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Professor Discusses Impact of Social Attitudes on Rape Culture

By Mariam H. Jalloul, Contributing Writer

Recognizing how current social attitudes toward rape have come into being will help students dismantle a rape culture that places undue burden on victims, according to Tithi Bhattacharya, an associate professor at Purdue University who spoke at Dudley House Thursday evening.

“The term rape culture implies that there is something systemic,” Bhattacharya said in her talk, entitled “From Steubenville to Harvard: Understanding Rape Culture and Fighting Against It.”

She unpacked these systemic problems into three main factors: selective coverage of rape cases by the media, a tendency for society to place the burden of responsibility on rape victims rather than perpetrators, and the use of comedy to trivialize the act of sexual assault.

Bhattacharya said that people are expected to “lighten up” and laugh at jokes about rape, a mindset she finds incongruous. Humor—a tool often used to critique social systems—“is being turned around in order to attack the people that most suffer under the system,” she said.

The talk, which was sponsored by the Harvard Socialists, the Harvard College International Women’s Rights Collective, and the Harvard Student Labor Action Movement, follows on the heels of a number of local and international sexual assault and rape cases that have sparked debate over media coverage and rape culture amongst youth.

Twenty to 25 percent of women will be raped during their college career. As a result, potential victims of rape—mainly women—are taught strategies to avoid getting raped: stay away from dangerous situations, avoid alcohol at parties, and stay with friends at all times. But lost in this dialogue, Bhattacharya said, is an effort to teach offenders about consensual sex and taking responsibility for their actions.

“Rape culture is not pervasive but it is sure as hell institutional,” Bhattacharya said.

Amanda Haziz-Ginsberg, an organizer of the Harvard Socialist Club, helped arrange the event tonight “in the hopes of continuing a conversation about rape culture.”

“I think the meeting demonstrated that people are beginning to think seriously about the systemic roots of rape culture in U.S. society, as well as the formation of a new movement to fight against it,” she said.

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