Student Perspective: “Rape Culture” in France

By Ines Pinton (2EA)

Over the last few years, the term “rape culture” has become more and more prevalent in various media across the globe. But in France, some people are still confused by the term and have trouble understanding what it means and implies. 

As gender equality issues are discussed more every day, understanding the meaning of “rape culture” and the consequences of such a culture is a necessity to understanding the global situation of women’s fight for equality and an important part of many feminist movements.

So, What is “Rape Culture”?

According to the dictionnary.com, it is “a subset of values, beliefs, and behaviors in a society that trivializes or normalizes sexual violence, including rape.”

In other words, it is the propagation of the idea that rape and sexual violence in general are not as bad as they seem, and so that they are normalized, ignored or denied throughout actions such as slut-shaming, victim blaming, or sexualization.

It can be summed up by the idea that we are taught “don’t get raped” instead of “don’t rape.”

In order to dismantle rape culture in France, we need to learn the stereotypes associated with it.

So, what are those stereotypes?

The first stereotype usually has to do with the rapist as a person. Most people believe that rapists have some kind of mental issue or difficulty, that perhaps they are depressed, perverse, deranged, and/or mad. However, according to Amnesty International, 90% of rapists do not show any signs of mental health issues;  they can be considered “normal”, everyday people. Your brother, your dad or your best friend could be among them. The Canadian Feminist Suzanne Zaccour explains in her interview with the newspaper Chateleine : “For decades, researchers in sociology have tried to establish the typical profile of a rapist, without success.”

This shows that rapists do not rape because they have some kind of mental problem, but they do so because they were educated and conditioned in a way that allowed them to believe that perhaps their behavior “isn’t rape,” or “they are allowed to do that.”

Another common stereotype is the relationship between the assaulter and the victim. When discussing the topic of rape, there is always one image that appears in people’s mind: the victim, alone, assaulted by a stranger, out of nowhere in a dark empty street at night, most likely after leaving a party.

Although this scenario can happen, it is not the most common one. Nine times out of 10, the victim knows his or her assaulter: it is someone from their entourage. The assaulter usually does not rape someone because they were wearing something “provocative,” but because they know they are an easy target: the victim is viewed as weak and as someone who might not fight back or resist.

The University of Kansas created a museum exhibition called “What were you wearing ?” to provide evidence that victim blaming is not based on anything factual. Eighteen women who had been raped gave the clothes they were wearing the day it happened to the University for the exhibition. Most of these outfits are not “sexy” or “provocative,” as we can see in the picture above.

Yet, in France, a survey released in 2019 by Ipsos revealed that 42% of the French population believes that if the victim had a provocative attitude in public, the assaulter’s responsability is diminished, proving that people still think a provocative attitude is the cause of rape. As the lawyer Claudette Eleini already said in her interview in 1976 :”Concerning rape, we can observe that it is the only crime for which the victim will be treated as the accused.” (INA.fr archives)

There are many other stereotypes such as the underestimated effects of rape on the victim, the oversexualisation of women in the media and in public spaces such as school (which was denounced by several middle and high schoolers in France on Monday, September 14th, 2020 in a protest). Overall, though, it is impossible to deny the existence of rape culture in France.

So, what are the consequences of rape culture ?

According to the French government statistics and investigations : 

  • The average raped/ attempted raped women (this does not include minors) in France every year is 94,000.
  • The apprixomate percentage of complaint for rape is 10%
  • Of those 10%, the approximate percentage of convictions is 10%

Leaving approximately 1% of rapists convicted.

Rape culture’s consequence is the endless cycle of rape and the incompetent judiciary system in this domain.

One of the main issues concerning rape culture is the fact that many people still do not know what it is. In an interview with two high schoolers, Andrea Zimbaldi (1EA) and Raphael Marciano (2EA), both high school students at La Tour, were asked what they thought rape culture was. Their answers were that it was “the acceptation of the fact that women get raped in our society” and “the fact that women get raped and no one’s really doing anything about it.” While these statements are actually a part of the fight against rape culture, it is not exactly what it means, demonstrating that many students do not understand the consequences and implications of this culture.

In order to put an end to the ignorance around rape culture in France, it is important that we start collectively talking and learning about it, what it is and what it does to others.

{some quotes were originally in french and were translated for the purpose of this article}

Sources :

Suzanne Zaccour, rape culture :

Definition of rape culture :

https://www.dictionary.com/browse/rape-culture?s=t

University of Kansas exhibition :

Survey of Ipsos about rape and the effect of the #metoo :

https://www.ipsos.com/fr-fr/les-francais-et-les-representations-sur-le-viol-et-les-violences-sexuelles

1976 ina archives :

Statistics about rape :

https://www.liberation.fr/checknews/2019/02/08/combien-y-a-t-il-de-viols-chaque-annee-combien-de-plaintes-combien-de-condamnations_1708081

https://www.liberation.fr/checknews/2020/07/22/pour-100-viols-et-tentatives-une-seule-condamnation-dupond-moretti-a-t-il-raison-de-douter-de-ce-chi_1794833

Statistics about violences on women :

https://arretonslesviolences.gouv.fr/je-suis-professionnel/chiffres-de-reference-violences-faites-aux-femmes

https://www.interieur.gouv.fr/Interstats/Actualites/Insecurite-et-delinquance-en-2017-premier-bilan-statistique

Wikipedia page of rape in France :

https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viol_en_France#cite_note-classe-10

visual aid : https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/960553/exhibit-of-rape-victims-clothes-shows-clothing-choice-isnt-to-blame-for-sexual-assault

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