Unlike some words in the English language, sexual assault and rape are not interchangeable; they do not mean the same thing; they do not have the same definition.
Sexual assault by definition is illegal sexual contact that usually involves force upon a person without consent.
Rape by definition is the unlawful compelling of a person through physical force or duress to have sexual intercourse.
Recently, The Oswegonian printed news of a rape on our campus. Feedback from that story included some thoughts that the word ‘rape’ is a word that will scare readers and that from now on, regardless of the incident, The Oswegonian should instead use the phrase ‘sexual assault.’ It’s more politically correct, critics said.
Who really cares how the victim feels if we can all feel safer reading the words sexual assault instead of what really happened to her, right? So we’ll adopt this phrase for now and once that gets too scary we’ll dissolve the phrase and call it something else. Until we’re hiding behind a bunch of technicalities instead of dealing with the real issue at hand: what actually happened.
If we call it something we know it wasn’t, then not only are we lying, we are taking away the only explanation she had for it. If we try to downplay this, discard the word rape and become obsessed with political correctness, no one will ever report these crimes. When did it become more important for the public to be more at ease than the victim?
Already, rape is the most underreported crime in America. According to the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), 14.8 percent of American women have been the victims of rape in their lifetime. Taking that percentage and 2010-census information into account, 23 million American women will be raped in their lifetime. Factoring in average life expectancy of American women, there is an average of almost 300,000 incidents of rape annually. According to RAINN, even with all of these crimes, 15 of 16 rapists will never spend a day in jail. 39 percent of attacks are reported and only 16.3 percent of those accused of rape will spend any time in prison.
Rape is not reported for a number of reasons. The fact that it is such a personal and private crime is one of the biggest reasons. There is a built-in stigma attached. There are ways to lessen the stigma, but not by changing the terminology, promoting silence or stifling media coverage. The media can help by responsibly covering the crime.
The media should use the correct terms, not the “politically correct” terms. Readers should receive truthful information, not partially truthful information. And they should respect the victims by clearly publishing the whole truth, not hiding the story in jargon, technicalities and lies.
Rape isn’t something the victim should be ashamed of and it should not be written as such.