The poison of sexually violent language
“I was dating a boy my sophomore year of high school…He had asked my parents to date me so he seemed like a great guy. We had been dating for a while and he started asking my views on sex. Growing up in the church, I was taught no sex before marriage and that’s what I told him. He seemed to respect that.
“But the longer we dated, the more he asked me to compromise. Right there I should’ve known to leave him but I didn’t. One day while we were at his house, he asked me again and
I got upset and said no, but he didn’t like that. He told me he didn’t care and proceeded anyway.
“I have tried so hard to block that day out of my head…I have dealt with a lot of guilt, shame and anxiety. I thought to myself ‘Was this my fault? Was this supposed to happen?’ It’s been an ongoing battle since then…I have struggled with self doubt. I have struggled with trust. It has been three years and there are still some days
I am not confident. I still have some anxiety, but I would say now the good days definitely outweigh the bad.” -ONU Student
March 31 brought some of the heaviest rain I have witnessed in my 23 years. I was waiting for it to subside a little before walking to my class. I leaned against the brick interior wall of Ludwig and pulled up the weather app on my phone, glancing every few seconds out the glass doors like I was going to miss a break in the downpour.
A group of tall guys stomped rain off their tennis shoes and laughed loudly to one another as they flung open the doors. About that time, a classmate rounded the corner from the stairs. “Aww, seriously?” he whined.
“Dude, it is bad out there!” one of them announced, but the kid was already walking away. “We just got raped, man.”
I looked up. Did he just say—
“We got raped,” he and his buddies kept repeating, loud enough to draw the attention of anyone coming in and out that set of doors. They continued to laugh and playfully shove each other and knock the water off their jackets and umbrellas.
“[Two] years ago, I was at a guy’s house watching a movie and he started to make advances on me, which I declined many times. However, he did not stop, no matter how many times I told him to. He just kept touching me and kissing me and I kept trying to push him off but he was much stronger than me.
“Eventually, he ripped my clothes off and raped me. That was the night I lost myself. Ever since then, he’s been texting and Snapchatting me asking for Round 2. Every time I see a guy that even has a similar build, I can’t breathe and I start shaking, thinking it’s him.” -ONU Student
The response from my post about the experience on Overheard at Olivet, the Facebook page where students post the often funny or strange things they’ve heard around campus, was largely positive, but wasn’t without its critics. The most popular view was that I was unfairly judging the group of boys.
This is a common phrase in American culture, some argued, and taking it literally or as anything to be offended by just demonstrates the sort of “bubble” this campus can be. Any of us uncomfortable with that word or phrase are just going to have to get used to it because that is what the real world has in store for us.
How is this different from telling the female students on this campus that they will have to gear up for sexual assault, relationship abuse, catcalling and rape because after graduation when they’re off this campus; these are the sorts of things that just happen in the real world?
You might argue, “Saying ‘rape’ is not the same as committing rape. One is just a word, the other is actually doing it.” But that’s the problem: we watch what we do, but not what we say. We know that committing rape is a sin, a crime and a violation of another individual’s rights.
It’s so easy to ignore the power of words. We argue our rights to freedom of speech and to use figurative language and to make whatever jokes and opinions we want to because
“they’re not hurting anyone,” but we forget that our rights always end where someone else’s begin. You’re not physically assaulting the students who have experienced any of these situations, and so, with very little consideration, you can justify that you’ve not done anything wrong.
But when you assault someone’s emotional wellbeing—when you treat their pain and memories like jokes or like matters as trivial as having to walk across campus in the rain—you put your rights to say whatever you want, without any self control or sensitivity, before another person’s right to move forward.
“[At ONU,] we are in a bubble… [T]he point is that it’s not okay [to use this language]. It’s not okay here, and it’s not okay anywhere else. It’s more than being offended. It feels like someone is shrinking…a horrible, often life-ruining, traumatizing experience down to a joke.
“Rape is not funny. Not even a little. I know that people won’t stop saying it, but people should be held accountable for the poison in their choice of words. While I am not necessarily ‘offended’ by the word ‘rape’ out of context, hearing it so often being thrown around really makes me feel discouraged. It feels like a lack of support or acknowledgement of the
reality [t]hat has happened to people. The reality of rape.” -ONU Student
Adding fuel to the fire
Ignorance is not the same thing as stupidity. Many people who use offensive language are ignorant in the sense that they lack the knowledge that what they’re saying even could be considered offensive or the knowledge, in the form of personal experience or empathy, that would help them to understand why someone might be hurt by the statement.
As a self-appointed representative for our classmates who have experienced sexual trauma and a young woman with her own experiences, I believe that the most valuable lesson to be learned this month—Sexual Assault Awareness Month—is not to not rape people. No, the lesson is to be a solution rather than continue to add to the problem.
Jokes about or associated with rape, as harmless as they may seem, only add fuel to the fire of sexual crime. I don’t think anyone hearing these jokes gets the message that rape is okay (I’m not quite that dense), but victims often hear indifference. They hear that sexual trauma is not serious enough to be treated seriously. They internalize that speaking up about their experiences will get them laughed at or shrugged off.
The word loses its significance as it is tossed around in front of their faces, and all who hear it become desensitized. That—in combination with widespread “slut shaming” that pins blame on the victim and notions that most girls who “cry rape” are not genuine but only looking for attention or revenge—puts victims in a situation where they risk stigmatizing themselves. And why put themselves through more trauma? Why even bother?
For the readers who label themselves as Christian, who make sure their friends, family, and acquaintances know they consider themselves followers of Jesus Christ, you must remember that, like it or not, you automatically represent Christianity to those around you.
When you give yourself that label, people associate your words and your behavior with this belief, and when you act hypocritically, hurting people with your words and waving off their feelings with “Well everyone else says it,” you turn people away. After all, where is the love and truth Jesus preached about when his own people willingly and unapologetically act just like—or worse than—anybody else?
“My story is from my sophomore year of high school…I was dating this guy off and on for about a year. It wasn’t a very healthy relationship but I was too young to really realize that, or care. It was after we had gotten into a fight about something [that] he was very possessive of me, and he didn’t like when I talked to certain people so he was upset with me.
“I went to his house after school so we could hang out and talk and at first everything was good and then we started fighting again. Things started to calm down but then he wanted to start doing stuff. I told him no…I just didn’t want to because it didn’t feel right. Well he didn’t want to listen so he ended up raping me. This story isn’t one I share to a lot of people. I’ve only told four people before. I still have yet to share this with my parents.“ -ONU Student
If you haven’t noticed, every quote of this piece comes from a student of university. These could be your classmates. These could be your roommates. One could come from the girl who sits beside you in Fine Arts, another from your best friend who’s been hiding this secret for fear of what happens when it’s out.
These students represent not only themselves, but any student who didn’t feel comfortable with coming forward or still doesn’t know they were victimized—that they are not, as our culture continues to perpetuate, the ones really at fault for the crimes committed against them.
You never know who you are touching with your words, be it in a good way or a bad way. Really, I can’t keep you from joking about rape or using the term in a highly offensive, painful context. But you are the language you use, and in the end, you are responsible for the life it takes on when it leaves your mouth.
–BritLee Cadle, contributing writer