Friday, September 18, 2009

The Power of Language

If there is one thing that really infuriates me, it is the recent trend of people using the word “rape” to describe various daily annoyances, unfair treatment, or, well, anything that isn’t actually the horrific act of being sexually assaulted. Mikki Halpin from the website AlterNet really sums up the problem with misusing powerful words and “rape” in particular in her article titled:

'Increasingly, rape is used to describe experiences such as a sports loss, a poor score on a video game, or being on the losing end of a business deal. Again, these are all unpleasant experiences, but none rise to the level of what rape truly means.
Not since Alanis Morisette's ‘Isn't It Ironic’ ruled the airwaves has a word been so drained of its original value and power.

"Rape is something specific," says Michelle J. Anderson, dean of the CUNY School of Law and a former member of the board of directors and policy chairwoman for the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence. "It is a deeply personal experience of humiliation and degradation. Using the term 'rape' for these experiences not only wildly misdescribes them but also removes personal violence from our understanding of rape."

The meaning of the word must maintain its integrity, Anderson argues, in order to preserve our appropriately horrified response to sexual assault. The casual use of terms like "rent rape" desensitizes us to a subject that women's rights and victims-advocates groups have fought for years to bring into the public consciousness.

"The more we dilute this word, the more we play down the power of sexual violence," says Angela Rose, founder and executive director of Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment, a group devoted to education and action surrounding rape. "It actually adds to the silence surrounding this issue because it diverts attention."'
First I’d like to offer a critique of the article – I really wish the author had given the definition of rape as inclusive of all people, and not just included men as a footnote. As we all know, ANYONE can be assaulted, not just women.

However, I do think she really makes a valid argument that what may seem like a harmless joke to some can have profound effects on the way we think, our attitudes, and even our behavior.

What do you think about the points she has made in this article? Do you believe that words have as much power as she claims? What can we do as advocates educated about sexual assault to combat some of these effects? I hope we can get a lively discussion going about this topic!

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