Rape culture defined: It’s Never Okay

Rape culture is a culture in which dominant ideas, social practices, media images and social institutions implicitly or explicitly accept sexual assault by making them seem normal and by minimizing male sexual violence and blaming survivors for their own abuse. The beliefs and attitudes of a rape culture are rooted in the idea that women are inferior to men and are therefore less deserving of respect and dignity.

It’s Never Okay – Ontario’s Action Plan

Sexual violence and harassment are a reality in every community in Ontario — and that is not acceptable. After all the work that has been done to eradicate sexual violence and harassment — and the misogyny that underpins them — it is difficult to believe that these actions and ideas are still pervasive today. We can, and must, do better.

Very few reach the courts and far too many survivors don’t access support and counselling. This means that survivors aren’t getting the help that they need, and perpetrators of sexual violence are not being held accountable. Why?

Because too many of us have attitudes towards women, men, relationships and rape that are sexist, misogynist and often just plain wrong.

We've all heard "no means no," but what about if she’s drunk? What if he is? What if she promised to have sex with a text — can she change her mind? In fact, anything short of an enthusiastic YES to be involved in a specific sexual activity is not actually consent. And yet many of us skip this step because we don’t have the tools to understand and establish consent. Rape myths, attitudes and behaviours — so prevalent in our society — have had the effect of downplaying sexual violence and harassment. These norms prevent people from seeking help or reporting an assault. They support a rape culture, which has led to normalizing, even condoning, sexual violence and harassment. And Ontario is not unique. This is a nation-wide and international problem.

Most people agree that unwanted sexual attention is wrong. We know this. We understand it conceptually. Yet today’s reality is that many people cross the line or act like it's no big deal. That leaves people who are targets of sexual assault or harassment feeling guilty, ashamed and reluctant to speak out. But we can do something to stop sexual violence and harassment — right here, right now — in our own province. How?

By challenging rape myths and misogynistic attitudes.

These are learned behaviours that we absorb through early influences: what we see, what we learn, what we experience. Challenging and changing them requires public education, raised awareness, a better understanding of healthy relationships and consent, and affirmation that all people deserve to be treated with dignity, equality and respect.

This plan is based on our belief that we all — including governments, employers, justice partners, community leaders, service providers and others — have a role to play and we all share responsibility for stopping sexual violence and harassment.

The road to success begins with conversations in every community, in every classroom and in every workplace. We must challenge ourselves to reflect gender equality in the way we parent, teach, police, serve and support those who have experienced sexual violence and harassment. And we all need to step up and challenge sexual violence and harassment when we see it. If we can accomplish this, we will help create a future for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren that is safe and free from sexual violence and harassment.

It’s Never Okay – Ontario’s Sexual Violence & Harassment Action Plan

Further Reading & Resources