Our Culture is Rape Culture—And We Have to Confront It

The U.S. was founded as a rape culture. But we’re not supposed to talk about that.

This land has been used for the predation of women since men first stepped off ships in 1492 and immediately began raping indigenous women. Indigenous women still suffer some of the highest rates of rape and sexual assault in the United States. White men literally go onto reservations to hunt women because they know our country’s laws allow them to do so with impunity. But we don’t talk about that at our Thanksgiving dinner tables.

In America’s attempt to white-wash our history of enslaving black bodies we often conveniently forget to talk about the prevalence of sexual slavery—that black women were bought and sold to be raped and tortured, to be forced to bear children and then see those children ripped away. But we don’t talk about that when we’re looking at statues in town squares.

Marital rape wasn’t a crime in all 50 states until 1993 because married women did not legally have authority over their own bodies. The Bible, like in the case of all state-sanctioned rape of women—including mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds—was used to defend that statute. Yet in almost every state grown men still can, and do, marry 14-year-old girls—because if you’re married, statutory rape laws don’t apply. But we don’t talk about that when we’re glorifying brides and marriage.

One in five girls and one in 20 boys are sexually abused in the United States. Rates of child sexual abuse in the U.S. have always been exceptionally high through three centuries, and yet all we tell them is to be afraid of strangers and be ashamed of their bodies. We know that almost all children who suffer abuse are victimized by someone they trust—someone who has access to them at home or at school, someone who makes them feel good. But we don’t talk to children about that.

The President has been accused of raping, assaulting and abusing women for decades. He used his money and influence to prey on people who didn’t have as much power as him and boasted about it. America still elected him because being a sexual predator is not considered a disqualifier from leadership. But we don’t talk about that when we go to the voting booths.

Our rape culture isn’t a new thing. The landslide of stories emerging from celebrities and civilians alike aren’t proof of a new phenomena, but of an old epidemic. Powerful men in the U.S. have long harassed and assaulted women at their will, and with little consequence.

Rape is as American as apple pie, as American as stealing land from Indigenous people, as American as slavery, as American as subhuman standards for women, as American as child abuse. Rape is as American as the President.


Erin Gistaro is a Communications Associate at the Feminist Majority Foundation. She’s a passionate reproductive rights advocate, food lover, life-long learner and strong believer that analyzing the world through a feminist lens helps everything make a bit more sense.