Stop Using Rape as a Catch-All
Trigger Warning: rape and sexual violence
*To clarify, for the purposes of this article, I am talking about all survivors of sexual violence, regardless of whether or not they fit the legal definition of rape.
We live in a world where sexual assault is often dismissed with excuses and laughed off with jokes—it certainly isn’t always treated with the seriousness that the issue certainly warrants. The word “rape” is often used as a catch-all verb to describe situations entirely separate from what the term really means. To use “rape” inaccurately in conversations trivializes its actual meaning. Using this word to describe anything other than the act of sexual violence is not only incorrect, but disrespectful to those who have experienced such violence. It is worrisome to think that such casual use of the word “rape” could reflect the lax societal attitude to the crime.
It is often used inappropriately in contexts like this:
“I just got RAPED by that midterm.”
“Hell yeah! We just raped that whole team! Wanna play again?”
"That restaurant totally raped my wallet.”
It is never acceptable to normalize rape like this. It is never acceptable to do anything that takes the sting out of a word that should make us feel physically sick. The normalized and widespread nature of these inappropriate comments makes it so much harder for victims to speak out, as they learn to believe they won’t be taken seriously or are dismissed when they do. The cycle continues as victims are silenced and blamed, the crime normalized, and offenders forgotten.
This is rape culture.
Using the word “rape” so casually minimizes sexual violence and takes away from the fact that rape is a crime. It is not a word to be thrown around as a joke. This is dangerous because of the effect it can have on survivors of sexual violence and their loved ones. We are often unaware of how many people around us have personally experienced sexual violence when we carelessly mention rape in a joking manner, thinking that others will find it funny. But statistics show that one in four women will experience sexual violence in their lifetime; so, odds are, in a group setting, someone has experienced it—and the impact can be reverberating. Maybe the survivor was considering sharing their experience, but now they are clouded with self-doubt and insecurity.
From my own experience, it is mostly men saying these things. These men are mostly good, respectable people who mean absolutely no harm by throwing the word “rape” around in such a casual manner. These men are good friends, my coworkers, family members–men who are respected and admired. But faced with situations in which these men are close to me, I am left stunned, wondering why in the world anyone would think using this word is acceptable. I am left wondering whether or not I should speak up.
I never do. But I am today.
I’m speaking up because it seems that our society continuously desensitizes people to the severity of sexual violence through language, to the way survivors are treated publicly by being both implicitly and explicitly blamed, and to the ways in which media repeatedly romanticize sexual violence and dehumanize women.
I am speaking up because I am tired of reading articles that lead me to conclude that nobody is safe, because almost every friend that I know has a story like mine. Illustrations of the prevalence of sexual violence are everywhere.
I’m speaking up because I am a survivor of sexual assault, too.
As a sexual assault survivor, as a woman who is still not brave enough to say his name, as a woman who was conditioned at a very young age to listen to what men told me to do, I am speaking up. I struggled with the idea of making this article anonymous or attaching my name. But ultimately, I decided that I wanted to put a face to the story.
There is silence around rape because people are not speaking up when they hear these kinds of things, and they do not see anyone else challenging it. So I want to contextualize the experience that one in four women have. I am one of these women. I am a daughter, a sister, and a friend. It is hard for me to open up about these experiences, but I feel very strongly that the more guilt and shame we feel, and the more that we hide, the more power the past has to hinder our ability to embrace the future.
I am speaking up because I don’t want to hear anyone misuse the word “rape” anymore.
When I hear the word “rape” used out of context, it makes me extremely uncomfortable. Often, it can be a trigger, causing fragments of my assaults to come flooding back. The stale scent of cigarette on his breath, the song “It Girl” playing in the background to drown out the noise, the wine I accepted innocently, so unaware of what would happen next—and it all becomes too real. I am transported right back. It can make me feel physically or emotionally unsafe in the company of the people who say it. It is painful. It makes me feel violated all over again.
These are my own experiences as a middle-class, heterosexual, white woman. My extraordinary privilege did not shield me from sexual violence. Unfortunately, I know many women who have a similar story. None of them ever came forward. Most of them never even thought about coming forward as a possibility because of the fear that no one would believe them.
Rape is not something that can be described as anything other than sexual violence. And to continue to say “rape” out of context is to disrespect all the women and men who have already had so much taken away from them.
Again, many people who say things like this are not doing so out of malicious intent. I’m not here to shame these people. Instead, I want to educate them. Misuse of the word comes sometimes from cruelty, but most often from ignorance. Ignorance is completely surmountable. So let’s move forward together, and stop minimizing the suffering of so many people. Changing your language is a small step, but an intense one. Be an ally to survivors of sexual violence.
Expand your vocabulary.