of interpersonal violence. 

If you or a loved one is a survivor of interpersonal violence and are looking for support, advocacy, or education surrounding your experiences, please visit the Phoenix Center at Auraria | Anschutz for additional resources. We are a confidential, trauma-informed center dedicated to your recovery. Feel free to stop by Tivoli 259 or send us an email at info@thepca.org!

Check out our new website!

Taylor here with a proud announcement: the NEW and improved PCA website is now live! Browse through our extensive resources, find out how to get involved with the PCA, and even schedule an appointment to speak with an advocate online. 

We will be coming out with a blog each week, written by staff members, centered around IPV-related experiences and trauma-informed care tools. Stay tuned!