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Commentary: Words matter in sexual assault dialogue

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Brooke Grasso, LV Life Editor

Brooke Grasso, LV Life Editor

Every year, an average of 321,500 women are raped or sexually assaulted in the U.S. Around 750,000 teen girls got pregnant last year. Nearly 65 percent of women experienced street harassment in 2014. But there is a notable underlying problem with these statistics. They all place the focus on the women and girls who are affected, instead of emphasizing the men and boys who cause them.

Sexual assault, domestic violence, relationship abuse and other issues are problems that affect women and girls, who make up the vast majority of victims. But these are also men’s and boy’s problems.

Sexual misconduct is often thought of as a women’s issue, allowing men to remove themselves from the conversation. But the moment men tune out dialogues regarding gender issues, because they assume they do not pertain to them, society takes a step back.

To stop violence against women, men must not only listen to the conversation, they should be the central part of it.

By simply changing the way we form our sentences, we can switch from passively focusing on the victim, to actively focusing on the perpetrator.

Our dialogue should start with “he raped her,” not “she was raped.” We should focus on who did the harassing, not who was harassed, or “What was she wearing?” or “How much did she drink?” These are all commonly asked questions when we hear about a woman who was a victim of date rape or sexual assault.

Maybe when we hear “Bob raped Jane at the party” we would be more likely to ask why Bob did this, what was Bob doing and what are his consequences?

Because the questions that should come after such a horrific event should always focus on consequences, never what a woman could have done to cause or prevent her own rape.

The statistics would instead reflect that 321,500 men rape women every year and society’s questions would become “Why do so many men rape women and girls every year and how do we solve this social problem?” These are the questions that will turn these statistics around. These are the questions to ask instead of what women were doing and thinking at the time of their rape.

Luckily we are at a turning point when women who have been victims of sexual misconduct are speaking up. Society is moving forward, and laws and policies are beginning to reflect this progress. The progress we are making needs to also be highlighted in the language and dialogue we use when describing these heinous crimes.

Journalists and media leaders have the power to shape conversations around gender issues. When writing stories and headlines we must be mindful of how we frame the stories and to lead by example. As members of the media, we should automatically place the focus on the alleged perpetrator instead of the victim.

If we are consistent with the way we speak up on and report these issues, viewers and readers will follow, leading to a hopefully more educated society who will know how to react and respond.

Men who attempt to discredit the progress of brave women who speak out and support victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence are threatened by being held accountable for their actions. Women should not receive backlash for the heroic act of coming forward with their experiences.

If women are considered anti-male, feminazis or liars for fighting the powerful male agenda, it is time to re-evaluate the way society views women.

Brooke Grasso, a senior journalism major, is LV Life editor and online editor for the Campus Times. She can be reached by email at and on Twitter @bgohsnap.

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