Let’s Fix Our Politics: Understanding Rape Culture’s Presence in American Politics

“Rape culture doesn’t necessarily mean that we as a society condone the act of rape or think that it’s good. What rape culture does mean is that we normalize rape and we make excuses for it. We blame rape survivors for their own victimization and we tell women that because they didn’t behave or dress in a certain way that it’s their own fault for being sexually assaulted”

-Marina Watanabe, 2015


Whether or not you “condone” rapists, I can without a doubt say that you have contributed to rape culture. There are many ways to contribute to rape culture, ranging from rape to jokes about rape. I know everyone has added to rape culture whether it was in a very small way, or a big way. You can read this and get annoyed and defensive, or, you can establish that there is a problem and work on fixing that. If the second one describes you, please continue to read, and educate yourself about the past/ present/ and solutions to rape culture.

Personal interest:

Pictured above is a pyramid representing forms of rape culture in increasing order

I am very interested in how rape culture affects our government, and how our government perpetuates rape culture because as a young woman in American who will have to face the outcome of our flawed political leaders perpetuating rape culture. My interest in this project peaked once I studied what rape culture is for my i-search last year. I learned about how rape culture affects my daily life, and why. This year, I have been very observant to issues of rape culture, and I chose to focus on this to expand my knowledge of the historical context to rape culture. Furthermore, I focused specifically on politics mainly due to the many examples of rape culture seen in politics. One example is the Brett Kavanaugh trials. From this, I decided that rape culture must have a deep set of roots in America’s history if it is so protruding today.

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Historical Problem:

Pictured above is ex-president Grover Cleveland

Rape culture has been so prominent in our government since the colonization of America. The issues of rape culture originate from sexism, stereotypes, power structures, and money. As I looked at more recent power structures, with wealthy influential men in politics easily taking advantage of women whose voices could be silenced, I saw how related the past of rape culture is to the present. Dating back to the 1870s when Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th president, raped Maria Halpin and threatened to “ruin her” if she came forward about it (Lachman). Following this, there are many myths about rape that lead to women not being believed, including, “husbands cannot rape their wives,” “women enjoy rape,” “women ask to be raped,” and “women lie about being raped” (Dardis 1). These myths have been very constant in America’s history, and are even common today. Myths like these give abusers more power over their victims as they can easily pretend that all women lie about rape and use that to discourage victims from coming forward.

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Present day problem:

Pictured above is president Donald Trump and his supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh

In current politics, there are too many leaders with cases of sexual misconduct, including the President of the United States himself, all of which add to the issues of rape culture we face today. “At least 24 women have come forward to report Trump’s sexual misconduct (Amber Jamieson, Simon Jeffery, and Nicole Puglise 2016). Furthermore, he attacks women who he is not fond of by pointing out their looks and making crude comments (Lange). Lastly, once accused of sexually assaulting someone, he defends it by saying: “believe me, she would not be my first choice. That I can tell you. You don’t know. That would not be my first choice” (Lange). As if these issues could not get worse, news articles say: “Donald Trump threatens to sue women accusing him of sexual assault as he delivers his Gettysburg speech on his vision for the presidency” (Blumell 506). The president first ruined these women’s lives by taking something that was not his to take, then he verbally attacks their looks and physical features, and, ultimately, he then threatens to sue them for bravely coming forward against him. Donald Trump is not the only one in government with a history like this, why even this year Brett Kavanaugh’s horrid history was released. As he was nominated for a seat on the Supreme Court, his past started to be exposed, starting with his attempted rape of Christine Blasey Ford. The FBI never finished investigating this assault, and the trial consisted of a Senate committee, many of which supported Kavanaugh prior to the new revelation of this information. Due to this, the questions asked were not fair, and many asked questions that did not help find the truth solely because they blindly supported Kavanaugh. This led to Kavanaugh gaining a seat in the Supreme Court, which is supposed to be the highest court, with integrity and justice; however, it is clear the integrity of the Supreme Court has fallen, as they allowed a sexual assaulter into their courts.

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Pictured above is a poster supporting the #METOO movement and all it stands for.

Though there are many present-day issues surrounding rape culture, there are current efforts fitting back. When faced with adversity, you can either give up or fight back, many fought back through the #metoo movement. On October 15, 2017, Alyssa Milano tweeted about the #metoo movement, (originally started in 2006 by Tarana Burke) which would, unbeknownst to her, virally spread and continue strong till 2019 and beyond. The #metoo movement gives sexual assault victims a platform to regain their voice and speak up against their abusers. As this hashtag virally spread around social media platforms, the issues of rape culture that we face in our everyday life were exposed to the surface. Though the #metoo movement cannot stop rapists or pass better legislation to help purge the rapists and abusers in our government, the awareness that this movement caused has greatly helped spread knowledge to these issues. As this movement empowered all to share their stories, the climate of rape culture changed.

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My suggested solution(s):

After my research, I was faced with trying to come up with solutions to fix rape culture in politics. I propose that there are four major ways to reduce rape culture, these include: changes in laws, increasing both background checks and full investigations, accountability, and lastly, further educating our youth about the issues of sexual harassment, assault, and rape. Starting with legality is the best way to reduce rape culture in politics. We can make it harder for rapist/abusers to obtain high positions of government. Adding on, accountability helps stop rape culture from a morals perspective. If abusers still have supporters, their actions will not change, so let’s force them to. Next, more education will help prevent future generations from perpetuating rape culture. Our school systems need to teach consent, options for victims to get help, and what rape culture is as a whole. Moreover, on an individual level, each one of us can work on reducing rape culture that we perpetuate. First, always have consent, even for small things. You would rather “ruin the moment” than risk doing something nonconsensually. You can also change what you, your peers, your family, etc., say about rape. This includes: no more victim blaming, slut shaming, “boys will be boys”, rape jokes, and sexism. Reducing these in our daily lives will have a lot of magnitude to end the huge issue of rape culture. Rape culture is perpetuated by each one of us daily and just taking a second to think about the impact of what you’re saying can help reduce rape culture.

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Attached below is my MLA format work cited

Here is a link to a quick survey about my project. It would be greatly appreciated if you filled it out!

Share this project
  1. April 25, 2019 by Ashli.Jain

    Quick Thing! I was unable to take your survey as it says that I am “outside of your organization.” Overall, I LOVED the project! I completely agree that Rape Culture is very prevalent in everyone’s daily lives. At my high school, there is currently a big discussion about dress code. One issue being brought up is how any restriction to dress code (ie: no low cut tops) dramatically affect girls more than boys. What sort of message do you think clothing restrictions send out about rape culture?

    • April 25, 2019 by Cassidy Vawter

      So glad you enjoyed my project! Thanks for letting me know about the survey and I was able to fix it!

      My current high school has no dress code, which is wonderful; however, my middle school had an extremely unfair one, with 13/15 rules applying to solely girls. Unfair dress codes are a huge perpetrator of rape culture for the following reasons:

      Generation after generation school systems perpetuate outdated patriarchal values and rape culture through unfair and sexist dress codes that tell girls their bodies are distractions and their education is less important than how they appear. The first issue dress codes imply is wearing revealing clothing justifies rape. It’s implying that it is the victim’s responsibility to prevent assault, not the perpetrator’s responsibility to restrain themselves, much like how it is our responsibility to avoid wearing ‘distracting clothing’ but not someone else’s responsibility to stop seeing women as sexual objects.” When school dress codes focus solely on girls covering up their stomachs, legs, shoulders, and bra straps, as a society we are taught a woman’s body is to be sexualized and therefore used for personal pleasure. For this reason, rape continues to happen over and over again. Additionally, dress codes also teach young girls their education is not as important as their appearance.

      To most men, this notion may sound silly and pointless because men never experience similar concepts. However, when girls are pulled out of school to change what they are wearing, they are denied an equal education because their bra strap was visible. Once again, dress codes perpetuate rape culture through sexist attitudes. As our society evolves, our school systems continue with patriarchal values that shine with dress codes. Many activists are trying to fight the issues of dress codes; however, “schools still defend themselves by saying they are ‘creating a distraction-free learning environment’ but I find that schools are promoting a sexist, ‘girls will distract the boys’ learning environment”

  2. April 25, 2019 by Siena.Martin

    Cassidy! Wonderful job on your project. I am so impressed. You went very in-depth without making it too long. You clearly know a lot about this topic and that was shown in your multifaceted solutions.

    • April 26, 2019 by Cassidy Vawter

      Wow! I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for the postive feedback!

  3. April 27, 2019 by Angelina Josephine Kline

    I enjoyed reading your presentation as it is a topic that hits close to home for me. Within my school there has been many allegations reported, and I definitely think that the system needs to improve. I think that the solutions in legislation you addressed are appropriate, however I think creating solutions for this issue are far more difficult than any other. One of the largest issues is that the truth is subjective, and for courts or schools to determine this without evidence is far more difficult. I support the #metoo movement, however I do think that it is something that some young girls have taken advantage of. Overall, I think the conversation you started is vital and a great start!

    • April 28, 2019 by Cassidy Vawter

      I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      You make some very great points about the #metoo movement and our system as a whole.

      I understand the controversy on issues surrounding rape culture due to false accusations, but it’s been proven that only 2% of accusations are false and that these false accusations very rarely lead to convictions or jail time. Both of which I briefly mentioned in my solutions assignment.

      Even in light of this, many people write off the movement as a whole because they are worried that it gives too much power to accusers. While I understand the reasoning behind this, I would also add that similar platforms are given the same in many other situations, and that is why we go through the legal process when needed. I could accuse someone of stealing my car, for example, and they wouldn’t be fined/jailed without an investigation or legal battle. Many people assume that with rape accusation no legal process is applicable or warranted, and that is why accusations are “dangerous”; however, this is false. There are many ways to prove/disprove rape, including rape kits, alibies, witnesses, etc..

      Another main argument to the effects of victims fighting back through the #metoo movement is that even if someone accused is never jailed, their life is still “ruined” if they are falsely accused. Sadly, there is not much to say to defend this except would you rather ignore 98/100 women who have been raped because 2/100 of them lied. Additionally, where is this kind of energy when 50% of blacks in jail are wrongfully convicted? Where is this energy when cops plant evidence to get someone convicted? These arguments are valid in all cases but it seems that people only care when women regain control over their bodies.

      Overall, though I think nothing should be blindly supported/trusted, I believe that the #metoo movement has done more good than harm and will continue to do so!

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