The Invisible R Word
Stephanie Gilmore has a new article up at On The Issues Magazine about the media’s stubborn resistance to using the word “rape” even when it’s clearly called for. This is certainly not the first piece on the media’s resistance to saying rape when they’re talking about rape, but it is a very worthwhile read. Gilmore says:
We’ve allowed the media to sanitize coverage of victims (who are now often referred to as “accusers”) and the sexual crimes they have endured, and to forestall any public discourse about rape and what it means.
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We cringe at the statistics – according to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), one in six women and one in 33 men is sexually assaulted, and every two minutes someone is sexually assaulted in the United States. Almost three-fourths of victims know their attackers, which may explain, in part, why 60 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to the police.
But another reason that links to low reporting is that we do not have public conversation about what rape actually is – forcible, coercive, or nonconsensual sex. It is not “had sex with,” as if consent were present, even if pleasure were not. It is a crime in every state of the United States and countries around the world, and we need to elevate the realities of rape first by calling it such when it happens.
The media’s treatment places rape in a linguistic quarantine: everyone seems to agree that “rape” is awful, even the most ardent rape apologists — just like holocaust deniers agree that genocide is awful. But the word is treated as an untouchable abstraction, not attached to any acts or even allegations that exist in the real world. The result is that Whoopi Goldberg can address allegations that a grown man used force and fear to penetrate a thirteen year old who he had drugged and physically isolated — she was underage, she was coercively intoxicated and she said no — and say it isn’t “rape-rape.” The media’s refusal to name the act permits this cultural disjunction, where rape is wrong but nothing is ever rape, to flourish.
There must be folks working on this, right? Maybe there are and I just don’t know about it. Is there a group out there sitting down with editorial boards to challenge their resistance to saying that what is alleged is rape? If not, that’s probably the thing that needs to happen.