Sexual exploitation and abusive entitlement over women's bodies isn't just widespread – it's also not the domain of easily identified social miscreants and outsiders.
In fact, as news stories repeatedly demonstrate, it's very much perpetrated by average, ordinary boys and men – and in numbers far greater than most people want to believe.
The latest example of this sort of repulsive pack misogyny comes via a story heinous in its depravity and yet sadly unsurprising to those of us who work in the field of sexual violence prevention and activism.
An article on News.com.au this week revealed that over 70 Australian schools were being targeted by a "perverse pornography ring" in which "graphic sexual images of female students and other non-consenting women" were being sourced (sometimes on request) and then traded between members.
The people using the site? Teen boys and young men, many of whom go to the same schools and live in the same communities as their victims.
The language used by the site's members is disturbingly predatory. Reference is made to 'tracking' or 'hunting' particular victims, with successful acquisitions described as 'wins'. The victims themselves are dismissed as 'sluts' and 'bitches' –language commonly used to degrade girls and women, but which becomes ever more disturbing when seen in the context of a group made up of literally thousands of their male peers. These boys seek to dehumanise and violate the young women among them and, in doing so, elevate their status within the decidedly toxic masculine space in which they operate.
Let's be reminded again that the perpetrators of these crimes (and they are most definitely crimes, not least of which is the distribution of child pornography) are not what broader society likes to comfortably imagine sexual predators to look like.
They aren't middle aged outcasts rotting in their parents' basements or trenchcoat-wearing deviants loitering outside public playgrounds. These are teenage boys and young men who are colluding with each other to violently degrade the women they know, and seeking to reinforce the intoxicating sense of power they feel they rightfully wield over them. This is a mens-only hobby that literally involves undressing the girls and women of their acquaintance as a form of sport and a means of strengthening their perception of the homosocial code of brotherhood.
It's toxic masculinity writ large, and it's far more widespread and dangerous that many people will allow themselves to believe.
In recent weeks, similar stories have come out about this rancid form of male bonding. Two male students from Melbourne's Brighton Grammar were first suspended and then expelled after their role in creating an Instagram account shaming 'sluts' was revealed. Some of the girls featured – again, their classmates and peers – were as young as 11. Graphic and degrading descriptions of the girls accompanied the photos, which had been taken without their consent.
Another male student from St Michael's Grammar is being investigated by Victoria Police's sex crimes squad for his role in distributing child pornography. He is alleged to have created a Dropbox folder of naked photographs of female fellow students and had provided his male peers access to it.
A secret Facebook group known as 'Blokes Advice' was also recently closed after leaks from within revealed some users were, again, posting naked photographs of women without their consent – and in some cases, encouraging each other to bombard the victims with further harassment. Additionally, screenshots showed some members gleefully joking with each other about rape and paedophilia.
We are approaching a crisis point with the way masculinity is constructed and excused, particularly the burgeoning kind that is formed in school playgrounds and the hallways of cyberspace.
When punished for this behaviour, these boys and men (and their supporters, of which there are sadly many) claim their actions were taken in good humour and not abuse. How dare they be accused of violence – these things are jokes. And besides, if those girls didn't want their photographs paraded around for men to laugh at and use to vilify them, they shouldn't have taken them in the first place.
Because boys must never, ever be forced to account for their actions. Especially not if a girl is there to take responsibility instead.
At what point will the scales of blame and outrage start to tip in favour of the victims of these crimes? Every time someone defends actions like these or tries to downplay their gravity, what they're really saying is it's natural for men to treat women as less than nothing. To degrade and dehumanise them, humiliate them sexually and violate them for the gratification (often sexual) of other men.
It is not feminism or feminists who depict all men as rapists. We are the only ones who seem to believe fiercely in the capacity of men to be better than that, which is why we protest so heavily in their favour. Rape culture – the kind that positions girls and women as the objects of men, to be used and abused according to how these men are instructed to see them – is formed and enforced by the very people who deny its existence.
It shouldn't be seen as normal behaviour for young boys to be participating in the criminal violation of anyone, let alone the young girls and women who make up their communities. To defend this as 'typical' is to argue that sexual violence is inherent to men's behaviour.
We are approaching a crisis point with the way masculinity is being constructed and excused, particularly the burgeoning kind that is formed in school playgrounds and the hallways of cyberspace.
We need to accept this situation as extremely serious and act accordingly to address the massive deficit of respect that's being fostered in our sons towards our daughters. Rape culture is real.
Don't let yourself be one of the screws that keeps its walls in place.