Commentary

Don’t Take it Lightly

While you may have done well on a test, you didn’t rape it, and failing an essay doesn’t mean that it raped you. But I’ve been hearing people use the word “rape” to describe these situations. “Rape” has entered the Andover lexicon as a synonym for both “defeat” and “ace.” I know that students don’t condone rape, but each time it’s used in conversation I feel a tremor of discomfort. It may seem pointless to take a stand against a single casually uttered word, but this small linguistic shift could have large consequences. The first time I heard someone say that they had “raped that test,” they argued that there is no difference between saying that you’ve “killed” something and you’ve “raped” it. Actually, there are very significant differences between the two. To begin with, everyone understands that murder has a serious meaning in addition to being a slang term. This is not the case with rape. People have very little understanding of what rape is or the magnitude of the problem, especially in developed countries. During a Wellness Week event, some Uppers were presented with a situation that was clearly an attempt at rape. The man and woman were both drunk. The woman said “no” multiple times, yet fewer than 10 students at the event were certain that she had been raped. Like many controversial topics, rape is hinted at but rarely openly and informatively discussed, and so people are often unsure of what exactly rape is. Using the word “rape” in casual circumstances only further confuses an already obscured definition. This ambiguity makes it difficult for people to figure out what rape is so they can prevent and report it. Perhaps because of this lack of understanding, there is another difference between raping and killing. Unlike murder, people don’t tend to take rape or sexual assault seriously when they occur. Comments on an article giving the statistic about sexual assault on college campuses tended to blame the women—they drank, their clothes were revealing, they had the audacity to leave their rooms alone after six o’clock—or say that the number was overly high because women were lying about being raped to cover up an embarrassing decision. Elizabeth Seeberg, a student at St. Mary’s, Notre Dame’s sister school, was allegedly assaulted by a Notre Dame football player on the night of August 31, 2010. Elizabeth did everything right. She promptly reported the incident the next day, had a rape kit done and wrote a statement. Her attacker appeared on the football field for the rest of the season. 10 days later, she fatally overdosed on anti-depressants. Elizabeth’s case is horrifying, but it’s not an isolated incident. Using the word “rape” to describe everyday events makes it easier to perceive rape as normal when it actually occurs, and doing so makes those occurrences easier to ignore. If the students at Notre Dame realized how horrendous sexual assault is, would Elizabeth have been made a social pariah? We can only hope that they would have done the just thing. By making sure that people understand the full meaning of “rape,” we can try to make the world a more comforting place for future victims of sexual assault, a place where they feel safe to report an attack. We can also make the world a less welcoming place for rapists. Every time use of the word “rape” is accepted as inconsequential, the heinousness of committing a rape is eroded, and people have less reason to pause and think about the morality and legality of their actions. Rape is a gigantic problem in America. One in six American women are or have been sexually assaulted, one in four if they are college students, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. Despite the astounding number of women who are raped, an appallingly low number of people are charged with rape, and an even smaller number are convicted. Women shouldn’t have to live with the knowledge that not only is there a shockingly high chance that they will be raped in their lifetime, but that there’s also no guarantee that their pain will be respected if they are. Even though school children can chant “words will never hurt me,” words are powerful. They direct our perceptions of the world, and so they inform our actions. “Rape” is a small word, just one syllable, but the consequences of saying it lightly are larger than many imagine. Abigail Burman is a new Upper from Silver Spring, MD.