On January 12, 2012, in a small Missouri town, 14-year-old Daisy and her friend snuck out of her house and went to meet three older teen boys from her school. The next morning she was found in front of her house in the freezing cold, nearly dead, with twice the legal driving limit of alcohol in her system.

One teen boy immediately pled guilty to sexually assaulting Daisy’s younger friend, while the two older boys did not dispute the fact that they gave Daisy the alcohol. They also didn’t dispute the fact one of them had sex with her and that they had filmed part of the encounter. Nevertheless, charges against them were dropped due to “lack of evidence.”

There was fallout from the incident in this small town—just not the type you might imagine. The victim and her siblings were mocked at school, Daisy’s mom lost her job, and when they moved out of town and were trying to sell their house, it burned to the ground. The cause of the fire remains unknown.

Daisy later said, “You’re [called] the s-word, the w-word, the b-word, just. . . . After a while, you start to believe it.”

Welcome to Maryville, Missouri, exhibit A of the rape culture.

What Is Rape Culture?

“Rape culture” has come to mean different things for different people, and its use to shame and degrade any perceived misogynistic slight can cause a reflexively defensive attitude among certain sectors of the population. 

Evangelicals, aware of personal responsibility and personal sin, can understandably be cautious about attributing any individual action or craft any collective response to a supposedly social problem. Rape culture, though, simply describes a society that all too often “blames the victims of sexual assault” and “normalizes male sexual violence.” Author Emilie Buchwald describes it as “a complex set of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression.”

Why does society all too often objectify female bodies while devaluing or ignoring female consciousness and experiences? We contend that the normalization of pornography contributes significantly to the “rape culture.” Sadly, a significant number of those responsible for describing and attempting to address issues related to the “rape culture” are the very ones normalizing the viewing of pornography.

Normalization of Pornography

Pornography’s ever-increasing ubiquity is as well-documented as it is self-evident. With this ubiquity comes normalcy. Never has pornography been easier to access or, it would seem, so uncontroversial to view. We won’t attempt to add to the myriad of documentation regarding this trend; but we note the especially worrisome rise of violent porn. 

One study published in CyberPsychology and Behavior found that 39 percent of college-aged males and 23 percent of college-aged females said they had viewed bondage porn as teens, and 18 percent and 10 percent respectively said they had viewed rape porn. While their bodies and minds are in key developmental stages, kids are viewing images that portray woman as objects to be used in whatever way a male desires. Is it any wonder that boys being educated about sex by pornographers become men who associate sex with the rape and bondage pornography that ignores the humanity of women?

This ever-increasing consumption of violent pornography correlates with judgment-free mainstreaming of pornography in public discourse. Whether through the blockbuster success of the book/upcoming movie 50 Shades of Grey or the frequent references to porn on ESPN’s website Grantland, a cursory glance at any form of media will reveal nonchalant acceptance of porn in pop culture.

Let’s look at a few ways the normalization of pornography contributes to rape culture. These points are certainly not new, but they bear repeating as often as this topic is addressed.

Pornography presents women as inferior — Feminist Andrea Dworkin once said “equality cannot co-exist with rape . . . and it cannot co-exist with pornography . . . because implicit in [both] is the inferiority of women.” At its core, a vast majority of pornography implicitly or explicitly devalues and degrades women. In pornography, women are only valuable insofar as they bring pleasure to men.

Pornography objectifies women — Similarly, the vast majority of pornography objectifies women; their bodies are important, as is their function as an element in sexual gratification. But their hearts, minds, opinions, experiences, feelings, and everything else that makes them self-consciously who they are is completely irrelevant. They are different from a sex toy only in degree, not in kind. The attitude that the women involved in porn are voluntarily participating only further perpetuates the cowardly and absurd excuse in the minds of men and boys who tell themselves “this is what she really wants.”  

Pornography treats sexual gratification as an end to itself — Pornography perpetuates the harmful notion that sex is everything; it’s an end to itself. The value of things like consent, the perspective of others, relationship, love, conversation, covenant, interaction, deeper meaning? Unimportant. Just exit out and move along.

Pornography encourages male aggression — Not only is pornography continuing to expand, but formerly fringe forms of pornography that encourage male aggression are also becoming more mainstream (i.e., bondage porn, rape porn, BDSM). There is a logical reason for its growth; scientists have found “people who watch a lot of porn are likely to need increasingly graphic material to achieve the same sexual stimulation.”

Whatever laudable goals secularists might set as they seek to eliminate rape culture, they will not fully realize their goals so long as their desire to protect victims and destroy misogyny is limited by the confines of hedonism and autonomy. We Christians know that the underlying issue is sin. And because the issue is sin, the solution is grace, not an arbitrary public shaming campaign. We don't seek further condemnation to those already struggling with shame as they watch porn. Any repentant Christian can find security in the knowledge that the bondage of sin is no match for the unfathomable and impartial mercy of God. And therein lies the solution for all. We hope and pray that evangelicals will take the lead in addressing the issue by showing that only the gospel has the power to destroy and eliminate porn and rape culture.