The problem of rape culture

By Mary Barby P. Badayos-Jover, PhD


Time and again we encounter rape-slay cases that would be the talk of the town, for various reasons—the people involved are well-known personalities or the events leading up to the case leave us riveted on every sordid detail that crops up. Three weeks into 2021 and Filipinos are still getting updates on one such alleged rape-slay case that was reported to have occurred on New Year’s Eve. All sorts of details and opinions about the case have unfolded on social media and it has become quite bizarre, to say the least, what with varying statements from authorities and the victim’s family.  For a while now, social media has provided the platform for anyone to assert an opinion or to be fashionably politically correct. The advent of social media has, as its bane, greatly contributed to the circulation of any material, without regard for veracity. Yet in a manner of speaking, it has likewise given the opportunity to heighten awareness on matters that may otherwise remain obscure, like the notion and practice of rape culture.


To paraphrase academic parlance, “culture” is essentially anything people commonly engage in together, in a particular society. This includes belief systems, norms, or practically anything from language to certain preferences that may seem odd to outsiders. To coin the term “rape culture”, however, does not mean we share a penchant for rape. Any quick search would define rape culture as a social environment that allow the justifications for sexual violence. Rape culture “normalizes” or makes it appear “natural” for men to sexually abuse women. Rape culture propagates the belief that it is somehow inherent upon men to take advantage of women in situations where there are no obvious boundaries enforcing common decency. That somehow, it is possible for gay men to suddenly turn straight when presented with the opportunity of having sexual relations with an unresisting woman. Moreover, it may very well be the woman’s fault—she was not careful enough, she dressed in such revealing clothing, she was out by herself, etc.. The pervasiveness of such logic-defying arguments anchors rape culture in the complexity of societal gender relations, which, unfortunately, is still skewed towards favoring men and marginalizing women.


As both a notion and practice, rape culture is not just confined to the specific act of sexually violating another person without her consent. Rape culture is rooted in patriarchy, in male privilege. After all, rape has more do with the exercise of power than unbridled sexual attraction. A multi-country study on men and violence in Asia-Pacific (Fulu, et al. 2013) underscored that men commit sexual violence due to a sense of sexual entitlement. In other words, men rape simply because they can, or they believe it is well within their prerogative. Quite disturbing is the study’s additional finding that majority of the men who perpetrated rape did not face any legal consequences. This is perhaps all too real in the Philippines. Sad, too, that as a people, we seem to be complicit in this crime.  At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I believe we are complicit in rape culture from the moment we ask, “Why did she do it?”—Why  did she go out so late at night? Why was she unchaperoned? Why was she the only female in the group? Why was she wearing those clothes? We are complicit when we make statements like “Boys will be boys” and when we find rape jokes amusing or downright funny. The list of our complicity to rape culture seems practically endless and will not be reversed by a week or two of so-called public outrage on social media.


Clearly, rape culture is not simplistic and requires some long-term societal overhaul. In doing so we can refer to the UN’s suggestions on how to stand up against rape culture:

Create a culture of enthusiastic consent. Always secure the consent of parties involved. A “Yes” means Yes and a “No”, even if weakly articulated, means No.

Speak out against the root causes. We should stop associating masculinity with violence and dominance and also stop seeing women and girls as weak and vulnerable.

Redefine masculinity. Men should take a critical look at what masculinity means to them and how they embody it, making sure that such examination will redefine masculinities in more gender-equal terms.

Stop victim-blaming. We should all endeavor to leave behind language and cultural beliefs that blame victims, objectify women and excuse sexual harassment.

Have zero tolerance for sexual violence. In the spaces we occupy—where we work, live, play—zero tolerance for sexual violence must be practiced daily and leaders must commit to upholding zero-tolerance policies.

Broaden your understanding of rape culture.  Rape culture takes many forms across time and contexts. It encompasses a wide array of harmful practices that rob women and girls of their autonomy and rights, such as in the practice of child marriage and female genital mutilation.

Take an intersectional approach. At the very least, we need to understand that rape culture affects us all, regardless of our gender identity, sexuality, economic status, race, religion or age.

Know the history of rape culture. Rape has been used as a weapon of war and oppression throughout history. Let us educate ourselves on this.

Invest in women. We may start to consider donating to organizations that support survivors of sexual violence or those that aim to empower women and other gender minorities.

Listen to survivors. Nowadays rape survivors are speaking up more than ever before. Listen to their stories. Instead of passing judgment, say: “We hear you. We see you. We believe you.”

Don’t laugh at rape. Rape is NEVER a funny punchline. Rape jokes fuel sexual violence and makes it harder for victim-survivors to speak up.

Get involved. Engage in efforts aimed at addressing sexual violence or all forms of gender-based violence.

End impunity. To end rape culture, perpetrators must be held accountable.

Be an active bystander. Intervening as an active bystander signals the perpetrators that their behavior is unacceptable and may help someone stay safe.

Educate the next generation. Challenge the gender stereotypes and violent ideals that children encounter in media, on the streets or even at school. Instead of telling your daughter to cover up, teach your son why it is never okay to rape.

Start or join the conversation. Talk to family and friends about how you can work together to end rape culture in your communities. After all, it will practically take all of us to stand united against rape culture.


We all supposedly live in social environments where respect for one another is a given. But we still need to do better than how we are currently doing.  Children need to see adults endeavor to accord the same level respect to others, regardless of sex or gender orientation. We need to take action now in order to revert centuries-old notions and practices that have become so well-entrenched that we regard them as “normal”. Rape culture is never normal. It is a problem that needs to be resolved.




Fulu, et al. (2013). Why do some men use violence against women and how can we prevent it? Retrieved from


(Dr. Mary Barby P. Badayos-Jover holds a dual-title PhD in Rural Sociology and Women’s Studies from The Pennsylvania State University. She teaches and undertakes research on gender and political dynamics at the University of the Philippines Visayas, is a member of the Philippine Commission on Women’s National GAD Resource Pool, and is one of the few gender experts in the country accredited to extend technical assistance on GAD mainstreaming.)