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Corporate News Media Understate Rape, Sexual Violence

 

Media analysts observe how journalists refrain from using the word “rape” to describe incidents of sexual assault. Instead, news outlets downplay the humiliation and cruelty entailed in these acts by referring to them as “sex crimes,” “inappropriate sexual activity,” or “forced sex,” even though such acts are legally recognized as “rape.”

“‘Rape’, along with the images it conjures, is an ugly, nasty word,” artist and writer Wasi Daniju observes. “Uglier and nastier still, though, is the experience of each and every person that experiences it. Their experience warrants, at the very least, the respect and truth of being accurately labeled and recognized.”

A report released by Legal Momentum, a New York City-based feminist advocacy law group, Raped or “Seduced”? How Language Helps Shape Our Response to Sexual Violence, addresses what it terms the “linguistic avoidance” of such concerns. For example, when the media uses the language of consensual sex—terms like recruited rather than kidnapped or took by force, and phrases like performed oral sex or engaged in sexual activity instead of writing that he forcefully penetrated her vagina with his penis—they do more than use euphemisms to distort reality; they essentially mislead, misdirect, and diminish the violation. Such accounts also suggest that both parties were willing participants.

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting points to the Los Angeles Times to illustrate one example of this phenomenon. In January 2013, the Times published an important story addressing how two Los Angeles police officers were accused of using the threat of imprisonment to force several women they previously arrested to have sex with them. This is recognized under law as “rape.” “But the Times avoided using that term,” FAIR notes, “inexplicably employing every other word and phrase imaginable—including ‘sex crimes,’ ‘sexual favors’ and ‘forced sex’—to describe what the officers were accused of.”

Sources:

Rania Khalek, “Calling Rape by Its Right Name,” Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting,” February 1, 2014, http://fair.org/extra-online-articles/calling-rape-by-its-right-name/.

Wasi Daniju, “Dear Mainstream Media: I Believe the Word You’re Looking for is ‘rape,’” CeasefireMagazine.co.uk, November 10, 2013, http://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/dear-mainstream-media-word-rape/.

Eleanor J. Bader, “Stoking Fire: How News Outlets, Prosecutors Minimize Sexual Violence with Language,” RH Reality Check, December 9, 2013, http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2013/12/09/stoking-fire-how-news-outlets-prosecutors-minimize-sexual-violence-with-language/.

Student Researcher: Cealia Brannan (Florida Atlantic University) & Laura A. Parada and Christina Sabia (Indian River State College)

Faculty Evaluator: James F. Tracy (Florida Atlantic University) & Elliot D. Cohen (Indian River State College)

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